Reading the Assam violence

Published: August 7, 2012
The writer is a senior correspondent at Tehelka news magazine and can be followed on Twitter @kunalmajumder

The writer is a senior correspondent at Tehelka news magazine and can be followed on Twitter @kunalmajumder

Last week, I was having an intense argument with an old friend, who is a hardcore RSS-BJP supporter, on the issue of violence in Assam on Facebook. Like most of the right wing and perhaps, many in India, he blamed the reason for the riots on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. I agreed with him that illegal immigration is indeed a problem for India. You have people from neighbouring countries coming to India taking our jobs, benefiting from India’s social programmes, imposing their language and even religion. I argued, “I completely agree with you. To begin with, we should scrap the India-Nepal friendship treaty and stop the Nepalese from entering India at free will”. He, a Nepalese himself, immediately said, “No. Not the Nepalese but only the Bangladeshis”. I asked, “Why? Why not you and your entire breed who come to India from Nepal?” His reply was simple: “Because we are Hindus. Hindustan is for Hindus”.  Ideally, I would have been shocked at this statement but that day I saluted him. I felt for the first time someone who is sympathetic to the RSS-BJP did not put up the garb of nationalism and truly spoke his communal mind out.

My argument with this friend perhaps, represents the dilemma that many Indians are undergoing on the issue of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. At one hand, intrusion of illegal migrants in states like Assam and Tripura is creating huge demographic and cultural changes; on the other hand, protests against these migrants are often dubbed as communal because most of them are Muslims. When the violence between Bodo tribes and Bengali Muslims in Assam’s Kokrajhar district broke, media in mainland India could not understand what exactly to call the conflict. Is it a communal issue or an ethnic one?

We, Indians, have a tricky relationship with religion. Some of us will try everything possible to shift the focus from religion, while others will try to do everything to bring religion into everything. When news of Kokrajhar violence reached New Delhi, the BJP was quick to call it a communal issue. It called it the “communal experiment” of Assam’s Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. Assamese and Assam watchers like me watched in horror. In the last election, the BJP had tried hard to use this angle to make some dent into the Congress vote bank but failed. As clearer news reports finally arrived, it was clear that the whole thing seemed to have been planned by extremist elements of Bodo tribes. They have been demanding a separate state for years now. Most of the 50 dead were Bengali Muslims or alleged ‘Bangladeshis’.

As former chief minister of Assam and leader of opposition Prafulla Kumar Mahanta explained to me, the Bodos have become a minority in their own region and that’s why they are retaliating. “I don’t think it is a communal issue but an ethnic and immigration issue,” he says. Even his bete noire in state government, Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, agrees it is not about religion but he feels that the people of Assam have to get used to the fact that there are people in the state who do not speak their language or follow their culture. “These are people who came from the other side (Bangladesh) before 1971 and have been settled here. We have to accept them as one of us,” he says. But that is a very simplistic argument. Since 1971, there has been a huge jump in the Muslim population of Assam — by some accounts, nearly a 77 per cent increase. Four districts neighbouring Bangladesh became Muslim majority in 1991, followed by three in 1998 and one as of late. Many blame this on intrusion of Bangladeshis. The Assam government claims that there are no illegal Bangladeshis in the state. Bordoloi gives a funny reason for such a huge jump in Bengali Muslim population in Assam: “Due to lower education and awareness level among them, they have more children,” he says. In 1997, then home minister Indrajit Gupta accepted in the Indian parliament that around 10 million illegal migrants from Bangladesh live in India. Most of them live in bordering districts of Assam, West Bengal and Tripura. A lot of them migrate to cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata. Because India already has a Bengali Muslim population in West Bengal, it is difficult to detect them.

There is also a flip side to the whole debate. Genuine Indian Bengali Muslims (and I know many and am friends with a few) face the brunt. Recently, a Bengali Muslim wrote to me how ashamed he is to be a citizen of Assam. “My family has been living on this land for generations. If the government is unable to detect illegal immigrants, why are we being targeted for that,” he asked me. I really didn’t have an answer. As a Bengali myself, I have a special emotional connect to the issue. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. Right wing friends tell me that it is a conspiracy to Islamise Assam. They claim that illegal Bangladeshis are used to smuggle fake currency and weapons inside India. Many such theories sound just too far-fetched.

In April last year, when I visited Dhubri on the India-Bangladesh border, the thing that struck me most was the poverty of the area. As someone in Guwahati told me then, the best solution to stop illegal immigration from Bangladesh is to ensure that India’s eastern neighbour grows as fast as India does. The day poverty is wiped out, perhaps, we shall see a reverse migration.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (40)

  • antanu g
    Aug 8, 2012 - 12:00AM

    I was at new bongaigaon when kokrajhar started burning. reaction fro local Hindus were clear….Muslim presence in the area was major cause of the massacare. lets accept this literally because non Muslims were spared even though they too were bengalis.


  • Indi-Pop
    Aug 8, 2012 - 12:11AM

    Let me add here that Congress party will never throw out the illegal immigrants because eventually after a few years they would be granted citizenship of India and would become a strong muslim votebank for the Congress and would never vote the hindu BJP.


  • Truth bites
    Aug 8, 2012 - 12:22AM

    I would appreciate if ET will publish about pakistani problems and solutions instead of rubbish from india.


  • Vikas
    Aug 8, 2012 - 12:22AM

    It was muslims who divided India. So they have no right to ever come back. Secondly, gorkhas from Nepal have fought shoulder to shoulder with Indian army in every war. Lot of Indians go there and they come over here. Relation with Nepal is historic much before the arrival of Muslims or Christians in India. If the author has so much sympathy for Bangladeshi, he is welcome to go over there. We don’t need pseudo secular like him. Lastly, no Bengali muslims is ever going to pass the interview round now in my IT company.


  • Akshay, India
    Aug 8, 2012 - 1:11AM

    The government must fence the Indo-Bangladesh border and carry out a nationwide identification drive for illegal immigrants.


  • Dhruv
    Aug 8, 2012 - 1:15AM

    We cannot repatriate the Bangladeshis.If we do so, then there would be an acute shortage of house-helps in Delhi.
    Not being racist or anything, but about 90% of all Delhi maids are from bangladesh.


  • suraj
    Aug 8, 2012 - 1:47AM

    There are instances where the local tribes fought with the people from other states of India.. Better to leave the tribes live their life in their own land…. Author is not getting that point rather tries to divert it.. It is not called for tying every incident with religion..


  • Sinclair
    Aug 8, 2012 - 2:16AM

    @Kunal Majumder

    Your assessment of ground reality has been less than perfect in previous articles too. I dont think you realize how severe things are getting. You dont have an inkling of even half of what is going to happen in India before this decade closes.


  • PirBaba
    Aug 8, 2012 - 2:23AM

    “As someone in Guwahati told me then, the best solution to stop illegal immigration from Bangladesh is to ensure that India’s eastern neighbour grows as fast as India does. The day poverty is wiped out, perhaps, we shall see a reverse migration.”

    Whaaaaaaat? Is it India’s responsibility to develop them? Whoever has given that solution is a mental case. By that logic, India should ensure that religious fundamentalism is checked in Pakistan because Indians want to live in peace. WHAT A PIECE OF BULL CRAP.


  • Tufail Ahmad
    Aug 8, 2012 - 3:59AM

    Since it’s a Muslim problem, the OIC and Pakistan especially must reprimand India for failing to protect minorities. Illegal migrants is an issue in many countries. Lot of Indian enter middle east and EU illegaly but they are not killed like this. Kunal majumdher’s understanding of the issue is also poor. The first muslim casualties were that of a local muslim cop and his son who had apprehended three hindu bodo militants. They took revenge by killed the cop and his son. Since then violence has escalated.
    It all demands condemnations and severe jolting to India on its poor HR record.Recommend

  • Anjaan
    Aug 8, 2012 - 4:33AM

    @ the author,
    Can you show one instance where the migration of people from Nepal changed the demorgaphy of any part in India, however small …. ? In case of Assam, entire demography of the state has been altered by migration from Bangladesh.

    Therefore, it is the time for the backlash ….. the logical end …. !Recommend

  • Indian
    Aug 8, 2012 - 8:17AM

    10 million illegal migrants from Bangladesh live in India!!
    What is the home ministry doing??


  • mani
    Aug 8, 2012 - 8:25AM

    Forty years back India architect “Bangladesh’ and Bangla-Hindi Bhai Bhai. Former Indian prime minister told that TWO NATION THEORY FINISHED. if so, what’s wrong they are living in Brethern India. For nepalese its fine and for Bangladeshi its not fine What is difference between them… both are Indian……even Bangalese are more Indian than Nepalese


  • Indian
    Aug 8, 2012 - 8:27AM

    As someone in Guwahati told me then, the best solution to stop illegal immigration from Bangladesh is to ensure that India’s eastern neighbour grows as fast as India does. The day poverty is wiped out, perhaps, we shall see a reverse migration.
    Intention is alright but feasibility is a big Zero…. The last thing that we have to do to invite an insurgency from Bangladesh is to do a political intervention in there…..


  • anoop
    Aug 8, 2012 - 8:43AM

    *Iam from south India and i have no problem if hindus or sikhs from any part of the world come and settle in our country. India is the homeland of dharmic religions like israel for jews. It is muslims who cause problems everywhere. Each and every bangladeshi/ paki muslims/ pseudo seculars and leftist traitors should be thrown our of India if we want development. How dare he compares hindus with bangladeshi muslims? Most of our problems should have been solved if partition was done completely on religious lines and dharmic religions declared as state religions. Propogation of foreign faiths should be banned by law. Call me communal, i dont care but i strongly believe that india would be better off without islam and christianity.*


  • indian
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:05AM

    congress is dividing and selling India permanently for their temporary needs.


  • Whats in the name
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:41AM

    @Tufail Ahmad: Did you have the guts to say that OIC and Pakistan should reprimand India. How about reprimanding your selves first. First give space to Minorities and Minorities within your own religion and sects and then start pointing fingers at others. How hypocrate could one be.

  • Jai
    Aug 8, 2012 - 9:52AM

    Mr. Majumdar,
    There is a difference between legal and illegal migrants. India has a treaty with Nepal but no such treaty exists with Bangladesh. So your premise itself is flawed equating legal and illegal immigrants. All illegal immigrants should be deported. You may not value the rule of law, others do. Moreover your opinion is a compromised biased one being a bengali yourself.


  • Gratgy
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:22AM

    @antanu g

    How long will you ridiculously keep saying that you are an Indian , lol!


  • Ganesh
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:34AM

    @Tufail Ahmad:
    Pak muslim attitudes are really funny!!On the one hand they justify all kinds of attrocities,conversion etc of Hindus in Pak and think that since it is muslim majority land everything is permissible!!And if Hindus think the same way in 84% Hindu majority India,they want India to be reprimanded!!LOL


  • Som
    Aug 8, 2012 - 11:04AM

    @Tufail Ahmad:
    1. “Since it’s a Muslim problem, the OIC and Pakistan especially must reprimand India for failing to protect minorities.”
    This is a strange thing. Why does pakistan fees that all the problems of muslims all over the world is on their shoulder? It’s a lot of problem you know. It would be wiser if Pakistan handles it’s own problems first.
    2. “Illegal migrants is an issue in many countries. Lot of Indian enter middle east and EU illegaly but they are not killed like this.”
    You must consider the magnitude and scale here, you know. Migration in Gulf or USA or Europe is simply not in the same order of the zeros. You better compare it to the magnitude of Afgan refugees in your country along with the fact that Bangladesh has the most dense population in this world and. I spent most of my life in a place which is about 3 hours journey from the Ino-Bangladesh border. We have seen the demographies changing over the periods of 1-2 years. That means for the poor in this of the border, all the jobs are being snatched; the lands being grabed; the identity being lost.
    check out this link:

    “The first muslim casualties were that of a local muslim cop and his son who had apprehended three hindu bodo militants.”
    The Hindu identity has nothing to do with it except pleasing your victimhood psyche. Bodo militancy is there for a very long time fighting against Hindu Indian State (if yoiu like it in that flavour). Problems would be same if people from Bihar or Rajasthan or Tamilnadu had been there in such number.

  • Irshad Khan
    Aug 8, 2012 - 11:55AM

    I just want to say to the World that see which communal is terrorist……this is visible to the world. More than 500000 muslims people dis burst from their land, more than 60000 muslims killed in Myanmar….on a daily basis hundreds of muslims killing in Palestin. And the people are saying that Islam is a Terrorist religion…You people noe must be knowing which religion is belong to terrorist. Sanatham or Jews?????

    We always open our hands to welcome the every religion across the world the best example we can see more that lakhs hindu and jews people are working in middle-East. Even i myself lost my job because of hindu in Dubai, but i didnt have any complaint.


  • noone
    Aug 8, 2012 - 1:29PM

    @Tufail Ahmad

    Which Islamic country has guts to face eye to eye with India ? Is it Iran or Saudi ? Not a single Islamic country is in good shape to face India . If they won’t sell Oil , we won’t sell food items.Let them drink oil and survive.


  • Aug 8, 2012 - 2:44PM

    Dear Indians,

    Thanks for exposing that prejudice, paranoia, religious extremism and persecution of minorities are common traits between the two countries. The voices of sanity are being shush-ed the same way they are over here. And the statements like “no Bengali muslims is ever going to pass the interview round now in my IT company” by @Vikaas really takes the proverbial but shameful cake.

    I believe leaderships in all South Asian countries should step up their efforts to save the next generations from race, religion and tribal apartheid.


  • A.Sathyamurthy
    Aug 8, 2012 - 3:37PM

    The ruling Congress party is to blame for the present situation, because when the students of Assam were agitating in the late 70s and early 80s, against the award of citizenship for the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Indira-led central govt refused to listen. It was indulging in vote bank politics, as always, by projecting itself, as usual, the protector of minorities, which is not true at all.


  • Randomstranger
    Aug 8, 2012 - 5:14PM

    What about the Indian immigrants causing a demographic shift in Australia, NZ, US, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa?


  • Baqar
    Aug 8, 2012 - 5:32PM

    @noone: which country can face India??? lol they dont need your food stuff buddy they need your ample supply of cheap labor. Looking at population trends this supply doesnot seem to end anytime soon.
    so much for shining india….its actually make up on ugly face..


  • mr. righty rightist
    Aug 8, 2012 - 7:06PM

    @Randomstranger who writes “What about the Indian immigrants causing a demographic shift in Australia, NZ, US, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa?”

    If you had a little bit of intelligence you would know that demographic shift alone is never a reason for strife. This should be accompanied with dissimilation.

    You can see this wherever Muslims live. While they want to leech on to all the social security provided by the society, they want to remain counter-productive and dissimilar.


  • Ahmed
    Aug 8, 2012 - 7:12PM

    Solution for BJP is to stop being a Hindu centric party and become a national party that at least attempts to pay attention to everyone ‘s problems even hand-idly then it wouldn’t have to worry about minority vote. Most Muslims like BJP ‘d economic policies but they don’t like when it becomes an instrument to target muslims.


  • External Hand
    Aug 8, 2012 - 8:10PM

    @ Vikas who says no Bangladeshis will be in his ‘IT company.’ First of all I highly doubt you have an IT company. Second, assuming you have one, your ‘company’ is doomed to fail if you select people on the basis of nationality rather than merit. Thirdly, you’re a reactionary right wing idiot.


  • Akbar
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:04PM

    @Irshad Khan: Do not forget that you came from Mddleeast to South Asia many centuries ago and also do not forget that the Hindu population in Pakistan is ” shamefully and successfully” eradicated to 1.6% -thats why people do not trust muslims…why blame others… now we targtting ahmedis and shias and who next????? No wonder we are not welcome anywhere


  • Giri
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:22PM

    Isn’t it irony that we have article 370 in J&K, but nothing of this kind in the NE states where the huge illegal migration is threatening the very fabric of the tribal societies. We have staunch islamists like Owaisi (I am watching him on NDTV debate on Assam as I am writing this) who supports this for his own political gains and to islamise the whole country.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:27PM

    One Gujarati M.K.Gandhi got us freedom, another Gujarati – Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel consolidated the nation and the hope is that the third – Shri Narendra Modi will clean up the mess that has accumulated due to pseudo-secularism and vote-bank politics and set the nation in a course where there is rule of law.


  • Vikas
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:32PM

    @External Hand:
    I don’t have a company of mine. But I work for the biggest IT company of India/Asia. I don’t mind hiring Bangladeshi, but definitely not a fake(Bangladeshi in cover of India).


  • Vikas
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:34PM

    I think your grand parents missed the 1947 bus. You can take one now.


  • Vikas
    Aug 8, 2012 - 10:36PM

    Nepalis never divided India. They always stood up to protect India unlike some who attacked India.


  • Ajay
    Aug 9, 2012 - 1:39AM

    @PirBaba: That is correct. It should be India’s responsibility since these nations have failed to do what needs to be done over several generations. India needs to use its soft and hard power to incentivise these nations to increase trade and put in motion policies that will improve situation. India needs to start enforcing things. They need to learn from US.


  • Vin
    Aug 11, 2012 - 1:02AM

    First make sure that India’s 400million below poverty line living a gutter life are emancipated, then think of helping Bangladesh or Pakistan… Please come out of your halucination , India is not USA where the per capita is $45k…. Peep from your window and you will find a beggar without clothes on….huh…I think Indians are hallucinating and think themselves to be some super rich nation with rivers full of gold…ha ha


  • Rubi Kalita
    Aug 14, 2012 - 1:58AM

    You guys have no knowedge about the Indian state of Assam.We Hindu & muslims equally fight against Bangladesi immigrants,ok.
    Muslims are not only immigrants there are lakhs of Hindu illegal Bangladesi’s are also in Assam.We Hindus & muslims are living very peacefully in Assam.Don’t think Assam like your Mumbai or Gujurat,ok.
    You are far from our remote state so you don’t know about the real cause of the recent violence in BTAD,Assam.
    The BODO terrorists are not killing only muslims they killed thousands of Hindu Santhal Adhibasi tribes few years back.
    “After two decades, the wheel has turned full circle and the Bodos are now fighting with non Bodos. They want all non Bodos out of BTC,” said Jogeswar Kalita, general secretary of the Non-Bodo Protection Forum.
    “This was a well designed game. The Bodos systematically targeted the Muslim settlers and started the ethnic cleansing. The Bodos did that with the Santhals, now with the Muslims and after that they will go after the mainstream Assamese,” said Kalita.
    The Bodo terrorist groups like BLT,NDFB are demanding seperate state and sometime even demand seperate Independent Country for Bodos and as they are only 15 to 20% in Assam so they are targeted non-bodo peoples and killed them or terroristed non-bodos to leave the BTAD area with a view to make themselves majority.
    So,play your Hindu muslim game in your own states not in Assam.
    Moreover this is for your kind information that majority of Bodo peoples are now not Hindu,they are already converted to Christanity.


  • Sam
    Aug 17, 2012 - 1:53PM

    Dont divert the topic.. I am against any infiltration to India which changes the social fabric and demographics in India esp. from Bangladesh.. its a major security issue and in-fact East Pakistan or Bangladesh was created for a purpose.. to add the fact that these people encroach land and cause unnecessary nuisance and bloodshed…Dont tell me that before 1971 we all know its true that inflitration has picked up in the late 80s and 90s.. To reply to the points raised by the dumb tribune writer( I would like to challenge his depth and sense of history, ofc his novice article doesn’t stand in-front of a well known voice like Swapan Dasgupta published in times of India) about Nepalis… Do you know how many Nepali Gurkhas serve the Indian army (in-fact its the finest regiment and the oldest that we own; Pls tell me how many Bangladeshis have laid their lives for India) and yes Pls understand that Nepal is important from a strategic quest for the middle kingdom (read Tibet and Hence China) so Pls don’t quote out of context and compare apples with oranges (Nepal vs Bangladesh)… Bangladeshis have caused riots in Assam and now Muslims are threatening Indian citizens to leave places in India and go back to the NE.. so Pls read the facts and the context before quoting the same…Recommend

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