A pamphlet is pasted on the wall of a grocery shop in an interior village in Barpeta district, Assam. In one corner of the pamphlet there is a photograph of a young man having Islamic style beard and cap.
The pamphlet is written in Assamese mixed with Arabic words. My translation of the pamphlet in English would be something like this:
“Dear/Respected all….. I “so &so” , a surgeon (some word in Arabic which in my understanding of the content of the pamphlet is surgeon) from Bangladesh and I am an expert in carrying out circumcision in true Islamic style. All devout Muslims having male children may contact me at………”
The interior village I am referring to is a village inhabited by people of Bangladesh origin. I do not know whether these villagers reached Assam before or after 24 th March 1971, the cutoff date of entry into Assam as per the Assam Accord. I can only hope that the “surgeon” is in Assam with a valid visa, at a time when the governments at the centre and state are strictly against Muslim influx from Bangladesh.
Though I was a minor, the volatility and emotion linked to Assam Agitation (1979-1985) is still fresh in my mind. In next thirty years we have only felt betrayal. Forget deportation, even detection of foreign nationals based on existing laws and documentation proves to be an almost impossible task.
The history of movement of people from areas of present day Bangladesh to Assam is not less than hundred years old. It is alleged that in the beginning local people supported such influx. Well known Assamese intellectual Gunabhiram Baruah reportedly supported immigration in 1885-86 ( one hundred thirty two years ago). Sir Syed Muhammad Saadulla, an indigenous Muslim was the premier of British Assam between 1937 and 1946 on three occasions. Though Sir Sadullah was reportedly an able administrator, an eloquent speaker, moderate and liberal in his approach but supported Jinnah’s two nation theory and wanted Assam’s inclusion in Pakistan. He reportedly encouraged immigration for development of “low lying areas of Brahmaputra Valley”. It is believed that even a great leader like Jawaharlal Nehru supported immigration “from the point of view developing Assam and making it a wealthier province”.
As Assam Accord failed to deliver results , there is another serious issue overlooked in the accord deserving attention is the higher population growth rate of the immigrant community. Statistics indicate that even in recent years the population growth rate of Muslims continues to be high in Assam and I find it difficult to attribute to influx alone. Since Assam Agitation days,the government has at least acknowledged the seriousness of the problem and there are attempts to seal Indo-Bangla borders in Assam ( which is still incomplete for reasons not clear to us). Let’s us also remember that since signing of the Assam Accord, Assam agitation leaders ruled Assam for ten years. Also there was a period of NDA rule led by the BJP which is strongly against Muslim immigration from Bangladesh. If even after that the influx continues, I don’t know who is to be blamed.
Now let’s have a relook at the possible reasons why the mass migration happened from the places of today’s Bangladesh. There used to be abundance of cultivable land in Brahmaputra valley in Assam. Perhaps the basic idea was more jute cultivation because Jute Industry was flourshing at some point in time.
But in today’s perspective, land in Brahmaputra Valley is under constant threat of flood and erosion. Industrially Assam is a backward state and even agriculturally the state is not self sufficient. Per capita income of the state is far below national average. And the jute industry is in decline all over India.
There are many who are fighting for the cause of Bangladesh origin Muslim immigrants. I think they should also consider the following points seriously.
This community of Bangladesh origin Muslim immigrants in Assam lives in sub human conditions, specially those who are in river islands or in riverine places. They struggle for their existence under constant threat of flood and erosion. So is it not necessary to relocate them to safer locations (while doing so let’s remember that population density of Assam is higher than developing states such as Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra)?
Due to disproportionate increase in family sizes the community remains impoverished despite their hard working nature. Anybody thinking for welfare of the community must also think about modernizing the community by dragging them out of age old backward mindset and superstitions. Controlling population growth must be on top of the agenda for progress of the community.
Another point– many in the pro Bangladesh origin immigrant camp get hurt when we say that the economic condition of Bangladesh leads to influx into Assam. Their point is Bangladesh’s economic growth rate is higher than India. If that is the case then they should take the initiative for a reverse migration which will lead to better life of the community.