Altaf Parvez | Feb 03, 2019
Srinivas Kumar Sinha, the retired general of the Indian army, was governor of Assam for six years from 1997. It was then that the state’s ethnic crisis was given a Bangladesh twist. He sent a 42-page letter to the Indian president KR Narayan in November 1998, asking for ‘illegal Muslim Bangladeshis’ residing in Assam to be driven out and also proposed a barbed wire fence to be erected along the border. He claimed that there were 4 million ‘Bangladeshis’ in Assam at the time. The Assam youth pushed the number up to around 8 million.
Another governor, General Ajai Singh, in 2005 claimed that every day around 6000 ‘Bangladeshis’ were entering Assam. He later amended his statement, but without letting up on his anti-Bangladeshi tirade.
Bangladesh-bashing boost for BJP
In February 2014 Indian army chief at the time, Bikram
At the same time, the central BJP government managed to finagle transit and other communication facilities from Bangladesh for Assam and other states of its northeast. The Bangladesh-phobia politics in Assam didn’t create any problems for the BJP government in Bangladesh, but was quite a success in Assam.
The claim that such a burgeoning number of Bangladeshis were living in Assam is unrealistic and teeming with communal hatred. Prior to the election it was repeated driven home that the large number of Bangladeshis in Assam were disrupting Assam’s demographic profile and that the state’s politics and power would go to the hands of ‘Bangladeshi Muslims’. If their claims were true that 6000 Bangladeshis were entering Assam every day, then in these 20 years the number would now stand at 43 million. But according to the latest population census of Assam, their population is 31.2 million.
Bangladeshis bring about Assam’s demographic change?
The first population census in Assam since British times, conducted in 1074, stated that 29
A draft register of citizens has been drawn up in Assam to detect ‘Bangladeshis’. This has identified 4 million persons as non-citizens. But unlike the former army chief’s contention, the majority of these non-citizens are Hindu. So there is no basis of the claim that Bangladeshi Muslims are responsible for bringing about a demographic change in Assam.
Nevertheless, the drive is on to garner political dividends from the situation. BJP is willing to amend the citizenship act in order to accommodate only the non-Muslim persons identified as non-citizens. This has instigated considerable protest in northeast India.
Despite all these happenings in Assam over the past few decades, Bangladesh has maintained a strange silence. So many high-profile personalities in India relentless conjure up all sorts of figures about illegal Bangladeshis in Assam, but Dhaka does not raise a single question on the issue.
Bangladesh ahead in development indicators
Migration from one place to another in generally spurred on by inequality in living standards. Bangladesh in most indicators of the Human Development Index (HDI), Bangladesh is far ahead of Assam. Maternal mortality in Assam is double that of Bangladesh, 328 in every 100,000. Infant mortality is also almost double. Life expectancy there is 62, in
Even so, the population censuses of 1971 and 1991 are used to support claims of Bangladeshis flooding into Assam. The two censuses show that the increase of Hindus in these 20 years is 42 per cent and the increase of Muslims is 77 per cent. Their media runs rife with these stories. They blame Bangladesh for the increase in Assam’s Muslims. The media has run all sorts of research on this ‘excessive’ increase in the Muslim populace. But the research has revealed that poverty, lack of education and economic backwardness is the main reason for the increase in population of the Muslims and the scheduled castes there. Birth rates are directly related to poverty. Muslims are more in number in Dhubri, Assam. Literacy rates there are 50 per cent, while this rate is 64 per cent in the entire Assam. While Muslims, incidentally, make up 14 to 15 per cent of India’s population, only 2 per cent land ownership is in their hands. It is the same in the case of employment. So while poverty and illiteracy push up birth rates, the blame is being placed on Bangladesh’s doorstep.
Behind anti-Bangladesh propaganda
The move to drive out ‘Bangladeshis’ from Assam started from way back, in 1979. In the latest citizen’s list of 2018, Muslims are around 1.2 million to 1.5 million among the total population of 4 million. This will decrease when the list is finalised. That means the ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ against whom there has been a social movement over the past 40 years, constitute less than 5 per cent of the population.
In actuality, the Bangladeshi Muslim
Congress was in power in Assam for 16 years from 2001. They had
BJP benefits from such repeated Bangladesh-phobia of important military persons in India. ‘Bangladesh’’ migrants will be raised yet again as an issue in Assam and West Bengal during the Lok Sabha elections due in a few months. Is Bangladesh
* Altaf Parvez is a researcher on Southeast Asian history.