Friday, 3 August 2012

Ground survey of Illegal immigration in Assam: Myth or reality ?

Whenever there is a riot in Assam involving Muslims, it’s alleged that clash is not between Muslims and other community (say Hindus for example) but between Indians and illegal immigrants. The accusations of illegal immigrants are solely made on the assumption, which is bereft of any rationality.It is more a political issue now, and many such accusations are made to appease a particular constituency.
There seems to be a concerted effort to brand utterly poor, illiterate and voiceless Indian citizens as illegal immigrants.

1.Harassment and communal violence in Assam:-

These kinds of repeated accusations during last three decades have created a belief among a large section of population that most Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam are illegal immigrants. The word ‘Bangladeshi’ has become derogatory remark in Assam now. Most Muslims at some point of time directly or indirectly have been abused as Bangladeshis, thus in the name of illegal immigrants, genuine Indian citizens are abused and harassed.This sense of suspicion towards Bengali speaking Muslims is alarming and is a threat to communal harmony. Muslims have made their presence felt in Assam as early as 1206; since then from time to time they settled in Assam after coming from different places. Migration of Bengali Muslim peasants from the then East Bengal to Assam started in early 19thcentury, it grew by later part of 19th and early 20th century. In 1951, Muslim population of Assam was 24.7%.

2.Ground reality of illegal immigration in Assam :-

Illegal immigration in Assam cannot be denied but it is inflated, over hyped and highly exaggerated. The inflated numbers of infiltrators often quoted is more a myth than a reality. A few examples will decode the myth.According to Assam Accord, March 25, 1971 is the cut-off date to identify foreigners, i.e.whoever migrated to India before 1971 is a bona fide Indian citizen and whoever came after that is not. Now, let us compare the growth of Muslims during 1971-1991 in India and Assam along with other states.

Muslim growth rate: India (71.47) , Assam (77.42) , U.P (76.30) , West Bengal (77.35), Madhya Pradesh( 80.76), Maharashtra (80.15), Haryana (88.36) , Manipur (88.36) , Punjab (110.32) , Rajasthan (89.29), Tripura ( 89.0) and Himachal Pradesh (77.64).

The above figures show that growth rate of Muslims in largely populated states is higher than that of Assam. Nobody has claimed that higher growth rate of these states is due to illegal immigration. Then why these double standards when it comes to Assam? Why comparatively lower growth rate of Muslims in the state is attributed to illegal immigration?

Now let us examine the growth rate among SC and ST within the greater Hindu community. SC : India ( 72.78) , Assam (81.84), Andhra Pradesh (83. 67), West Bengal ( 82.40), Maharashtra (189.44), Manipur (126.58), Meghalaya (133.39), Karnataka (91.41), Rajasthan (86.67), Madhya Pradesh ( 76.52), Punjab (71.51), Haryana (71.47) etc. Thus the growth rate among Schedules castes is higher in few states and more or less equal in other states. For Assam, and India as a whole, it is higher than that of Muslims.

The growth among ST is: India ( 78.24), Assam (78.91), Andhra Pradesh (153.34), Madhya Pradesh (83.60), Maharashtra (147.72), Manipur (89), Tamil Nadu ( 84.32) and Tripura (89.38). These growth rates are also higher than that of Muslims.

From the above figures, it is seen growth rate during 1971-1991 in India among different groups is as follows: Hindus (52.24), Muslims (71.47), SC (72.78), and ST (78.24), while for Assam it is: Hindus (41.89), Muslims (77.42), SC (81.84) and ST (78.91). This clearly shows that the growth rate among Muslims is much higher that of the growth rate of Hindus as a whole. But when separately examined, the growth rate of SC and ST (within Hindus), it is seen that their growth rates are still higher than that of Muslims. This trend exists almost everywhere in India.

Therefore growth among Muslims in Assam is not abnormally higher; many states have higher growth among Muslims than Assam, is that because of illegal immigration too? Growth among SC and ST is also higher in Assam than Muslims, is that also because of illegal immigration?

One thing that is similar to the higher growth rate among Muslims, SC and ST is poverty and illiteracy, which promotes high fertility rate. But hardly anyone introspects it and everyone at his liberty, blames illegal immigartion for the higher growth rate of Muslims in Assam.

3. Political issue of illegal immigration in Assam:-

In 2004, former MoS for Home Affairs Sri Prakash Jaiswal said in the floor of the Parliament that there are 50 lac illegal immigrants in Assam. Though he retracted the statement a week later, but the intended damage had been done. The over hyping brigade quotes Jaiswal's statement everywhere they discuss the issue of illegal immigrants. And those who only accuse Muslims as Bangladeshis go about the town saying there are 50 lac Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam.Just to remind them, according to 1971 census the Muslim Population of Assam was 35.9 lac and as per 2001 census it has increased to 82.4 lacs, thus there is overall increase of 47.3 lacs Muslim population since 1971. And according to Assam accord those who settled in India before 25 March 1971 are Indian citizens, therefore it is ridiculous to say that there are 50 lacs Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam.

Isn’t this a well-planned strategy to brand Indian Muslims as Bangladeshis? At the peak of Assam agitation some spoke of two crore illegal immigrants in North East. Almost twenty years later the entire population of North-East, according to 2001 census is 40 million i.e. 4 crores. Surely terming half of the population of North East as illegal immigrants is way above exaggeration and irrational. Thus over-hyping and exaggerating the illegal immigration issue is a deep conspiracy to brand Indian Muslims as Bangladeshis to deny them basic human rights.

4. Lt Gen (Rtd) Ajay Singh and  illegal immigration in Assam :-

Another ridiculous figure that is often quoted is of former governor of Assam Lt Gen (Retd) Ajay Singh, who made a statement that on an average about 6000 illegal immigrants come to Assam daily, which makes around 20.1 lacs every year. This figure also is also inflated and irrational. The length of India-Bangladesh border in Assam is 263kms, the entire border is still not fenced and remains to be porous. But whoever has seen the border would agree that the entire region is well guarded by Border Security Forces, wherever there is no fencing BSF Jawans guard the border area from ground and light posts. Being a former army officer and then holding a constitutional post, Lt Gen Singh didn’t only dent his credibility by making such a bizarre statement, but also insulted BSF Jawans who guard the border day and night.There are many such exaggerated figures which from time to time have been made by several individuals just to vent their personal indigestions, and many a time to satisfy their political motives and none among this crowd has quoted any authentic sources while making such inflated statements.

5.Why this myth of illegal immigration in Assam:-

Illiteracy and acute poverty are rampant among Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam, and early marriages obviously lead to high fertility rates and this is the major cause of high growth rate among Muslims. It would not be wrong to say that a Muslim woman becomes mother of three by the time her Hindu counterpart gets married.The grave problem Assam is facing today is the illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness but for obvious reasons, cooked up illegal immigrants’ issue has unfortunately dominated the narrative.Whenever new settlers arrive in an area, without bothering to check their antecedents, they are labelled as Bangladeshis. Well, few could be, who knows? But the fact remains that there are more than 2500 chars or river islands in the Brahmaputra where more than 90 per cent population comprises of Bengali speaking Muslims. These people migrated at the same time as people who settled in mainland, but choose to settle in these Chars because they were vacant and fertile at the same time. With their hardwork they grew crops on these lands but nature was not so kind to these people. With Brahmaputra fury every year, the lands got eroded and these people lost their cultivation, forcing them to migrate to other areas, where they were branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Majuli, which a was once world’s largest river island has been shrunk to half its size because of mass erosion. The island has been reduced to 514 sq. km from 1244 sq. km in 1950, according to state government figures, and this after spending crores to protect it. But no efforts have been made to protect other 2500 much smaller islands scattered all over Brahmaputra, and to be fair it is impossible to protect small river islands from erosion.

According to a survey about 1053 sq. km of river bank has been eroded in the last 18 years, and more than half of it lies in lower Assam, which is densely populated with Bengali speaking Muslims. More than 2 million Muslims have been affected and displaced by erosion of chars and river bank in last few decades. Thus these erosion affected internally displaced people migrate to mainland to settle only but to their dismay, they are labelled as a fresh batch of illegal immigrants.


No one wants illegal immigration problem to be solved more than the Muslims of Assam, because it is they who suffer from it the most. It is the Muslims who are abused, killed and hounded out of their homes in the name of illegal immigrants. Politics over the issue has made it more complex. The communal brigade has done everything to polarize views on illegal immigration and that’s why genuine Indian Muslims citizens are being branded as illegal immigrants. This complex problem must be fought by a logical approach, based on facts not feelings.

This guest post is contributed by Wadud Aman:-

Wadud Aman is a freelance journalist and secular humanitarian.Catch the Avid Reader, Terrible Writer, Argumentative Indian, Secular Liberal Democrat, Inter-faith Enthusiast in Twitter .

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