For decades, violence remained a recurring theme in the socio-political discourse of Assam. Different ethnic groups tried to assert their identity often through violent means. Assam, as part of the largest democratic country, has witnessed many elections since independence. For most of the time after independence, Congress party has ruled Assam. During the period of Congress rule in Assam, the state has witnessed agitation for language, agitation for detection and deportation of illegal migrants, rise of militant groups among so many other events. Alienation of the mainstream Assamese people led many Assamese people to the path of violence. In the recent years, however, things have changed a bit. Some of the Militant groups have come to the negotiating table. Militant groups like Kamatapur Liberation Organisation, Adivasi Security Force, United Liberation Front of Assam (Arabinda Rajkhowa Faction), Karbi National Liberation Army, Adivasi Peoples’ Liberation Army, Dimasa National Liberation Army have come or on the way to the mainstream. Because of the porous border with Bangladesh, large scale migration has been taking place to Assam from across the border. Earlier in the provincial government led by Sadulla brought thousands of Muslims from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and settled in Assam. The then Viceroy Lord Wavell described this as an attempt to change the demography of Assam. These Bangladeshi colonies are now non-negligible force in Assam’s politics. They can definitely influence the change of Government in Assam. At times there are instances when the pro-Bangladeshi lobby threatened to bring Government down. Acknowledgement of Bangladeshi presence in Assam by the then chief minister Hiteswar Saikia drew severe threat from his Muslim colleague and the next day he withdrew his statement. The changing demographic scenario has pushed the mainstream Assamese people to the margin in many parts of the state. Their democratic right is under threat because of the changing demographic scenario. Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the indigenous Assamese people IMDT act was imposed by the Congress govt. This act worked as a shield for the illegal migrants. The supreme court scrapped the act in 2005 terming it as a threat to the security of the country. For more than two decades it was in effect. Protecting the illegal migrants, the Congress party has long been using the Bangladeshi Muslim people as vote bank. This has been done in the name of secularism.
The settler Muslim community has come to play a decisive role not only in the political affairs of the state but also in the economy of the state as well. The emergence of ‘Moulavi-Merchant’ Badaruddin Azmal in Assam’s political scenario indicates a new political situation. His political activities are not confined to Assam only.
Ajmal has publicly expressed that Muslim youths would be prepared to occupy all the Govt offices within 20 years. In parliament Ajmal has demanded religious reservation for the Indian Muslim. Earlier his party leader demanded autonomous council in lower Assam for the Muslims. Along with the rise of the Islamic force in the political scenario, some of them have started demanding separate state like arrangement for them. Different Islamic militant groups like the MALTA, MALFA have emerged. Their objective is to make Assam an Islamic state. ISI, HUJI have been trying to destabilize Assam for long. Capture of many ISI agent during AGP’s rule indicate towards Islamic design. In 2008 seven HUJI members were killed by the Indian Army in Dhubri district.
Fighting against the colonial settler community one of the African states, Zimbabwe has taken revolutionary steps. The Zimbabwe Government of Robert Mugabe took away the ownership of land from the white settlers and distributed among the Black indigenous people. White settler’s dominance in economy and politics has been thwarted. Even though there was pressure from the White Western country including their former colonial Master, the Govt. executed its plan to give due justice to its indigenous people. The White settler in Zimbabwe came through the colonial route and took control over the country’s political and economic power depriving the Black natives. The settler in Assam did not come through the colonial route. But here also they have come to dominate Assam’s politics and economics .Assam’s situation is more grave in the sense that the Muslim migrants, unlike the White settlers in Zimbabwe, have outnumbered the indigenous people in many districts of the state.
The White settlers came to Zimbabwe (the then Southern Rhodesia) during the late nineteenth century. After the end of the World War II also, many White Settlers came to Zimbabwe. To avoid Black people’s rule Southern Rhodesia was broken and a new country named Rhodesia was formed. The White minority took control of the political, economic and social space of the country. Prime lands were reserved for the Whites only. The majority ethnic groups were marginalized. The White settlers came in search of mineral resources etc and the Bangladeshi migrants came in search of fertile lands. The White settlers found some of the best farm lands in Africa just like the Muslim migrants found in Assam. Slowly the Black people were excluded from their own land. The Black people became tenants in their own land.
In 1891, before Southern Rhodesia was established as a territory, it was estimated that there were about 1500 Europeans residing there. This number grew to around 75000 in 1945. In the period 1945 to 1955 the White population doubled to 1,50,000. During that decade 1,00000 Black people were forcibly resettled from farming land. In the late 1960s Rhodesia’s White population consisted of as many as 2,70,000.
In Assam, between 1901 and 1931, the number of Muslims, excluding Shylet, had risen from 5,03,670 to 12,79,388, an increase of more than 150 percent. It may be pointed here that till 1874, Assam consisted of Darrang, Kamrup, Lakhimpur, Nowgong and Sibsagar. The Valley’s population was 14,71,227, of whom Muslims numbered 86,193 and constituted only 5.9 percent. A century has irreparably damaged the Demographic stability of Assam.
The difference with the white settler with the Bangladeshi settler in Assam is that the White settler in many African countries came through the colonial route while the Bangladeshi came illegally and settled here. The African white settler remains a minority group while the Bangladeshi settler has outnumbered the Assamese Hindu people in many districts of Assam. Migration, and disproportionate birth rate of the community has resulted in unproportionate growth rate which has threatened not only the demographic stability but has also posed threat to Assamese identity as a whole. For the preservation and protection of Assamese culture and people the Assam Accord was signed between the ASSU, AGSS and the Centre on August 15, 1985. But nothing concrete has been done to detect and deport the illegal Bangladeshi migrant.
During the 1971-91 period the growth rate of Muslim population at the national level was 55.04 per cent whereas in Assam this growth rate was 77.42 per cent. During 1991-2001 growth rate of Hindu population in Assam was 14.94 per cent while growth rate of Muslim population during this period was 29.30 per cent in the state. A look at the rate of growth of the six districts of Assam where the Muslim population has outnumbered the Hindu population will show how Hindu space is being occupied/ marginalized by the Muslims.
In Goalpara district Hindu population was 52.92 per cent of the total population of the district in 1971 while Muslim population was 42.25 per cent. In 1991 Hindu population reduced to 39.89 per cent while Muslim population increased to 50.18 per cent. In 2001 Hindu population has further reduced to 38.21 per cent while Muslim population further increased to 53.71 per cent of the total population of the district. Unproportionate growth rate of the Muslim population has destabilised the demographic stability of the district. During 1991-2010 the growth rate of Hindu population in the district was 17.88 per cent while growth rate of Muslim population was 31.69 per cent. It may be pointed here that the district’s Muslim population is largely intruding settler/migrants. The district was worst affected by migration. The population of the district increased by 1.4 per cent between 1881 and 1891. But during the next decade it shot up by 30 per cent, mainly because of migration from Mymensingh; the number of migrants rose by about 150 percent forming about 20 percent of the district’s population. Now they are absolute majority in the district.
In Barpeta district, the growth rate of Hindu population during 1991-2001 was 18.66 per cent while Muslim growth rate during this period was 25.86 per cent.
In Karimganj district also disproportionate growth rate of Muslim population has contributed to outnumber the Hindu population. In 1991 Hindu population was 50.14 per cent of the total population of the district, in 2001 this population has reduced to 47.19 per cent. Muslim population has increased from 47.19 per cent in 1991 to 52.53 per cent in 2001. During this period Hindu population increased 14.22 percent while Muslim population increased 29.63 per cent
In Hailakandi, the Hindu population has reduced from 43.71 per cent in 1991 to 41.10 per cent in 2001 whereas Muslim population has grown from 54.79 per cent in 1991 to 57.61 per cent in 2001. During this time growth rate of Hindu population was 13.72 per cent whereas Muslim growth rate was 27.16 per cent .
In Nagaon district Hindu population has declined from 51.73 per cent in 1991 to 47.78 percent in 2001. Muslim population during this time has increased from 47.18 per cent in 1991 to 50.97 per cent in 2001.Growth rate of Hindu population during this time was 12.96 per cent whereas Muslim growth was 32.12 per cent. Another interesting fact about Nagaon district is that during 1971-91 Hindu growth rate was 2.40 per cent whereas Muslim growth rate was 34.90 per cent. It may be pointed here that Muslim population was only 04 percent in 1901 of the total population of the undivided Nagaon district. In 1971 Muslim population was 39.40 per cent of the total population of the district. A century has irrepairably changed the demography of the district.
In Dhubri district growth rate of Hindu population was 5.61 per cent during 1991-2001 whereas Muslim growth rate during this period was 29.58 per cent. Hindu constituted 28.73 per cent of the district in 1991. It has declined to 24.78 per cent in 2001.On the other hand, Muslim population is on constant rise.
Main stream Assamese people especially the Assamese Hindus have long been raising their voice against the illegal migrants from across the border. Historically Assam has been a land of different migrant communities. Many of the migrants adjusted and assimilated with the indigenous culture here. It was a process of ‘give and take’. However the same cannot be said in case of the Muslims. There are great Assamese among the Muslims as well, but unfortunately they are minority within the community.
After independence, leaders like Gopinath Bordoloi took anti migration stand. Bordoloi fought against Muslim league conspiracy to make Assam part of Pakistan. Leaders like Bordoloi realised what could be the effect of settlement of large number of Muslim migrants in Assam from across the border. Later, however there was a drastic change in Congress policy towards the Muslim migrants from across the border. The Congress party tried to take political advantage by using the migrants as its vote bank. Its pro-Bangladeshi policy has distanced the party from the mainstream Assamese people. Congress might have short term gain from its pro-Bangladeshi policy, but in the long run Assam is bound to be the worst loser. Steps should be taken to curb the voting rights of those who settled illegally in the state after 19th July, 1948. The migrant Hindus may be granted citizenship taking into consideration the particular circumstances under which they had to leave their birth place.