On 8th November 1998, Late. Lt Gen (Retd) SK Sinha PVSM, Governor of Assam, submitted a report on illegal immigration to Assam to the President of India. In that report, he mentioned that the large-scale illegal migration from East Pakistan/Bangladesh over several decades has been altering the demographic complexion. It poses a grave threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and to our national security. Successive governments at the Centre and in the State have not adequately met this challenge.
In his report, he feared that there is a tendency to view illegal migration into Assam as a regional matter, affecting only the people of Assam. Its more dangerous dimension of greatly undermining our national security is ignored. The long-cherished design of Greater East Pakistan/Bangladesh, making inroads into the strategic land link of Assam with the rest of the country, can lead to severing the entire landmass of the North East, with all its rich resources, from the rest of the country. He blamed illegal immigration to be the prime contributory behind the outbreak of insurgency.
On 6th February 2017, the Governor of Assam constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Shri Hari Sankar Brahma, Former Election Commissioner of India, and few other members, for suggesting measures, including modifications in ALRR- 1886, other land laws, Government Circular & Land Policy for ensuring the protection of land rights of indigenous people in the State of Assam.
The Committee for Protection of Land Rights of Indigenous People of Assam submitted their report on 30th December 2017.
In the report, they have categorically mentioned serious threats to the land right of the indigenous people of Assam and their very identity. But by far, the most serious threats to the security of the land rights and the very identity of the indigenous people of Assam have come from the sustained immigration of Bengali Muslim peasants into mainland Assam from the neighbouring districts of pre-independent Assam/erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. Admittedly, it is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on since pre-independence days.
The unabated, organised, and incessant encroachments of all kinds of land by land-hungry immigrants from Bangladesh. The lands encroached include agricultural land, char areas, various reserves, including Village Grazing Reserves (VGR), Professional Grazing Reserves (PGR), Satra and Temple, etc. land (Debottar, Dharmottar, and Brahmottar lands), Tribal Belt/Block land, Government vacant waste/Khas land, road, and riverside reserved land, etc. The report also stated how the influx and settlement of illegal immigrants led to the election of a Bangladeshi as a Member of the Assam Legislative Assembly.
Assam's fight for land pre-dated independence, and the fight is on. Approximately 63 Lakh Bighas of government land is encroached, 77000 bighas (20k acres) of Gorukhuti is just the tip of the iceberg. The locals of the area claim that illegal immigrants have usurped their land and are deprived of their right to their land. The local authorities, before the eviction, came to terms with the occupiers of the encroached land, and the landless were assured 2 acres of land to settle at a different location. Almost all of the illegal settlers were from different constituencies who migrated to the Gorukhuti area, stating flood and erosion as the reason behind their migration to Gorukhuti. Most of them don't even have their names in the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC).
If everyone came to terms, then why the violence? Why is it shown as a violation of human rights and a move to crush the minority Muslims? To understand the context, we have to recall the violence that took place at Barpeta during the pilot NRC project in 2010. The AAMSU demanded the cancellation of upgrading the NRC. Four died in the violent clashes that took place during the agitation against the up-gradation of NRC. Assam Student's Union clearly stated that there is the involvement of the Pro-Bangladeshi lobby to throttle the Process of NRC.
Such violent agitations always derail any action taken to protect the rights of the Assamese people. Few in the national media, the left, and the liberals have termed the Gorukhuti Eviction drive as a crusade against minorities and condemned the actions of the police. Nobody highlighted that even after coming to terms, the police were attacked from all sides with stones, spears, and whatnot. None from the left, liberals, and pseudo-secular spoke about the injured police officers fighting for their lives on duty. The police acted in self-defence.
The involvement of PFI is investigated on instigating violence and mobilising crowds for doing so. PFI was involved in the CAA violence. The group was charged for collecting funds to stop the eviction drive. The government of Assam has demanded a ban on the outfit. Pakistan's comments on the events taking place at Gorukhuti clearly explain who would benefit from the violence. The Assamese people feel alienated when few Indian nationals speak up for the rights of the encroachers. What about the human rights of the Assamese people? They are turning into a minority in their state for the illegal immigrants. The population explosion and land encroachment of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have changed the demography of the state. The demography of selected assembly constituencies are changed in a planned manner every year. If historical blunders of turning a blind eye to planned encroachment are made again, Assamese and Assam won't survive till 2050.
(The writer is the Vice-President of BJYM, Assam)