Threat to security of the land rights and the very identity of the indigenous people of Assam has come from the sustained immigration of Bengali Muslim peasants into mainland Assam from the neighbouring districts of pre-independent Assam/erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh… A culture of aversion to hard work and love for easy life of the indigenous people is one of the prime internal factors for unabated infiltration of illegal Bangladeshis to Assam
— HS Brahma Committee Report
GUWAHATI, May 13: The Committee for Protection of Land Rights of Indigenous People of Assam has sounded a warning saying the indigenous people of the State will become a landless class of people and foreigners in their own homeland in the near future.
The Committee, led by former Chief Election Commissioner Hari Shankar Brahma which recently submitted its final report to the Assam Government on land rights issues, says the land rights of the indigenous people and their identity are at stake. It says if no effective constitutional, legal and administrative steps, including sealing of the India-Bangladesh border and detection and deportation of the illegal immigrants, are taken, the indigenous people are bound to be reduced to a landless class of people and to become foreigners in their own homeland.
The Committee, formed by the BJP-led State government after it came to power in 2016, said unabated encroachment of land by immigrant Muslims from Bangladesh is the most serious threat to the land rights and identity of the indigenous population of Assam. It says local farmers are selling off land to rich “land-hungry” non-indigenous traders who use them for non-agricultural purposes owing to lack of measures to make agriculture profitable.
“Threat to security of the land rights and the very identity of the indigenous people of Assam has come from the sustained immigration of Bengali Muslim peasants into mainland Assam from the neighboring districts of pre-independent Assam/erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. Admittedly, it is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on since pre-Independence days. Sir Sayed Mahammad Sadullah’s government in Assam between 1937 and 1947 devised ‘Grow More Food’ campaign under which thousands of Bengali Muslim peasants were unleashed to be spread in the lower Assam districts like the invading swarms of ants,” the Committee report says.
According to the Committee report, unabated, organized and incessant encroachment of all kinds of land by land-hungry immigrants from across the unfenced stretch of the India-Bangladesh border is one of the reasons behind shrinking geographical space and cultivable land in Assam. The lands encroached include agricultural land, sar (riverine) areas, village grazing reserves, professional grazing reserves, xatras and temple land (debottar, dharmottar and brahmottar lands), tribal belt/block lands, government vacant waste/ khas land, and road and riverside reserved lands, the report says.
The Committee has recommended either a ban or strict restriction on transfer of land in any form from a citizen to a non-citizen, from an agriculturist to a non-agriculturist, from an indigenous to a non-indigenous person, and from a person belonging to a protected class to one of the non-protected classes in the State.
The Committee said though agriculture contributes 19.89 per cent to the State’s gross domestic product (2011-12), farmers continue to struggle owing to annual floods, erosion and other problems.
On the other hand, the Committee has asked Dispur to set up a Special Branch to take effective measures to do away with the indigenous people’s dependence on immigrant Muslims from Bangladesh in their day-to-day works, including cultivation of lands.
The Committee has observed that a culture of aversion to hard work and love for easy life of the indigenous people is one of the prime internal factors for unabated infiltration of illegal Bangladeshis to Assam to fill up the vacuum of work culture in the State.
“So far as the internal factor encouraging infiltration of the illegal Bangladeshis in to Assam is concerned, the indigenous people must be made aware that it is their culture of aversion to hard work, love for ease and dependence on the illegal Bangladeshis in their day-to-day living including cultivation of their own land which encourages the illegal Bangladeshis to thrive in Assam,” the Committee report said.
The report said the proposed Special Branch under any State government’s department will have to launch a series of systematic awareness programmes until the habit of indigenous people’s dependence on the illegal Bangladeshis is transformed. This will entail sustained programme with adequate manpower and budget for providing all necessary infrastructural support to the programme.