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Assam gears to confront Bangladeshis

Assam gears to confront Bangladeshis

Author: Jyoti Lal Chowdhury in Silchar
Publication: Organiser
Date: September 7, 2008
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=253&page=26

The Centre and the state government have their own political expediency to look at the issue. The 'alarming' situation of 1911 today has assumed an 'explosive' and 'volatile' dimension.

Heat and dust has again been kicked up over Bangladeshi issue in Assam with stray rumbles in Meghalaya. What usually starts with a bang ends with a whimper. And even as emotions and passions are vented out by AASU and other student organisations, Bangladeshis continue to pour in. Six year long movement of AASU against foreigners, described as most historic and massive, which culminated in the Assam Accord of 1985 only to gather dust, failed to target, detect and deport even a single alien. Those who were declared illegal migrants officially made vanishing tricks. This is the reality. Question is should the Bangladeshis being blamed for their entry and settlement in Assam, making it their epicentre to scatter over the other north eastern states and even in the hinter land of the country?

It is on record that the immigrants from East Bengal districts of Mymensingh, Pabna, Bogra and Rangpur had caused concern to the authorities as early as 1911. The census report of that year had described the situation then as 'alarming'. A British expert Lloyd estimated in 1921 the total number of settlers in Assam at least 3 lakh. C S Mullan in his census report placed the number of immigrants in 1931 over half a million. A prophet of doom, Mullan, had warned that in another 30 years, Sivasagar district will be the only part of Assam in which an Assamese will find himself at home. There was no tabulation in 1941 as a measure of war economy.

Quite significant in this regard was the census report of 1951 which was described by the Superintendent of the job R B Bhagaiwala ICS, as a biological miracle. His observation was a grim pointer to the fact that the State bureaucrats of the time was more interested to swell the number of Assamese speaking people at the pleasure of illegal migrants. His report said a comparison with the percentage of population speaking different languages in 1931 for which alone figures are available reveals an interesting tale.

There is a striking increase in the percentage of people who speak Assamese in 1951 (56.7) over those of 1931 which was only 31.4. There was an equally striking decrease in the percentage of people speaking Bengali in 1951 which is only 16.5 against 26.8 in 1931. With the solitary exception of Assamese, every single language or language group in Assam shows a decline in the percentage of people speaking the same. This entire decline has done to swell the percentage of people speaking Assamese in 1951.

The figures do reflect the design of many persons among the Muslims migrants as well as tea garden labour immigrants to adopt Assamese as their mother tongue. It is not unlikely, as Bhagaiwala pointed out, that some amongst them recorded their mother tongue as Assamese with devious motives. There has been decline in the percentage of people speaking Hindi which has fallen for 7.6 per cent in 1931 to 3.8 per cent in 1951.

The accuracy of language statistics in Assam has suffered to a certain extent on account of the census of indigenous persons of Assam and their land-holdings being taken along with the main population census. An indigenous person in Assam was defined as a person belonging to the state of Assam and speaking the Assamese language or any tribal dialect of Assam. In the case of Cachar, it was the language of the region. This definition gave rise to apprehension among people of Goalpara and Cachar where it was vehemently opposed. This was due to clarification given by the state government that indigenous person will include persons who speak Assamese at home. The word 'at home' was deliberately omitted by the state government to expand the scope of definition. This only added to apprehension or resentment.

On fear of being identified as illegal migrants, some people in Goalpara insisted on recording their mother tongue as Goalparia to become Assamese. Bhagaiwala pointed out that on this analogy, some people in Kamrup may insist on recording their language as Kamrupi and those him Nowgong as Nowgongian and that the census can't take cognizance of such idiosyncrasies. When some of them insisted on recording their mother tongue as Goalparia, the census staff has no option than to record the answer exactly as given by the persons. As a result 4088 persons recorded their mother tongue as Goalparia. There being no such language in existence, these persons were included under Assamese as directed by the Registrar General of India after consulting the government of Assam.

Should we then blame the Bangladeshis, the erstwhile East Pakistanis, for their settlement in Assam? The over enthusiastic bureaucrats started the process of welcoming the aliens whose swelling numbers came handy to the politicians to use them as vote-bank blocks. The Centre and the state government have their own political expediency to look at the issue. The 'alarming' situation of 1911 today has assumed an 'explosive' and 'volatile' dimension.

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