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Posted Online on Friday 5, August 2005 01:58 IST

Politics of Alienation

Muslims forced to live in the shadow of Partition policy 

By Shakil Ahmed

Imphal: The Supreme court ruling scrapping the IM(DT) Act 1983, came close on the heels of launching the campaign to boycott the "Bangladeshis" (MG 1- 15 July,2005) which led to the flight of a large number of Muslims from their homes in Upper Assam to "safer" places of the state. The boycott campaign and the ruling of the apex court have come as a shock to the Muslims of Assam. 

The campaign betrays a dark design by anti-Muslim elements from whose monstrous designs the country has been suffering since long. The ruling of the apex court, however, reflects the responsibility of the Indian state to detect and deport the illegal immigrants whose entry into Assam was termed as "aggression" by the apex court. Apart from its genuine intent to uphold the Constitution of India in the face of aggression, the ruling has also generated concerns among the Assam Muslims who have been at the centre of the whole anti-foreigners campaign in Assam. Muslim reaction to the apex court ruling was a combination of fear, helplessness and frustration amid determination to safeguard the genuine Indian nationals from arbitrary identification and deportation.

BJP and other Sangh affiliates have, predictably, gone overboard to paint Assam in saffron in their jubilation over the scrapping of the IM(DT).The Congress indulges in its past-time "Muslim assuring policy". As a result of past experience, few intend to pay any heed to them. AASU beat the celebration drum and led the jubilation camp. However, it also took care to warn BJP and other political parties not to celebrate in the scrapping of the IM(DT) Act in whose scrapping the BJP played no part.

The issue is not whether there are foreigners in Assam. Its an agreed fact that there are foreigners in Assam. The issue at hand is the communal approach at identifying and deportation of the foreigners and harassment of genuine Indian nationals under the guise of identifying "foreigners". BJP has openly stated that the Hindu migrants should be treated as "refugees" and be allowed to live in Assam. But the BJP is only trying to pander to and build on already existing, and kicking, prejudices borne out of Partition (refined and sharpened ever since).The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act of 1950 implicitly distinguished between "Hindu refugees" and "Muslim illegal aliens". Though the Act was repealed in 1957, a secret administrative order from the government of India in 1965 said that the Hindus from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) settled in India for more than six months could be granted citizenship by a District magistrate following some very easy procedures (Baruah, Sanjib, 2001, India against itself - Assam and the Politics of Nationality, New Delhi: OUP, p.119).

Though this secret administrative order was withdrawn in 1971, it reveals that even at the government policy-making level attempts had been made to distinguish between "Hindu" and "Muslim" migrants. It is unfortunate that this "vision" is deeply rooted in the Assam society, and it naturally explains why Muslims are fearful of motivated and false identification of Indian nationals under the Foreigners Act of 1946 after the scrapping of IM(DT).

Abdul Muhib Majumdar, the man who scripted the IM(DT)Act, says, "The foreigners Act is applicable to foreigners only, like those with passport who have overstayed in the country. When the suspect claims that he is not a foreigner there is no provision in the Act to deal with him under such situation. That is why there is a need for judicial trial, which was provided in the IM(DT) Act". Majumdar regrets that the IM(DT)Act was not extended throughout the country. He also says, so far no border security personel under whose nose the foreigners enter India has been punished.

Now with the coming elections in May 2006, the Congress is trying to hold back Muslim votes by assuring to protect them, BJP is trying to exploit the sentiments of the jubilant camp, while the AGP is running between two poles. Underneath the election matrix and calculations is the Muslims' sense of betrayal, their lack of organised and effective leadership, and above all the distinct possibility of harassment with ever-increasing ferocity. Its indeed a paradox that while Muslims feel powerlessness, their number in Assam has been an eye-sore for those who see India in the colour of a particular religious persuasion. 

See also:

50,000 Displaced Persons from Bodo Areas in 1993, Yet to be Resettled, President AIMMM Visits Camps in Bongoigaon on 23 May, 2005

IMDT Act: Safeguarding citizenship rights essential


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