Vexed migrant issue – possible solutions

Thursday, 25 February 2021



Vexed migrant issue – possible solutions

Dr Navanil Barua | December 10, 2018 11:42 hrs


From verifiable statistics, it is an indisputable fact that immigration from East Bengal/East Pakistan/Bangladesh to Assam occurred. The intercensal data from '51 to '71 shows Hindu population growth in Assam as higher than Muslim growth and the only logical answer to this is that Hindu migrants outnumbered Muslim migrants during this period. 

From the late 1960s to 1971, there was a twist in the tale. The Bengali Muslim revolt against their western Urdu masters started. Two sets of people, apart geographically, but united by religion for over 2 decades, started to come apart due to language. India saw the strategic opportunity and seized it. It played the perfect host to Bengali Muslim separatists of East Pakistan and used the local Indian immigrant Muslim of Assam as the perfect cover. Tiger Siddique - close aide to Mujibur Rahman - found refuge in Assam. Thus, vigil became a little lax and Assam became the centre for Bengali Muslim anti-Pakistani activity. Linguistic discrimination and economic conditions back home gradually opened the gates for a new round of immigration into Assam from East Pakistan. With the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, the floodgates opened. The hostile neighbours of 24 years suddenly turned into a friendly country. Free travel initially followed by lax restrictions later, encouraged migrations to Assam from the war torn devastated economy of Bangladesh. Moreover, lakhs of refugees who were given shelter for over a year in Assam simply disappeared from the camps once the war got over in March 1971. 

All this was reflected in the sudden spurt of Muslim growth in Assam post the 1971 census. We must remember that post ‘71 there had been a fall in Muslim fertility in the whole country. Yet the growth rate in Assam surged. Hence, it can be concluded that Muslim growth in Assam post '71 has to be from cross-border infiltration.

Now the bottom line or the statement I want to make: Many, if not all indigenous people of Assam believe that Muslims - specifically Bangladeshi Muslims - are the biggest threat to their future existence within the geographical area that they want to call their own. The demographical change in 9 districts with Muslim overgrowth only helps to justify the fear. So, the safety lies in either throwing out all Bangladeshi Muslims from Assam or at least disenfranchising them. This logic forgets the basic fact that Assamese speakers including all indigenous language speakers are a minority in Assam. Disenfranchising the Miyas does not take away their right to be counted in census and should they declare their mother tongue as Bengali instead of Assamese, as they are doing now, Assam will have to become a Bengali speaking state. If we do not accept them halfway or keep insisting on disenfranchising them, there is no reason why they would not do so in future! The other alternative is to throw them out of Assam - lock, stock and barrel. But is it feasible to throw out 1 crore people (I got this figure from Himanta Biswa Sarma’s recent startling allegation that AGP, by signing the Assam accord, had legalised 1 crore Bangladeshis)? Let them have their own reasons, schemes, whatever for declaring Assamese as mother tongue but the fact is we need them for our numbers.

Coming to my next conclusion, would '51 instead of '71 really make much difference as stated by many? I respect Matiur Rahman from the core of my heart and I know he is a true Jatiyotabaadi. However, the rest of the brigade are either schemers or gullible players. They are doing this '51 and '71 business just to confuse and delay the settlement of our vexed problems for a solution would jeopardise the political fortunes of many an aspiring or established leader. It is clear that even if the cut-off date is changed from ‘71 to ‘51, the majority of Muslim immigrants will stay unharmed unless you can push back to the unrealistic 1826. Secondly, the Muslim migration between '51 and '71 is relatively insignificant, hence the Assam Accord actually legalised only 6 lakh East Pakistanis, both Hindus and Muslims (with majority being Hindu).

The only way forward now is:

1) To very diligently identify and expel all post-1971 infiltrators, irrespective of religion, humanely or otherwise. Make the NRC process foolproof so that not a single person coming after 1971 finds his or her name in the NRC. Let there be no time limit set for such corrective exercises. Let’s settle 1971 first, '51 or 1826 can wait for a while.

2) Respect settlers wishing to assimilate.

3) Implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord for indigenous population (meaning people who have no other geographical entity of their language and culture sans Assam).

4) Put an end to the D-Voter business. One is either a voter or not a voter. One cannot be doubtful voter for decades together. If one remains a doubtful voter and yet no action is taken other than disenfranchising, it’s a serious administrative and judicial lapse. 


(The author is a neurosurgeon by profession and a socio-political activist by choice)

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