Bangladeshis in India: myth and reality

The Assam violence between Bodos and Muslims, alleged by some to be Bangldeshi infiltrators, has a long chain of repercussions. The number of dead is nearly ninety. Killings are continuing and the people who have been displaced are over four lakh. There is no exact statistics to tell us how many of the displaced are Muslims and how many are Bodos, still roughly some investigators have put the figure of Muslims at 80% and Bodos at 20%.

The few reports which have come out tell us that the condition of all refugee camps is abysmal, much worse are those where Muslims are living. Meanwhile many a voice has come up to express opinions. BJP leaders have strongly asserted that the whole violence is due to the Bangladeshi infiltrators, whose number is estimated as per the flight of one’s imagination ranging from 10 million to 20 million or even more. It is alleged that they have encroached upon the land of the local natives and this is causing dissatisfaction and hate for them. This hate in turn is at the root of violence. This is one case where displacement overshadows the violence.

The Election Commissioner H.S. Brahma, a Bodo himself, went to the extent of claiming that these infiltrators have gone up in number and so have become aggressive and attacked the local Bodos.

The other point of view is that despite the formation of Bodo Territorial Council, the Bodos did not surrender their arms, which was one of the conditions for accepting the demand of this regional council. There are voices from BJP stable that this is an issue of Nationalism, one of Indians and the other of Bangladeshis.

Some of them have voiced that these Bangladeshis should be disenfranchised and not be permitted to vote. As such already many of them are not allowed to vote by putting them in the category of ‘D’ voters, i.e., doubtful voters. As per BJP & company, it is Congress which has been encouraging the Bangladeshis to infiltrate so that they can be used as the votebank by the Congress. Not to ignore that since major number of those in relief camps is that of Muslims, some Bodo groups have warned that Muslims should not be permitted to return to their original places.

 National Minorities Commission in its report has pointed out that there is no infiltration of Bangladeshis as such and the issue is that between the Bodo ethnic groups, on one side and the Muslims, who have settled here since a long time, on the other.

Before we come to the issue whether these are Bangladeshi infiltrators, Bangldeshi migrants or Muslims settlers from Bengal over a period of time, let’s register that the Assam episode had a very painful after events. There were hate emails, hate websites which warned the Northeastern people that revenge of Assam will be taken against them and this caused a mammoth exodus of Northeastern people from all over, more particularly from Bangalore. Many of the websites, which did this dirty job and have been blocked, are said to be based in Pakistan, some 20% of the blocked sites are the ones run by Hindutva groups. Through leaflets and other mechanisms, VHP and other groups are propagating that Hindus are being attacked by Muslim Bangladeshi infiltrators.

Not to be left behind, some orthodox, fanatic Muslim groups organized a protest rally in Azad Maidan of Mumbai, in which in a pre-planned act, a section of Muslims attacked the OB vans of media and police officials. The restrained and effective leadership of Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik was not to the liking of the communal elements and those politicking on the issue within the ruling party and so Mr. Patnaik was punished by being kicked up. As such secular activists and large sections of Muslims are in deep appreciation of Mr. Patnaik’s handling of the episode.

 Coming back to the propaganda of Bangladeshi infiltrators, many a researcher has proved on the basis of demographic data of the last century in particular that the Muslims in the region are settlers from pre-Partition Bengal to begin with, later at the time of partition in 1947 and lastly at the time of Bangladesh war in 1971. Assam accord of 1985 recognizes all those living in this area as legal setlers, most of the Muslim fall in this category. Not to deny that some small number of illegal immigrants, the one’s forced to migrate for economic reasons, is also there.

The change in demographic profile of Assam has taken place over a period of more than a century. It was mainly the British policy to release the pressure from the then Bengal province that they encouraged Bengalis to settle in Assam. The last major migration took place around 1971 during the the Bangladesh war. After that, the trickle has been there but the alleged infiltration never took place. Assam accord does recognize that all those who settled before 1971 are legal Indian citizens, which most of the Muslims in Assam are. This is shown by the pattern of decadal growth in the region, more particularly from 1950 onwards. The census figures clearly point out that after 1971, there is no major increase in the population of the area. The decadal growth in Assam, Dhubri, Dhemaji, and Karbi Anglong from 1971 to 1991 had been 54.51, 54.26, 45.65, 107.50, and 74.72 respectively. While the same in the decade of 1991-01 became 21.54, 18.92, 22.97, 19.45, 22.72 and in the decade of 01-11 it became 17.64, 16.93, 24.40, 20.30 and 18.69 respectively.  Shivam Vij in “Myth of Bangla Deshi and Violence in Assam” ( shows that the migration has taken place over a period of time and the increase of population stops after 1971.

If we just look at the decadal growth rates of population in two other districts of Assam, Dhemaji and Karbi Anglong, we will see that their growth rates in comparison have been more than twice that of Assam and substantially higher than even the ‘Muslim’ majority ‘border’ district of Dhubri. Yet, the Muslim population in Dhemaji and Karbi Anglong is minuscule. The Hindu population in these two districts is 95.94% and 82.39% respectively. Muslims constitute merely 1.84% and 2.22% respectively of their total populations in spite of having consistent high decadal growth rates - Dhemaji touching 103.42% between 1961-71 and Karbi Anglong having a similar high of 79.21% between 1951-61. This should be testimony enough to show that there could be reasons apart from illegal immigration of Muslims behind a high decadal growth rate of population. In Assam there is a decline in the population in Kokrajhar, which is the seat of Bodo Territorial Council. It has the lowest population growth of 5.19%, from the earlier 14.49 per cent in 2001.

 Understanding the truth and deeper analysis of the demographic pattern of Assam is very essential to understand the nature of the present carnage, which is more of a sectarian nature, a group trying to assert ethnic domination in the region at the expense of others. The underlying causes, lack of development of the region, absence of jobs, is creating more pressure on the land, and the ‘sons of the soil’ politics is being brought up in a very painful manner. Not only do we need to condemn the present violence, there is a need to bring in amity between different communities with proper development of infrastructure, which gives the opportunities to all the citizens of the area. (Issues in Secular Politics)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2012 on page no. 6

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