Intro : The NDA government has given citizenship to around 4,300 Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Afghanistan in one year in contrast to the figure of 1,023 during the entire tenure of UPA-II. The Congress Govt in Assam supporting the similar initiative on the Eastern Front is a welcome move for the Hindu refugees.
The issue of illegal foreigners in India is a matter of concern for the country, but the influx of Bangladeshi national to Assam remains a major socio-political issue for the tiny State for decades. Contrary to other parts of the country, Assam witnessed a historic movement against the influx in eighties, which drew the attention of the nation.
The uprising culminated with a local party government at Dispur which was primarily motivated to deport millions of Bangladeshi migrants from Assam. But even after three decades of the political development in Assam, the issue continues to emerge even today though in a different shape and size.
With the change of guards in New Delhi last year, not all Bangladeshi nationals in Assam are hated today. At least two major political parties of the country have come out with official statements supporting the Hindu Bangladeshi citizens coming to India.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power at the Centre after 2014 general election, first raised the issue advocating asylum or citizenship to the minority Hindu nationals of Bangladesh, who enter India because of religious persecution by the majority Muslim people there.
Now following the same logic, the Congress leaders in Assam offer separate treatment to non-Muslim illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the country. According to the World Refugee Survey (conducted by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants), the estimated number of refugees who are taking shelter in India should be around 4, 56,000 nationals. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has recognised around 185,000 refugees in India, but it is understood that the actual number of refugee or asylum seekers in India from its neighbouring countries should be much higher. For Indian officials and citizens, any foreign national without a travel permit or visa is an illegal migrant, because New Delhi still abides by the Foreigners Act 1946 which deals with the entry, stay and exit of all foreigners. This Act, which does not give space to asylum seekers, simply empowers the authority to detect and deport all foreign nationals without valid documents. Regarding the Bangladeshi asylum seekers in India there are compete lack of information and guidelines with the governments how to deal with these people. Unconfirmed reports suggest that no less than 20 million Bangladeshi nationals are presently taking shelter in the robust country without proper travel documents. Assam witnessed the six years long students’ movement relating to these Bangladeshis which culminated in 1985 with an accord signed by the representatives of agitating All Assam Students Union (AASU), Asom Gana Sangram Parishad and the Union Government in presence of the then Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi. The Assam Accord signifies that all Bangladeshi nationals who illegally entered India after 25 March 1971 as foreigners should be deported. “We want all illegal Bangladeshi nationals who have entered India after 25 March 1971 to go,” said Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya, a prominent leader of AASU adding that the Assam Accord has not made any discrimination regarding the religion of the Bangladeshi people living in India and they want the historic accord to be implemented in true spirit.
But amazingly, the Congress in Assam government have now out with the idea to provide asylum to the Hindu migrants (read all religious minorities from Bangladesh) from the neighbouring countries. Even Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s Cabinet last year adopted a resolution urging the Union government “to frame a policy for granting asylum to persons who have taken refuge in India after fleeing their country on grounds of religious persecution and discrimination”.
NJ Thakuria (The writer is a Guwahati based senior journalist)