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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Illegal migrants and Indian Muslims in Assam

By Muhammad Hasibor Rahman 

The Illegal migrants’ issue in Assam was raised on the eve of the independence of India and has been, since then, made to dominate the politics of the state till today. The people behind the issue are mainly the Brahmins who consist of migrants from outside Assam and their followers. The underlying purpose of keeping the illegal migrants issue alive appears to be to replace the Indian Muslims living in the state and elsewhere by the Hindu foreigners who have infiltrated and are infiltrating into the state from Bangladesh and Nepal with the sole aim to convert India into a theocratic state. During the period from 1951 to 1972 at least 37,57,000 illegal migrants have entered Assam from East Pakistan/Bangladesh alone. During the decades, 1951 -1961 and 1961-1971, 7,90,000 and 9,67,000 foreigners respectively have migrated to the state. The religion wise break up of these foreigners is given in the table I. 

1. Foreigners in Assam
Religion 1951-1961 1961-1971

Hindu displaced 


Illegal migrant

—  — 
Hindus 5,30,000  6,31000
Muslims 2,20,000 27,000
Buddhists   65,000
Christians  30,000 
Others  40,000 



It is estimated that at least 15,00,000 to 20,00,000 foreigners out of the total Hindu refugees who took shelter in Assam during the Bangladesh liberation war stayed back and settled down in the state. Though this fact is well known, yet no effort has been made to identify and deport them while Indian Muslims living in the state have been systematically targeted and expelled from India.
It is to be noted that infiltration of the Muslim foreigners had drastically come down to 27,000 during 1961 -1971 from” 2,20,000 during 1951- 1961. From this it is understandable that there has been hardly any Bangladeshi Muslim infiltration into the state after 1971. Out of 17,57,000 foreigners who entered Assam till 1971 Muslims were only 2,47,000 who could not, in fact, be termed as foreigners because of the fact that they were a fraction of the Indian Muslims who were displaced during the communal riots of 1948 -1950. During the riots 5,00,000 to 6,00,000 Indian Muslims were displaced and compelled to leave Assam for East Pakistan for the safety and security of their life leaving behind all kinds of their property. When a fraction of them came back to the state under the Nehru-Liaquat Pact of April 8, 1950, they were promptly branded as illegal migrants. Before the eruption of the communal riot the state government led by Gopinath Bordoloi evicted 20,000 Muslims from their homes till March 1947. During the period from 1952 to 2002 at least 3,30,076/ndian Muslims were expelled from Assam as immigrants, undesirable elements, anti-nationals and foreigners as shown in the table II below: 

II. No. of Muslims deported from Assam

Year Number of Muslims deported
1952 to April 30 1962 26,875
1962 to 1966  1,74,349
1967 to 1973 69,174
1974 to 1984 58, 148
1985 to 2002 1,530
Total  3,30,076

The laws under which the Muslims were expelled from Assam are: (I) The Foreigners’ Act, 1946, (II) The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, (III) The Foreigners’ (Tribunals) Order, 1964, (IV) The prevention of Infiltration from Pakistan Plan, 1964 known as PIP Plan and (V) The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. Except the last one all laws are communally over toned and heavily biased against the Indian Muslims. P. K. Mahanta who was the top leader of the agitation against foreigners and chief minister of Assam for two terms, while commenting on the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act has, in his book, ‘The tussle between the citizens and foreigners in Assam,’ correctly observed: “It is not at all difficult to read the Act between the lines. It is religion oriented. The Act openly encouraged free entry into Assam of a particular religion or community on the pretext of victims of disturbances in East Pakistan. It can undoubtedly be said that this Act was largely responsible for the alarming population growth during the decades 1951 - 1961 and 961 -1971. ln secular1ndia, the Hindu East Pakistanis were permitted to settle as refugees and Muslim East Pakistanis were thrown out,” 

The deportation of Muslims from Assam as immigrant, undesirable element and anti-national has clearly established the fact that Indian Muslims are expelled from Assam as there was infiltration of very few Muslim foreigners into the state from East PakistanI Bangladesh. Since it is not possible now to expel the Indian Muslims from the state branding them as immigrant and so on, an attempt was made to categorize them as doubtful citizens. This led to enlistment of 2.751akh Muslims as doubtful citizens and deletion of their names from the electoral rolls in 1997. 

Paving the way for all foreigners of the pre-1971 for becoming the citizens of India by signing Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, All Assam Students’ Union (MSU) is carrying out a publicity campaign to exclude 50,00,000 Muslims out of their total 2001 census population of 82,40,611 in collaboration with the Hindutva family. In other words it is telling the world that the majority of the Muslims of Assam are foreigners and that there are only (82,4.0,611 -50,00,000) = 32,40,611 Indian Muslims in the state in 2001. In 1951 the total Muslim population of the state was 19,95,963. It means that during the last fifty years from 1951 to 2001 the total Muslim population increase is only (32,40,611 -19,95,961) = 12,44,650. But the Muslim population of the state was 34,28,969 in 1941, 27,65,509 in 1961, 35, 92,124 in 1971, and 63,73,204 in 1991. 

Population census could not be held in 1981 due to unprecedented disturbances caused by agitation led by MSU. There has been no abnormal growth of Muslim population in the state. The claim of the MSU and their mentors is not true. It is politically and communally motivated. The Muslim population of the state was reduced to 19,95,963 in 1951 from 34,28,969 in 1941 due to transfer of Sylhet to Pakistan and the communal riots of 1948-1950 that compelled several lakhs of Indian Muslims to leave the state for East Pakstan.

It is worth mentioning here that the forces inimical to the Muslims have been posing a threat not only to the existence of the Indian Muslims living in Assam but also to the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Bangladesh. In June 2003 in a rally in Guwahati Vishwa Hindu Parish ad General Secretary P. B. Togadia contended: “Some five million Bangladeshis settled illegally in Assam should be forcibly settled in Bangladesh by capturing some land of that country” (AFP June 8, 2003 cited in Muslim India, August -October 2003)

On February 22, 2003, Astha Bharati, a Delhi based non-governmental organization, asked the government of India to pursue “a coercive diplomacy of demanding the required land from Bangladesh for rehabilitating the two crore immigrants who come from that country and settled in India” (The Assam Tribune, February 23, 2003). 

In this context it may also be noted that a section of Bangladeshi Hindus have also been working to carve out a territory from Bangladesh for them. This is obvious from the letter of Bidyut Sarkar, general secretary, International Federation of Bangladeshi Hindu and Friends, New York addressed to VHP’s working president Ashok Singhal published in Gourav Ghosh in May 2003. Ventilating the grievances of Bangladeshi Hindus he wrote: “Therefore we now urge you to rescue the Hindus of Bangladesh by forcing Bangladesh government to agree to a permanent solution... ln figuring out a permanent solution for the Hindus of Bangladesh, provision ought to be made for those 25 million of Hindus living in India as asylees/refugees to resettle in the suggested protected area(s)/autonomous region(s) for the Hindus in Bangladesh...” The contention of the MSU and the saffron outfits that there has been unabated infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam and other northeastern state of India is not factually correct. Census reports do not corroborate it. Had there been unabated infiltration of Bangladeshis into India, the population growth rate of the country particularly of the northeastern region of India would register an increase rather than a decrease. The population growth rate of India has come down to 21.34 percent during 1991-2001 from 23.66 percent in the previous decade. The growth rate in the population of northeastern states of the country as a whole has also fallen as in the table III. 

III. Population growth rate of Northeast India 
(In percentage)
State  1981-1991 1991-2001 Increase/
Assam 24.24 18.85 -5.39
Arunachal  36.86   26.21 -10.62
Manipur 29.29 30.02 +0.73
Meghalaya 32.86 29.94 -2.97
Mizoram  39.70 29.18 -10.52
Nagaland 56.08 64.41 +8.33
Tripura 34.30 15.74 -18.56

The huge decline in the population growth of the northeastern region during 1991-2001 brings home the message that there has been no infiltration of the Bangladeshis into the region. In Assam, which is depicted to be the haven of illegal migrants, the population growth rate has fallen to 18.85 percent in 1991-2001 from 24.24 percent in 1981-1991.

The total population of Tripura was 5,13,010 in 1941. It jumps up to 27,44,827 in 1991 and then to 31,91,168 in 2001 on account of large-scale infiltration of the Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh. The Muslim population of the state rises from 1,23,570 in 1941 to only 1,96,498 in 1991. From this it can be said beyond doubt that there has been no infiltration of the Bangladeshi Muslims to Tripura and other northeaster states of India.

In 1941 the total population of Assam was 94,16,081. It increased to 2,24,14,322 in 1991 and then to 2,66,38407 in 2001. The Muslim population of the state goes up from 34,28, 969 in 1941 to 63,73,204 in 1991 and then to 82,40,611 in 2001. This shows that during the period from 1941 to 2001 the population of the non-Muslims increased faster than that of the Muslims because of infiltration of the Hindus into the state from Bangladesh as well as Nepal and deportation of the Muslims from the Bangladesh as foreigners.

It is now clear that the Muslim population has not increased at an abnormal rate in Assam and other states of northeast India as it is in the case of the non-Muslim communities particularly of Hindus.

It is true that the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 is solely responsible for large-scale infiltration of the Hindu people into the northeastern region of India particularly in Assam from Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and for the deportation of a large number of Indian Muslims from Assam to Bangladesh. This is obvious from the Section 2 of the Act which says: “If the central government is of the opinion that any person or class of persons, having been ordinarily resident in any place outside India, has or have whether before or after the commencement of this act, come into Assam and that the stay of such person or class of persons in Assam is detrimental to the interests of the general public of India or any section thereof or any scheduled tribes in Assam, the central government may by order (a) direct such person on class of persons to remove himself or themselves from India or Assam within such time and by such route as may be specified in the order; and (b) give such further directions in regard to his or their removal from India or Assam as it may consider necessary or expedient. Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any person who on account of civil disturbances or the fear of such disturbances in area now forming part of Pakistan has been displaced from or has left his place of residence in such area and who has been subsequently residing in Assam.” 

The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act has not provided any safeguard to the Indian Muslims residing in Assam. Rather it has put their safety, security and existence in the state under constant threat of being tampered. In view of Section 2 of the Act and the unreasonable attitude of the saffron forces that are campaigning to expel the Indian Muslims from Assam and other parts of India branding them as illegal migrants, it is very essential not only to retain the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Ac intact but also to extend it to the whole of India.

The IM(DT) Act is a secular piece of legislation. It is in conformity with democratic ideals, human values and rules of law India as a nation is committed to uphold and nurture. The Indian Muslims are not opposed to detection and deportation of foreigners from the country. Their stand is that all foreigners irrespective of their religious and lingual identity should be detected and deported through the judicial process without infringing their human rights. This is because India is a great nation. If there is any Act to be repealed it is the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 not the IM (DT) Act, 1983. The Indian Muslims living in Assam for centuries have historically become part and parcel of the social, economic, political and cultural life of Assam. They have been playing a pivotal role in the development of Agriculture, industry, roads, bridges and building, language, literature and culture of the state. The communities like the Nagas, the Mizos, the Khasis as well the Garos and the like of erstwhile Assam have separated themselves from the parent state carving out separate territory for themselves out of it. Now the Bodos and the Karbis are demanding separation from Assam. But the Muslims are zealously guarding the integrity and unity of the state and working hard to make the dream of greater Assamese society a reality within India. The people of Assam should be able to foil the design of the forces hostile to peace, unity as well as to coexistence of different lingual and religious groups together and maintain communal harmony and peace in the state for the sake of progress and prosperity of their people and land.

1.B. J. Dev & D.K. Lahiri, Assam Muslims politics & cohesion, 1985
2.Sajal Nag, Roots of Ethnic Conflict, 1990
3. The Hidayet, edited by Keramat Ali, June 2000
4. M. Kar, Muslims in Assam Politics, 1997
5. A.K. Das, Assam’s Agony, 1982
6. Satyendra Prasad Deka, “Illegal Migrants Law (repealing & amending)”, Assam Tribune, November 28, 2004

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