Saturday, January 3, 2009

On the Offensive---Islam in Assam, India

Monalisa Gogoi

Assam is a case study of illegal Bangladeshi migrants on the warpath, natural when the border with an overpopulated country isn’t sealed, says TSI''s Pranab Bora Sixty-five-year-old Lakhiram Bodo describes every moment of the past three months in the relief camp as ‘harrowing’. Despite belonging to the Bodo community – the earliest inhabitants of Assam, and the supposed ‘bhumiputras’, he and the entire Bodo population of Dalgaon Batabari were thrown out of their homes by Bangladeshi immigrants in a matter of minutes. Today, their existence at the relief camp has been brought down to this: a tin shed, four kgs of rice, 1.1 kg of dal, 250 ml mustard oil and some salt, “per person, per week”.

“Fifty years ago, there were hardly a hundred such families here; today there are thousands of families. When they attacked us after the first skirmishes in August this year, we couldn’t resist them; our village was burnt and they killed our people…” Bodo’s voice trails off.

Dalgaon Batabari – near Rowta in lower Assam – is one of many villages that has borne the wrath of the immigrant Bangladeshi, albeit with citizenship papers available everywhere, thanks to the corrupt babus and an apathetic administration that thrives on the Bangladeshi votebank. On August 14, the Bodos brought out a procession opposing the Assam Bandh called by the Muslim Students’ Union of Assam (MUSA) that was protesting against the “harassment of genuine Indian Muslims who were being thrown out of upper Assam districts such as Dibrugarh”, as 23-year-old Badrul Islam, MUSA president, says. The total immigrant Muslim population in lower Assam is about seven million. At the time of independence, the Muslim population in Assam stood at 1.9 million. Now, the average growth rate of Muslims in Assam stands at 18 per cent; that of Hindus at 14. Six of Assam’s 27 districts now have a Muslim majority population. While in 13 districts, the growth rate of Muslims is less than 30, in seven it is less than 40. In Karbi Anglong, it is as high as 73.6 with the population going from 10,000 to 18,000 in 10 years.

Statements from two state Governors – SK Sinha and Ajai Singh – along with the Gauhati High Court in recent times now buttress what organisations like All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), that led the six-year-long anti-foreigners’ agitation beginning 1979, have said all along: that the state has been inundated by Bangladeshis who endangered the very existence of local communities. It was the detection of hundreds of Bangladeshis in the voters’ rolls in 1979 at Mangaldoi that sparked AASU’s anti-foreigners agitation.

Yet, the modus operandi of political groups who speak for the illegal migrant remains the same. MUSA’s Islam accepts that census reports show dangerous population growths in these districts, where other indigenous communities showed normal growth. Yet, every time suspected illegal migrants moving to the upper Assam are handed over to the police, the MUSA protests against the “inhuman treatment meted out to them”. The August 14 bandh call was one such protest.
The October 30 serial bomb blasts in Assam – the state is now home to a number of Islamic militant groups – that killed 90 and injured hundreds was a culmination of events. The blasts were claimed by the militant group Islamic Security Force (Indian Mujahideen). While the Congress-led government continues to blame the blasts on militant groups like United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), till date nothing has come out of its so-called investigation.

Sitting in his small “Office of the Muslim Marriage, Divorce, Registration and Kazi” at Dalgaon, Qazi Md Afzal Hussain, an Assamese Muslim says: “During my father’s time, this was a place of forests where tigers have killed people.” Now, Dalgaon is dominated by immigrants, where Muslims have wiped out tribal belts. As for empowering the Bangladeshi migrant woman – most of them illiterate and some bearing up to 20 children, Hussain says he hasn’t heard of the new nikahnamah released by the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.

The results are evident. As opposed to the sparsely populated Bodo relief camp at Rowta; the displaced immigrants lodged at camps at Dalgaon lives in squalor, the camps overpacked with unthinkable living conditions. Bashid Ali, one of the inmates, claims their village was attacked by Bodo and Bengali Hindu people, an indication that the Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis are now at loggerheads in what, all said and done, is a war for land. The rate at which the immigrant Muslim rampages through the districts of Assam is something that local communities have found impossible to resist. At the receiving end is not just the Bodos, Karbis, Assamese or Bengalis but also the original Assamese Muslim (known as goria), a community that has broken away from the so-called Muslim ‘minority’. “Expect a Bangladeshi as Chief Minister within the next 20 years in this state,” says Nekibur Zaman, Gauhati High Court lawyer, an Assamese Muslim and founder of an organisation ‘Khilonjia Muslim Unnayan Parishad.’ “They may call themselves minorities but there are 20 Bangladeshi MLAs even now in the state Assembly.”

For the “mainstream” politician, all of it is to be shrouded in skewed, convenient statistics. Maulana Fazlul Karim Qasimi, a goria Muslim and the convenor of the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), agrees that there is a conspiracy: “For many political parties, keeping the immigrant population an uneducated, proliferating Bangladeshi lot helps their interests, as children born today will vote after 18 years.” Its victims are both the immigrants and local communities. The toll in the August-October clashes stood at over 50. Add to that the 855 students killed during the Assam agitation, followed by the thousands who have been killed during the insurgency that was an offshoot of the agitation. And as people here point out – this is what is happening to India in its northeast, thanks to the our calloys and self-thanking politicians.

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