The latest ordince of the government of India relating to all Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and the privileges and facilities to be granted to them comes as a major threat to Assam. The State of Assam has no real problems relating to Hindu immigrants from Pakistan or Afghanistan. But the State already has an unbearably large number of illegal migrants, both Muslim and Hindu, from Bangladesh. Over the years, the Assam government as well as the Centre have taken no visible steps to deal with the large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshis into Assam. The latest move of the Centre has been in respect of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. On 19 August 2016, the Union government issued a directive (No. 28020/58/2014-f-3) relaxing conditions for Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Earlier, there had been a provision for imposing a fine of Rs 1,950 on Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who overstayed the last date of their short-term and long-term visas by 90 days. According to the new directive of the Union government, this fine was reduced to just Rs 100. Likewise, those who overstayed the fil dates of their visas by 91 days to 2 years had to pay a fine of Rs 8,450. The new directive of August 19, 2016 reduced this fine to just Rs 200. Earlier, those who overstayed the last dates of their visas by more than two years had to pay a fine of Rs 14,950. The new directive reduced this fine to just Rs 500. These were very clear indications of this the Union government’s relaxed norms for Hindu migrants from the three countries.
As we have said before, this is certainly a disputable decision for a secular democratic republic, since it is based on religion. The decision is not merely a disputable one for the people of Assam, but rather a matter of survival for the Assamese people. This is because there is already a very large number of Bangladeshi Hindu migrants in Assam. These migrants do not have to move even a step to become the recipients of the new benefits announced for Hindu migrants from these three countries into India—benefits like Aadhaar registration, PAN cards, the right to purchase land and houses or to run a business. They will also have the freedom to move all over India. The problem arises mainly from the fact that virtually all the Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will settle in Assam. The situation in Bengal is well known. It already has a surfeit of Bangladeshi Hindus, and the Hindus from Bangladesh who are yet to arrive know how difficult the competition for survival will be in Bengal. Their obvious choice would, therefore, be Assam. They can also expect the large number of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh who are already in Assam, to make life that much easier for the new arrivals. As such, there can be no room for doubt that most of the migration of Hindus from Bangladesh will be to Assam. And they will have to be reckoned together with the earlier migrants from Bangladesh (both Hindus and Muslims) who have already been in the State for over three or four decades now. The situation in Assam as far as Bangladeshi immigrants are concerned is very well known to the Centre. In 11 of its districts, the Bangladeshi immigrants (mainly the Muslims) are a majority already. If further immigration from Bangladesh is encouraged by the Centre (merely because of the stipulation that they will have to be Hindus), the Centre will merely be ensuring that the Assamese will become a small minority in their own State with the certainty of becoming second-class citizens too. This undeserved injustice needs to be avoided without fail. It is not as though the implication of this is that the Centre’s directive of 19 August 2016 (however undesirable it may have been for a secular country) will have to be scrapped. All that the Centre needs to do is to ensure that the Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam are distributed among the other States of India so that the burden does not have to be borne by just one State. What is both unfair and unfortute in the existing scheme of things is that the entire burden of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh will have to be borne by just one State which already has millions of illegal migrants from that country. In all fairness to the State of Assam, the Hindu migrants proposed to be welcomed from Bangladesh should be the responsibility of the other States of India as well.