Sunday, 6 September 2015


Assam has been the home of various ethnicities like the Karbis, Dimasas, Kacharis, tea tribes, Bodos and many more. Of these, 60% belong to the Hindu community and the 30% to the Muslim community. The latter further comprises of Bengali Muslims and Assamese Muslims.
Bengali-speaking Muslims have entered Assam during various phases. First, the British had brought them into the state on the pretext of working in char areas and tea plantations. Second, many of them entered the state during the division of Bengal in 1905 and settled in various parts of Assam. Third, migration also took place during the partition of India. Fourth, the 1971 Bangladesh war saw large-scale immigration to India and brought about a humanitarian refugee crisis – about 10 lakh people had entered India at that time. While many of them returned, 1 lakh Bangladeshis stayed back in India. The immigration from the Bangladeshi side should have stopped thereafter but it (mostly in the case of Bengali-speaking Muslims) continues, even today, because of a porous India-Bangladesh border that is not completely fenced. The illegal immigrants mainly come into the country in search of work in the construction business and agriculture as sufficient employment opportunities are not available in Bangladesh but this has threatened other ethnic communities to the brink becoming a minority in their own state – especially the Assamese communites in Assam itself. Around 1.2 crore illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are believed to be present in the state, leading to fears that they are taking over their land and jobs.
The All Assam Students Union (AASU) carried out a six years long agitation on the issue of illegal immigration (1979-1985) and to protest against the entry of the names of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the electoral roll. This resulted in the signing of the Assam Accord between the Rajeev Gandhi government and AASU, which paved the way for the setting up of a tribunal for identifying the foreigners (specified that an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant is one whose name or that of his/her ancestors is not on the electoral rolls up to 1971 or the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 or one who doesn’t have 12 type of documents such as permanent resident certificate, refugee registration certificate as such as on before the midnight of 24 March 1971) and deporting them. AASU also demanded for the updating of the National Registrar of Citizens based on the same criteria as mentioned above.
The government of Bangladesh, however, refuses to recognise that any illegal immigration has taken place in the present era and refuses to take back its citizens who have been identified as illegal immigrants by the tribunal. The Government of Bangladesh wants an international agency to verify the illegal immigrants’ claims. Despite the UN Department of Economic And Social Affairs reporting that there are 3.2 million Bangladeshi residents in India and calling it "the single largest bilateral stock of international migrants", there has been no forward development of the issue. Further, there are 36 tribunals all over Assam that have identified 38,186 foreigners since 1985 but only 2448 have been deported so far. The Bangladesh home guards have at times cooperated with the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in the deportation process but they only takes back their residents after verifying the residents’ address, which is a lengthy process because of which the BSF resorts to pushing back options through the border. Overall, no agreement has been reached between the two countries regarding the deportation of illegal immigrants. The Bangladeshi illegal immigrant issue has led to a lot of clashes between various ethnic communities and the Muslims in Assam over the years. A lot of blood has been flown ,the recent clash been in the Bodoland Territorial Areas between the Bodos and the Muslims which led to 5000 houses being burnt and 45000 families of 244  villages being displaced. It led to a serious humanitarian crisis and people especially the people from the non-Bodo community being displaced in large numbers and taking shelter in 278 relief camps.
The Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government, which has been in power in the state for the last 14 years, has done little on the issue and only set up the tribunal for deportation and identification of illegal immigrants following directions from the Supreme Court. The current BJP-led central government had promised, during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, that if it came into power it would deport the illegal Muslim immigrants but would make a provision for the Hindus from Bangladesh to be granted permanent citizenship status – a wholly biased opinion since the idea of granting citizenship to a person cannot be decided on the basis of his/her religious affinity. Moreover the All Assam United Democratic Front (AIUDF), which is mainly a Muslim dominated party with 18 assembly seats, the second largest in the Assam assembly, is of the opinion that the Bodos along with other communities are engaged in ethnic cleansing of the Muslim community of Assam, especially in the BTC areas due to which the government should take adequate measures for the protection of the Muslim community.
The government of Assam on the directions and supervision of the Supreme Court started the updating of the National Registrar of Citizens(NRC) in March this year. The process should be completed by October this year and the government will release the updated list by January. Though some anomalies have been detected in the process – certain tea tribes have been settled in Assam for a century but without official documents indicating property-ownership or even listing in the electoral rolls. The government is confident that once the NRC update is completed it will be able to identify the illegal immigrants and deport them, solving the problem of illegal immigrants once and for all.
The Bangladeshi immigrant problem has been plaguing Assam for far too long. The longer it lasts, the more will be its effects on the economy as well as the security situation. Moreover the Assamese community may find itself reduced to a minority, making clashes inevitable and negatively affecting the harmony of the society. The central government needs to complete border fencing and electrification as soon as possible and also needs to take up the issue of deportation of illegal immigrants with its Bangladeshi counterpart, pushing forward the signing of an agreement at the earliest. Cooperation by the state government in this matter is of utmost important.

Akshay Poudel

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