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Don’t blame the immigrant

The contention that Muslim migration is behind the violence in Assam is prejudiced

August 3, 2012 2:39:12 am

The contention that Muslim migration is behind the violence in Assam is prejudiced

When opinions expressed by high constitutional functionaries on a human tragedy tend to bolster deep-rooted prejudices,they cannot be left unquestioned.

H.S. Brahma,Election Commissioner of India,expressed his opinion on what caused the Kokrajhar riots (‘How to share Assam’,IE,July 28) by not only blaming illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for the violence but also hinting that the illegal immigrants being Muslim perhaps increases the enormity of the threat.

I have a few questions to ask. The EC claims,“recent ethnic clashes between Hindu Bodos and Muslim immigrants… were unfortunate. However,the clashes were not wholly unexpected. The question that is generally asked is: why did it take a few decades to occur in the first place? Assam has been virtually sitting on a huge tinderbox.”

The EC would want us to believe that the spate of ethnic violence that has erupted in the Bodoland Territorial Districts of Assam is due to illegal Muslim immigrants. If this is so,would he explain why there were recurrent clashes between Hindu Bodos and not-at-all Muslim adivasis in Kokrajhar and Chirang,which have left thousands of adivasis homeless and still living in relief camps after more than a decade,unable to return to their homes? Would he explain why a majority of the 32,613 families (as per figures provided by the government of Assam) still living in relief camps are adivasis? To the best of my knowledge,they had not been attacked and uprooted by Muslim immigrants. The adivasis were not illegal immigrants nor were their numbers multiplying alarmingly to pose a threat to Bodos. Why were they massacred then,in some of the bloodiest acts of ethnic cleansing,in the 1990s?

The EC further writes,“Any knowledgeable person in Assam knows well enough that migration into the state started during the late 1960s and early 1970s.” That the migration of impoverished Bengali Muslim peasants from East Bengal to the British province of Assam began in the late 1800s is a well-documented historic fact. The EC’s claims are as factually untenable as they are historically inaccurate. It is important to understand that the immigrants and natives have lived cheek-by-jowl for over a century and,in spite of occasional friction,hostility between the communities is not such that bloodshed is inevitable.

He also says,“It has been alleged… that out of the 27 districts in Assam,11 of them are going to be Muslim majority districts once the 2011 census figures,religion-wise,are published by the census authorities.” I do not understand why 11 districts of Assam becoming Muslim majority should be a cause for alarm,unless the EC is claiming that these districts are becoming Muslim majority by virtue of illegal immigration alone. But does he have believable evidence to make such a claim? Interestingly,the EC himself admits there are only about 1.5 lakh D-voters or doubtful voters in Assam,not really a significant total given the size of Assam’s electorate. Where is the votebank of illegal Muslim immigrants about to usurp numerical majority in 11 of Assam’s districts then?

Contrary to perception,the decadal growth rate of the population in Assam has been declining and has been lower than that of India since 1991,as revealed by census figures. Also,can we overlook the fact that the language report shows those districts that would perhaps turn Muslim majority would also show an overwhelming Assamese majority? Would it still be a problem if these districts turned Muslim majority on the strength of Muslims who have legitimately settled in Assam and have slowly assimilated into the native culture,adopting Assamese as their language?

The EC is firm that the “present ethnic clashes between the two communities can be directly attributed to the aforementioned facts of illegal migration into Assam… the population in all these areas has been going up by leaps and bounds”. But if he were to check some figures provided by the census (Provisional Totals Assam Paper 1,I(I) Census of India,2011,Annexure 2,Table 1) he would see that between 1991-2001,the decadal growth rate of the population in Kokrajhar,where the current spate of ethnic clashes begun,has been 14.49 per cent,lower than the corresponding figures for Assam and India,put at 18.92 per cent and 21.54 per cent respectively. Between 2001-11,the decadal growth rate of the population in Kokrajhar declined to 5.19 per cent,whereas for Assam and India the decline was 16.93 per cent and 17.64 per cent respectively. Do these figures for Kokrajhar indicate population increase in “leaps and bounds”,as he claims?

The population density of Kokrajhar district is one of the lowest — 266 and 280 persons per square kilometre for 1991-2001 and 2001-11 respectively (Provisional Totals Assam Paper 1,Census of India,2011). In the geographically contiguous district of Dhubri,population densities were 941 and 1,171 persons per sq km for 1991-2001 and 2001-11 respectively. Do these figures indicate immense pressure on land due to encroachment by illegal Muslim immigrants to the extent that it would trigger ethnic clashes?

The EC appears to have allowed his opinions to be coloured by prejudice.

Nilim Dutta is executive director,Strategic Research & Analysis Organisation,Guwahati

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