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The silent Bangladeshi invasion of Assam
Guwahati, May 25:
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Published on 25 May. 2010 12:39 AM IST
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A week ago, an unsettling incident occurred in Assam that went largely unnoticed in the Indian media.
Over a thousand suspected illegal migrants crossed the Dhansiri river and, with impunity, took over parts of Orang National Park in Darrang district in the early hours of May 6.
They came from the innumerable chars (riverine islands) that dot the Brahmaputra river. They did not come empty-handed - they brought along building materials and cattle. They apparently had come to stay. For good.
By the time forest guards spotted the invaders that afternoon, the migrants had already erected a hundred makeshift houses or more. The unnerved forest personnel called back for more hands and resources; they did not dare take on the illegal migrants who were armed with sharp weapons. The latter had not only come here to stay, but seemed inordinately determined to do so.
The forest department, in turn, sought the Army’s help. Sometime in the evening, the eviction drive began.
As the dismantling of the houses got under way, the settlers predictably began attacking the forest personnel. This they did after lining up women and children in front of them. The Armymen present had to fire in the air to ward them off. The expulsion operation went on for three grueling hours, with the forest department having to even use elephants to chase away the recalcitrant encroachers. Finally, at the end of the day, the national park had been cleared.
Even in a state where the issue of illegal migrants has dominated the political landscape for the last 30 years or so, this came as exceptionally alarming.
Unprecedented, arguably, is the word. Illegal migrants can tilt the electoral scales in close to half of the state’s 126 Assembly constituencies.
If that is not enough, this was the first sign of Bangladeshi migrants asserting themselves – over land.
The buzz in forest circles is that this was the first such try; they fear more intrepid and brazen attempts from these illegal migrants in the days to come.
The riverine islands and reserved forests of Assam have been falling bit by bit to Bangladeshis for years now.
But all this while, the encroachment of the state’s reserved forests and wildlife sanctuaries/national parks had been a silent and ghostly invasion.
That is why the incident of May 6 needs to be taken more seriously.
It is the first ominous indication of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh asserting themselves physically. They need more land, you see. Let’s look prima facie just at the issue of reserved forests and protected areas in the state.
Settlers in the char areas on the Brahmaputra near the national parks, especially Kaziranga and Orang, are known to be involved in rhino poaching. Most of these people, not surprisingly, are Bangladeshi migrants.
During a raid conducted by security personnel at a few villages on the fringe areas of Orang in March, weapons and traps used in poaching were recovered along with body parts of animals. All those arrested were suspected Bangladeshi nationals. But then, you can never prove that they are Bangladeshis.
Protected areas in Assam, like elsewhere in the country, are in a precarious state. The problems they face are the same – that of rampant encroachment, illegal logging, stone mining, and burgeoning human settlements in contiguous areas, among others. Illegal migrants compound these already existing headaches.
The state government has time and again made half-hearted attempts to jettison encroachers from forest areas; each time these had to be withdrawn after a few days of the launch. The hue and cry raised by vested interests was too much for the government of the day to handle.

 
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