By Bikash Sarmah
It is with fully valid reason that the indigenous people of Assam are expressing their fears and anger as they are witness to their own elected representatives turn a blind eye to their life-and-death issue: their diminution into a minority in their very land of birth just because illegal immigrants, regardless of religion, from Bangladesh have to be accommodated within the demographic matrix of the State already riddled with a gamut of ills. The latest to have unsettled their much-hoped-for peace is the proposed settlement of illegal Bangladeshis belonging to the Hindu faith in the State on the grounds that this religious minority in the neighbouring country faces persecution at the hands of Islamists and they have none to fall back on except India where Hindus form the religious majority. This proposal has its genesis in the BJP’s ideology of Hindu solidarity and assertion, otherwise labelled ‘Hindutva’ by the self-styled secular brigade, including the ultra-‘liberal’ Left. The rendra Modi government has floated the bizarre idea of getting such migrants from Bangladesh settled in Hindu-majority India so that they are saved from savage persecution. Hence the zeal surrounding the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act. A bill is already in place.
On Monday last, the Axom Xahitya Xabha (AXX) pointed to the fallout of any such move to let Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh get settled in Assam: social strife. This is what AXX principal secretary Paramanda Rajbongshi had to say: “Our stand is that Assam having willingly taken the burden of all Hindu and Muslim migrants till 1971, is in no position to take more people. Assam cannot afford to take more burden and there will be no compromise on the issue. The AXX will continue to do whatever it can to foil any attempt to settle Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in the State. The present regime both at the Centre and in the State must respect the historic Assam Accord which set March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date to detect all illegal migrants from Bangladesh” (The Sentinel, 19 December 2018). The AXX has already submitted its points in support of the Assam Accord of 1985 before the Supreme Court. The AXX statement has also sent out a warning that the issue of the proposed settlement of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, this time of Hindu origin, ought not to be politicized. But this is exactly what has been happening all along, no matter whether they are Muslim migrants or the Hindu ones.
Let us alyse the issue in hand without prejudice and call a spade a spade. It is true that after Partition, the Hindus who chose to stay where they had been before the cataclysmic event of 1947, both in West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), have had to face merciless persecution at the hands of Islamist radicals forming the so-called fringe of the Islamic state of both Pakistan and Bangladesh but who are actually an essential component of the establishment in both the countries. The situation in Bangladesh has been far more serious, considering that it had a huge Hindu population – about 34 per cent – at the time of Partition, which has now been reportedly reduced to a mere 6-7 per cent. The persecution includes savage butchery, destruction of private property, desecration of temples, and rapes. The establishment at Dhaka has done nothing – except in recent times under a relatively moderate Sheikh Hasi dispensation – to come to their rescue. But this is tural. In any Islamic state, however pretentious it may be as to its secular credentials, no government can afford to counter the writ of clerics, as history is a standing testimony to. How could, then, Bangladesh evolve differently? The situation in Pakistan, where the military acts in cahoots with the likes of Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed, is far more worse and makes the country a candidate deserving indeed to be declared a rogue state even from the Hindu-cleansing point of view apart from the fact that it is the world capital of jihadi terrorism of the most barbaric kind.
Given the reality, it is as if the only tion with the largest Hindu population, India, must have the sacred duty to salvage the helpless and hapless Bangladeshi Hindus. Their protagonists in India would raise the question: “When millions of Muslims from Bangladesh have been given shelter in India, especially in Assam until officially the midnight of 24 March 1971 despite the fact of Partition that gave full freedom to a person to choose one’s homeland either here or there, why should any hell break loose when we talk of getting our Hindu brethren from Bangladesh – Bengali Hindus, to be precise – settled here, with us, amidst our security cover, with full freedom to practise and profess their faith under our Constitution? And should we also not reckon the humanitarian angle?” In fact this is what exactly criss-crosses the minds of the ‘humanitarianism’-centric lot – in abundance in Assam.
Nonetheless, the point is not that. The point is larger, and valid. It cannot be contested. It is in fact simple: When Assam has already borne the mammoth burden of having to accommodate millions of migrants, both Hindus and Muslims, from East Pakistan until 1971 when it became Bangladesh, when it has continued to be the living, thriving and breeding space of illegal Bangladeshis even after 1971, more so after the ‘secular’ cover that the Congress gave them in 1983 by putting in place the blatantly anti-tiol – but thankfully abrogated in 2005 by the Supreme Court – IM(DT) Act, and when today illegal Bangladeshis have already become kingmakers in the State with support, overt or covert, from their sympathizers of the absolutist brand who have nothing to do with the cause of Assam and its culture and tradition, why on earth should Assam be the dumping ground for any more migrants from Bangladesh, Hindu or Muslim, persecuted or wilfully crowding Assam for sustence in the fertile plains of the Brahmaputra? Why? Does the BJP government at the Centre believe that it is only the State of Assam in the Union of India that must show its heartiness and compassion of some Buddha-inspired kind towards each and every illegal migrant from Bangladesh already settled in the State and now warming up to the possibility of them being declared Indian citizens? And all this because Assam shares its border with Bangladesh and has a history of welcoming guests even at the risk of it being completely run over and trampled eventually? This is outrageous and downright condemble. Assam must not accept this. No more any game with its destiny. It has had enough of rampant demographic invasion.
That said, suppose we now consider the fact of persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, which is doubtless a reality. Suppose we have uplifted ourselves to a higher plane of thought and action in which humanitarianism, and humanitarianism alone, is the criterion to decide who we should accept and who we should not. Suppose we are also sincerely informed by the fact of us being the only country in the world that can – and that should, rather – raise its voice whenever it sees any Hindus being persecuted anywhere in the world just for the fault of their accident of birth and religion. And when all such supposition is made, much to the delight of one’s proud Hindu heart, how about working on the following action plan vis-à-vis the fleeing Hindus of Bangladesh?
1. Their settlement across the length and breadth of Hindu-majority India except the Northeast that already faces the threat of its population being targeted by a well-settled illegal Bangladeshi crowd for invasion of their legitimate living spaces and expansion towards Islamization.
2. Their settlement also in Hindu-majority Nepal (considering the point of Hindu solidarity as the Hindutva propagandists call for).
3. New Delhi’s espousal of their cause – from the humanitarian angle – at intertiol forums such as the United tions.
Can those things be done? Will any other State, such as the Bengali-domited West Bengal, accept the Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh now and prove its hospitable ture as Assam is always required to prove? Will Nepal ever tread that extra mile? Can New Delhi be ever expected to go intertiol with the cause of the displaced Bangladeshi Hindus, whose plight radical Bangladeshi writers such as Taslima sreen have highlighted without any fear at all of them being attacked by Islamist radicals? These are tough and inconvenient questions, but Assam cannot afford to maintain a silence of defeat and surrender. Its sons of the soil, especially the ethnic tribes crying for economic opportunities and development, are in jeopardy. It is these people who must have the first and foremost priority in every matter. Their legitimate rights, privileges and due opportunities cannot be sacrificed at the altar of an alien population’s illegitimate rights, with an alien culture and tradition altogether, barring the thread of religion (which cannot matter in a truly secular state), just because vote-bank politics of all kinds has graduated into a sty political culture – even against the sovereignty of the land.
Wake up, Assam, wake up! You are facing an existential crisis. You are face to face with a doom in the making. And your time is running out fast.
(Bikash Sarmah, a freelance jourlist, is specializing in strategic affairs pertaining to Chi, Northeast India and Southeast Asia. He may be reached at email@example.com)