The communal targeting of Bengali Muslims by the Indian state

There have been numerous massacres of people of the Muslim faith in Assam, the most recent being during the ongoing elections. The Nellie massacre in 1983 during the Assam agitation against "foreigners" in which thousands of people died cannot ever be forgotten. The Indian state has been carrying on incessant propaganda painting a picture of invasion of Assam and West Bengal, as well as other parts of India including Bihar, Tripura, Mumbai and Delhi, by "illegal Bangladeshi immigrants". Bengali Muslims have been targeted for persecution and deportation over the past three decades at least. What is the reality? Who is being labeled as "illegal Bangladeshi immigrant"?

The Indian state, despite all its propaganda, has never been able to furnish any reliable data on this question affecting the lives of crores of our people. On the other hand, hypothetical figures and random estimates are advanced by the state and various political parties to advance narrow sectarian and communal agenda. Within Assam and Tripura, as well as in other states of North East, all Bengali speaking people, especially those of the Muslim faith are deliberately targeted and the rest of the people are told that the problems they face are because of these "foreigners".

Large scale migration into Assam began following the defeat of the Burmese and the signing of the treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. Assam was annexed by the East India Company. Earlier, Assam, an independent kingdom, had been annexed by the Burmese rulers. The colonialists decided that “four millions immigrants should be received and settled in the province” to further the old colonial goal of maximising revenues. Special officers were appointed just to oversee this migration of labour.

By 1871, the migrations radically altered the demography of Assam as people from the densely populated districts of East Bengal including Myamansingh, Dhaka and Pabna were settled in Assam. The 1871 census recorded major changes in Assam districts such as Goalpara, Nowgong, Darrang and Kamrup.

Continued migration intensified the competition for land and other resources amongst the different ethnic groups of Assam. The colonialists deliberately inflamed passions amongst the different groups, particularly after the passing of the Government of India Act (new Constitution) in 1936. The provincial governments of Assam elected under this Act set about drawing imaginary lines between the lands of the tribals and the lands inhabited by Bengali migrants. The All India Muslim League pressed for its abolition. In 1939, the Saadulah government opened up grazing reserves to settle immigrants under a “grow more food” campaign. Viceroy of India Lord Wavell declared that this meant "Grow More Muslims".

In 1947, the Gopinath Bordoloi government amended the Assam Land and Revenues Regulation of 1886 to establish 46 tribal blocks, covering an area of 1.68 million hectares. The rules also allowed the government to resettle people displaced by natural disasters like floods and earthquakes and land acquisition. Bengali Muslim cultivators who had settled in the "char", or river islands, and "chaporis" (low-lying flood-prone areas) were resettled under this provision.

The 1951 census estimated the number of migrants from East Bengal at around one million to 1.5 million. These immigrants, and their descendents, are neither illegal nor Bangladeshi.

According to the Indian Home Ministry, about 3.1 million persons, mainly Hindus, migrated from East Pakistan from 1948 to 1961. BP Chaliha, Chief Minister of Assam in the sixties, spoke about the influx of nearly 1,8 lakh refugees from East Pakistan to Assam between January, 1964 and January, 1965.

The 1971 war with Pakistan which led to the creation of Bangladesh was preceded by massive migration of refugees fleeing the Pakistani Army crackdown. These refugees came to Assam, West Bengal and Tripura. The 1985 Assam accord between the Rajiv Gandhi government and the Assam agitators fixed 1971 as the cutoff date to detect and deport illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. A sizable percentage (9.37%) of the population of Assam live on the "chars" of the Brahmaputra. These "chars" are islands in the river. These people are extremely poor, and suffer all the consequences of poverty including high levels of illiteracy, ill health, and lack of employment. According to a survey report, between 1992 and 2003, the number of char villages in the Brahmaputra increased by 7.75%. The chars are densely populated (with 690 persons per sq. km), more than double the state average of 340 persons per sq. km. They have very little cultivable land but have one of the largest concentrations of illiterate people in Assam. In the decade from 1992-'93, their literacy level rose only marginally, from 15.45 to 19.31%. During the same period, the number of char dwellers living below the official poverty line increased substantially from 48.89% to 67.89%, even as the poverty level in the state is supposed to have declined to 36.09%.

According to a survey, about 1,053 sq. km of river bank has been eroded in the last 18 years.  More than two million people have been displaced by erosion of the chars and river banks, leading them to migrate to cities within Assam as well beyond to the national metros like Delhi and Mumbai. As a consequence of the propaganda of the Indian state, these citizens of India are treated with hostility as "illegal migrants" and persecuted. The police extort monies from them constantly. They are regularly picked up and packed off to the Bangladesh border and forced to cross over at gunpoint by Indian security forces. The Bangladesh authorities refuse to accept them as Bangladeshi nationals. The only way a Bengali Muslim can "prove" that he or she is an Indian citizen is by showing ownership of land in West Bengal!

Census data pertaining to Assam, particularly the districts bordering Bangladesh, do not reveal any significant evidence of massive migration of people from Bangladesh since the eighties. However, based on unsubstantiated evidence, the Indian state has been carrying on incessant propaganda that this is the case.

Indrajit Gupta, the then Home Minister of India, said in Parliament in 1997, that there were 10 million illegal migrants in India. Then Assam Governor, Lieutenant General (Retd) SK Sinha, warned in a report to the President that the illegal Bangladeshi influx "poses a grave threat both to the identity of the Assamese people and to our national security” and that “large-scale illegal migration from East Pakistan/Bangladesh over several decades has been altering the demographic complexion of this State." However, the report at the same time admitted that “no census has been carried out to determine the number of these illegal migrants."

In 2001, a report by the Task Force on Border Management headed by Madhav Godbole put the figure of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants at 15 million, with 300,000 entering India illegally every month. In January 2003, deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani issued a national directive to all states to take "immediate step to identify irregular Bangladeshis, locate them, and throw them out". Minister of State for Home Affairs Prakash Jaiswal in 2004 told the Rajya Sabha that there were 12 million illegal Bangladeshis in India. This report also explicitly states that “the reported figures were not based on any comprehensive or sample study but were based on hearsay and that too from interested parties. Therefore, no realistic figures can be given for illegal Bangladeshis in Assam. In the case of West Bengal also, the figures are based on unreliable estimates and are incorrect.” 

A white paper on the issue of illegal immigration in October 2012 published by the Assam Government states that various tribunals have since 1985 declared 61,774 persons as foreigners. Of them, 32,537 persons are, as per the Assam Accord, to be gradually registered as Indian citizens.

The history of migration of Bengali Muslims and the treatment they have been subjected to under various governments at the centre and in the states, clearly shows that these poor and vulnerable people have always been used as pawns by the ruling bourgeoisie. When it has suited the rulers, they have turned a blind eye to the migration, only to later whip up communal and sectarian hatred, organize communal violence and killings and use this as a threat over their heads, to keep them super-exploited and in utter destitution and subservience.  They have been used by the Indian state in its political maneuvers with neighbouring Bangladesh, by portraying them as potential "terrorists" and a threat to the security of India. The people of Assam are repeatedly made to believe that these Bengali Muslims are the source of their problems and not the Indian state, which deprives all the working people of their rights, in every part of the country, and only defends the interests of the big bourgeoisie. Every election, at the centre or in the concerned states, has been accompanied by high pitched propaganda by all the political parties, against "illegal Bangladeshi migrants".

The alleged 'difficulties' of central and state governments in identifying and quantifying "illegal Bangladeshi migrants", when seen against the long history of Bengali-speaking Muslims migrating from what was once a part of India to another part of India, clearly shows that the Indian state has no real intention of resolving the issue. It does not really consider them as any real threat, but wants to keep the issue festering to suit its political ends.

CGPI calls upon the working people in Assam and other states to not fall prey to the insidious propaganda of the rulers against "illegal Bangladeshi migrants", but to unite with them in the struggle against the common enemy, the Indian state.


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Significant    Rajiv Gandhi government    massacres    immigrants    illegal Bangladeshi    foreigners    deliberately    communal targeting    Bengali Muslims    Bangladeshi immigrants    Assam Accord    Jun 1-15 2014    Political-Economy    Communalism     Economy     Popular Movements     Privatisation    Rights     War & Peace    


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