A recent United Nations Department of Economic & Social Affairs has revealed that in 2013, India was home to 3.2 million (32 lakhs) Bangladeshi residents who had migrated to and settled in the country. For the first time, the UN has termed this phenomenon as “the single largest bilateral stock of international migrants in the Eastern Hemisphere” which may just be a tip of the iceberg. What is even more revealing is the Population Census Report of the Bangladesh government published in 1996 which found eight million (eighty lakh) persons missing or unaccounted for. Even more recently the Bangladesh Statistical Bureau and the National Population Research & Training Centre has reported that in the past decade 9 lakh (0.9 million) Hindus have vanished from the country. These are not conjectures but real figures.
Among the North-Eastern states, Assam has borne the brunt of the illegal influx. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the Population Census reports of Assam. In 1901, the population of undivided Assam was 33 lakhs. In 1981, after Assam was reorganised and had lost half its territory and a sizable part of its population, its population had grown to 162 lakhs. Increasing to 266.38 lakhs in 2001 and 311 lakhs (3.1 crores) in 2011. Thus its population almost doubled in three decades despite a steady decline in the decadal growth rate from 23.50 per cent in 1981/1991 to 18.85 per cent in 1991/2001 to 16.93 per cent in 2001/2011.
It is evident that in the last three decades in spite of Assam’s population growth rate declining steadily and being below the national average its population has registered an unnatural increase. In reality out of the 27 districts of Assam the minority dominated border and some central districts registered a high decadal growth rate of 22 per cent to 25 per cent. Whereas the rest of the districts recorded much lower growth rates with the eastern districts recording a growth rate as low as 9 per cent. This significant difference in the population growth rates between the minority dominated southern and western districts bordering Bangladesh and the rest of the State is unusual and cannot be dismissed lightly.
The real issue in Assam is about the post March 25, 1971 illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Their citizenship status, their enrollment in the electoral rolls of Assam, their unabated influx and in nearly three decades the State and Central Governments complete failure to implement some of the vital clauses of the Assam Accord such as sealing the international border to stop the influx, providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people or protecting the democratic rights of the genuine citizens from being subverted by illegal immigrants. There has never been any dispute about the illegal immigrants who entered India between 1951 and 25 March 1971 numbering about 2 million (twenty lakhs) who have been accepted as an inalienable part of the multi-faceted Assamese society.
There is nothing communal about the issue and giving it a linguistic or communal slant just because an overwhelming number of the illegal immigrants are Muslims is an attempt to politicise the problem. Muslims have been peacefully co-existing in Assam’s heterogeneous society for centuries. A society where the preachings of both Assam’s patron Vaishnavite saint Sri Sankardev and the Muslim Pir Ajan Fakir are revered equally. In fact the indigenous Assamese Muslims themselves feel threatened by the large-scale influx and the government’s policy of appeasing Muslims of foreign origin. They have therefore formed the All Assam Khilonjiya Asomiya Musalman Unnayan Parsihad for the welfare of the nearly 30 lakh indigenous Assamese muslims. It is noteworthy that as per the Census of 2011 the Muslim population in Assam was 1.8 crores (10.8 million) which is 34.7 per cent of the State’s population.
With political patronage illegal immigrants have been dubiously enrolled as voters and are a powerful vote bank. All attempts to correct the voter’s lists by updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) have met with stiff resistance and violent protests. Socially the increasing pressure on land has brought them into direct conflict with the indigenous and ethnic communities resulting in bloody clashes. Economically the alarming population growth has put pressure on the State’s meagre resources and is negating development initiatives. Security concerns have also increased. Reportedly fundamentalists are actively encouraging jehadi elements in the immigrant areas at the behest of outside forces. Recently intelligence sources have revealed that a key member of the ISI backed Lashkar-e-Taiba is from Assam. Another major problem is the regular smuggling through the porous Indo-Bangladesh border of large quantities of counterfeit Indian currency notes printed in Pakistan, China and Nepal meant to disrupt the Indian economy.
Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau of a Delhi court while pronouncing a verdict on two Bangladeshi nationals in a case of dacoity cum murder put the issue in the right perspective by observing that-“Our country has become a haven for all these criminal elements who are most ruthless and brutal with anybody who come in their way. While genuine citizens of this country continue to suffer in abject poverty, what is it that prevents a firm, resolute, intense government action against these three crore Bangladeshis illegally staying in India, enjoying all benefits which are otherwise the entitlements of citizens. It is this lack of concerted Government/administrative action which has compelled the courts of law to step in.”Will the government now take cognizance of this serious threat and stop the silent invasion?