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Thanks to illegal migration, NE faces identity crisis

NEW DELHI, NOV 13 (AGENCIES)
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Published on 13 Nov. 2012 10:32 PM IST
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Months after the July-August unrest in Assam, the issue of illegal migration continues to dominate the debate on north-east in public space.

In a seminar organized by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) here on ‘The Multiple Crises of the Northeast”, demographic changes in the region arising out of illegal migration from Bangladesh and the question of regional identity was touched upon by almost all speakers.

While former DGP (Punjab Police) KPS Gill said that all communities except illegal migrants in Assam are under threat, former IAS officer Rangan Dutta, who is studying north-east insurgency, said that assertion of identity has to end as it has become a business and that the “north-east disorder” was due to autonomy granted to various regions.

Other suggestions included improving trade between Assam and Bangladesh as also identifying Bangladeshi migrants and denying them economic and political space if India is unable to deport them.

Gill, who has also served extensively in the north-east, said, “Assam is a tragedy waiting to happen. In Assam, all communities are under threat except illegal migrants. Identity (of the local population) has to be protected. However, both the state and the Centre have failed to do this.”

Gill also blamed the local people, whom he called victims, for selling of their land at cheap rates to migrants and then suddenly realizing that they needed to reclaim it leading to violent clashes. “How many people can you kill?” the former IPS officer asked.

Dutta, however, chose to differ on the ground that it was assertion of identity that was the cause of all troubles in the northeast.

He also said that illegal migration from Bangladesh would continue given that there was an acute shortage of labour in the north-east compounded by the dwindling numbers of Bihari migrant labour which is increasingly choosing to stay back home thanks to job surplus provided by MGNREGA.

“Political dispensation has given incentives to autonomous councils. This has led to various groups asserting separate identity where elites would corner these benefits. Time has come to end this,” he said adding that the region itself was confused over the parameters of identity.

He said that if the region wants to divide itself on linguistic identity then Assamese would have to include Muslims as almost half the Assamese speaking people in the state (49% in all) were Muslims of Bengali descent.

Senior journalist Pradip Phanjoubam, however, argued in favour of regional identity saying that time of the nation-state philosophy was over and it had to be replaced by region-state philosophy.

Quoting eminent lawyer Fali S Nariman, he also said that in relation to the north-east, India was still carrying the insecurity of 1947 and that Armed Forces Special Powers Act was the stick to beat that. He said, “If one is wary of looking at self-determination legally, one can look at it existentially.”

Madan Bezbaruah, IAS (retd), who served in Mizoram and Assam in periods of insurgency said that illegal migration was a reality and that the migrants were occupying both land and politics.

“It is unrealistic to think that they can be sent back. They should be identified, however, and made sure they do not usurp economic and political space.”

 
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