Bangladeshi immigration of Assam – A problem never to be solved


Assam Bangladesh border

By- Ashifur Zaman

A territory is prima facie non self-governing if it is both geographically separate and ethnically distinct from the country administering it.

This was the new definition of United Nations in its GA Resolution 1541 (XV) taken on December 15, 1960 to define a colonized state or nation. India has voted in the UN general Assembly agreeing to this resolution. Not only that, India used the same resolution at the UN Security Council meeting held on December 4th, 1971 to support the Independence of the then East – Pakistan. Pakistan probably would have been able to continue to keep its East Pakistan under its dominance with military might just as India continues to keep Assam, Manipur or Nagaland under its military dominance. But the worse relations between India and Pakistan led to the birth of a new sovereign nation of Bangladesh.

The Bangladeshis against whom the strong Assam agitation started in 1979 were known and respected as Bengalis just a century back. In British India, they were neither considered as foreigners nor as illegal settlers. They were only regarded as neighboring Swadeshi Migrants. In the first half of the twentieth century, they were given a red carpet welcome to Assam in hundreds and thousands as a ploy of future political discourse. This mass migration was fueled by the then British Administration of Assam and was backed open heatedly by the neo-middle class Assamese of those times since these migrants did not hamper the aspiration of the white collar job aspiring Assamese. The Assamese simply gave an indifferent attitude to this mostly agriculture dependent migration. Moreover the places and locations where these migrants settled down were places unthinkable for the common Assamese farming communities. In the next phase, the ruling parties started using the mass migration for their own selfish motives, creating vote banks.

Analyzing deeply the six year long Assam Agitation, one realizes that it did not just start off against Illegal Foreigners. The people of Assam already plagued socio-economically with the vandalism of the Delhi rule since Indian Independence, the years of injustice and neglect has risen up. People of Assam had come to realize that the mass migrations from not only Bangladesh but also from other provinces of India were the root of increasing population and thereby increasing number of socio-economic issue. As such the Assam agitation initially was against Outsiders (Bohiragoto) and not just foreigners (Bidexi). Later, in order to bring the agitation under the constitutional framework of the India, the issue of foreigners took over. All other issues for which the people of Assam had come to the streets went down the drain and illegal foreigners became the one and only topic of rebellion.

There was no convincing numbers or statistics available on the actual foreigners or Bangladeshis during the agitation. The estimated number of illegal Bangladeshis kept on increasing during the agitation to convince about the seriousness of the issue. Slowly, even old and permanent residents of Assam (mostly Muslims) were started to be tagged as Bangladeshis or foreigners. As a result, the migrants, both the old and the new who were labeled as the same kind, were forced to get united for their own cause. This made the situation a lot more complex. Incidents at Nellie, Gohpur where thousands of people were killed by radicals made matters worse. In addition, Hindu radical parties started to show a biased attitude towards Hindu Bangladeshi immigrants. As a result, anyone who spoke in Bengali, had a beard or wore a Lungi was considered as Bangladeshis! This worsened the situation, giving enough space for politics to make its own rooms with these people. This continues to haunt and affect Assam politics till date.

The worst part of the entire issue is that India has always acted against itself when it comes to the problem of illegal foreigners or Bangladeshis, more specifically. For a country, one of the biggest threats to its sovereignty and security is the illegal influx of foreigners. India has proved this time and again whenever there has been the slightest of influx by few Pakistanis or Chinese nationals. In the Indo- China border of neighboring Assam’s Arunachal Pradesh, thousands of Indian soldiers are made available at the slightest hint of a Chinese trespassing into Indian lands. But when Bangladeshi citizens crosses the international border and openly ventures into Assam, the Indian state machine shows a different attitude altogether. There are reports of Bangladeshis trespassing into Indian borders, keeping Indian Border Security Jawans under captivity and creating loot and robbery in villages of Assam. This however fails to get attention as a national threat or security concern! In spite of being the most troubled by foreigners state, Assam continues to witness India’s uncaring attitude to the issue which has often made the people of the region wonder if Assam is indeed an Indian state or colony! After all, the United Nations resolution quoted at the start of the article holds true with Assam and the issue of illegal foreigners is one of the truest examples.

To make matters further worse, the Indian Government has now come in terms of some Human Rights organizations of Bangladesh who has accused India for killing Bangladeshis when they try to sneak into India. Getting into friendly mode with Bangla government, Indian Government has now set the following regulations:

  • Anyone trying to cross the Indo-Bangla border illegally would be shooted with rubber bullets first.
  • If the person still continues to attempt crossing over, Indian BSF is supposed to arrest him and hand over to Bangladesh authorities.
  • Only if the Bangladeshi intruder attacks a border guard with arms, the BSF can use arms against him.

 The same Indian Government does not think twice to impose brutal laws like Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and kill, torture and rape people of North East India at will with the imposition and dominance of the Indian Army. But it shows compassion to the illegal Bangladeshi trespassers who should be considered as a threat to the nation!

It has been 26 years that Assam Accord to throw out illegal foreigners remains unfulfilled. This makes G.K Pillai’s recent promise (that the Indo-Bangla border would be sealed by 2012) to the members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) cannot be trusted .After the Barpeta incident last year against the roll out of National Registration of Citizens (NRC), it is yet unclear what policies and steps the Government would take to identify and deport illegal intruders.

The conflict between the mainstream Assamese and the Muslims of the state are increasing day by day. A region that boasts of the communal harmony between different communities, tribes and religion is now shattered. The ethnic tribes are all busy now demanding only their own rights to self-determination. The issue of illegal foreigners for them is now not a major one as long as their own motives is fulfilled. Under prevailing circumstances, there is doubt if the issue of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam would be ever solved.

Translated by: Priyankan Goswami from the original Assamese article of the writer.

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