Post Mortem

Why Assamese are angry?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/20/2019 11:14:22 AM IST

 There is only one word in Assamese for anger—Khong, the feeling that pervades across Assam, feeling betrayed by a popular government they elected to power. The genesis of the six-year long Assam agitation of 1979-85 was the threat to the identity of the Assamese, their language, culture and the erosion of limited resources including land, jobs and other economic opportunities due to influx of illegal immigrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and later the  Bangladesh. Thirty-five years has passed since the signing of the Assam Accord but the problem of illegal immigrants has not been solved. Now, it is like putting salt on a sore wound by enacting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, opening opportunities for a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to obtain citizenship, for those who arrived after the Assam Accord agreed cut-off date, 24th March, 1971.     

The problem started in the early part of 20th century, unabated influx of illegal immigrants from East Pakistan and later Bangladesh threatened the delicate demographic and economic balance of the state. It started in a trickle when the landed gentry of Goalpara district of Assam encouraged cheap labours from Mymensingh and other districts of East Bengal to work in their fields. This opened the flood-gates of land-hungry immigrants from the East Bengal districts of Mymensingh, Pabna, Bogra and Rangpur. The Census report of 1911 described the situation “alarming”. It had expressed concern over the extraordinary settlements of the Goalpara chars. The increase in the district population which was ridiculously low till 1901, ranging from 1.4 to 2 per cent, became 30 per cent by 1910-11. In the following decades the flow of immigrants extended far up the Brahmaputra valley and the immigrants consolidated their position in districts of Nagaon, Barpeta, Darrang and North Lakhimpur.  

In 1931, the Superintendent of Census Operations in Assam, C.S. Mullan in his report wrote that continuous influx of “land hungry Bengali immigrants, mostly Muslims, from the districts of Eastern Bengal and in particular from Mymensing”, estimated to be over half a million seemed likely to “alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than did the Burmese invaders of 1820 the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization.”1 He further wrote that “in another thirty years Sibsagar district will be the only part of Assam in which an Assamese will find himself at home. Important national leaders like Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad had expressed apprehensions at the continuing influx into Assam and the latter even suggested sending of large number of Hindus from Bihar to “balance” the flow of Muslims. In 1937 elections, Sir Syed Mohammad Saadulla formed a minority Muslim League government in Assam. The then Assam Premier Sir Saadulla’s programme of “Grow more food”, the immigrants from East Bengal were encouraged to settle on government Khas lands in Assam, arousing fear among the indigenous people of the state being swamped away by the immigrants. During the Bengal famine of 1942, the number of immigrants increased further alarmingly.  S.P. Desai, the government’s Special Officer in charge of Examining Government Reserves expressed apprehension about the influx. He wrote in his report: “The Assam Land and Revenue Regulation is, so far as the immigrant encroachers are concerned, virtually non-existent. The immigrants openly claim to have short circuited the local staff and officers. Every day new bamboo sheds and temporary huts are sprouting up in the reserves. I found that the immigrants absolutely ignored the local officers (from the Sub-Divisional Officer downwards) so much so that they did not even answer questions put to them. The Nepali graziers and Assamese pamuas finding no protection from anywhere give “dohai” in the name of the king Emperor. To this some of the thoughtless among the immigrants are said to have replied that the immigrants themselves are king—verily the cup of humiliation for the Assamese is full. They feel the law is meant for them only and not for the immigrants, that the Government which is the custodian and trustee of their interest has failed them. All section of the local population are greatly perturbed and their talk exhibit deep rooted bitterness.” After the Partition, S.P. Desai as the Chief Secretary of the state government urged the Central Government not to send more refugees as the state was already overcrowded. But, Desai’s farsightedness was punished with a quick transfer order.  With the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in April, 1950, the Muslim settlers who left India earlier in wake of communal disturbance returned back to Assam. There was no machinery to check the Pakistani Muslim immigrants coming in posing as Indian citizens aided by their friends and relations who arrived in the advance parties. With discrimination against religious minorities, hordes of Hindu Bengalis from East Pakistan too entered Assam. Attempts to regulate the influx of immigrants from East Pakistan led to the introduction of Passport-cum-visa system in October, 1952. But, the provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946 and the rules made there under were not applicable to the citizens of Pakistan and hence they were not required to get themselves registered. A large number of East Pakistanis entered with necessary travel documents then continued to stay in Assam illegally posing as Indian citizens. After Partition the flow of Hindu refugees increased and after the 1965 Indo-Pak War their number increased alarmingly.  According to official statistics, a total of 2,20,690 Pakistani infiltrators were located in the State during 1951-61. Another 1,92,339 infiltrators were detected during 1962-71. During the War of Liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, an estimated 11 Lakhs refugees took shelter in Assam. While it is said bulk of them returned back to their home, more than 1 Lakh stayed behind. Between 1972 and 1978, a total of 99,583 Bangladeshi immigrants were detected by the Assam Police. The figure of undetected immigrants was feared to be many times higher. This high level of influx into Assam from Bangladesh and Nepal was reinforced by the statement of Chief Election Commissioner of India, S.L. Shakdher in a conference of Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) held at Ottacamund on September 24, 1978. The CEC S.L.Shakhder said: “I would like to refer to the alarming situation in some States, especially in the north-eastern region, wherefrom disturbing reports are coming regarding large scale inclusion of foreign nationals in the electoral rolls. 

(To be concluded)

Dipanjon Konwar


C.S. Mullan, Census of India, 1931, Vol-III: Assam, Part-I Report, p.p. 49, 50, 51. Census of India 1971, Series-3 Assam, Part I-A, General Report, p.47

About the writer: The writer teaches Human Resource Management at post-graduate level in Gauhati University, a visiting faculty at Assam Administrative Staff College and trainer with many other organisations. He is a regular contributor to The Assam Tribune and other digital news media.

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