News Analysis |
Tension prevails in India’s northeastern state of Assam after violent protests engulfed the town of Dhula, some 100 km away from the state capital Guwahati. A local youth was killed and many others were injured when police opened fire on a huge crowd that was protesting the alleged death of a Muslim laborer in police custody.
The death of a laborer during police interrogation and the subsequent police firing on protestors resulting in the death of a Muslim man has added fuel to the fire in the already tense state of Assam, in India’s northeast that has initiated a process of weeding out illegal Bengali Muslim immigrants.
The oppression of Muslims at the hands of state institutions highlights an Islamophobic atmosphere in Assam being exploited by the powers that be for their own twisted ends.
Meanwhile, one of the protestors, Moidul Islam, was killed when cops opened fire on a mob pelting stones on the Dhula police station. Sounds of incessant firing, a verbal duel between the protestors and police, and loud cries of those injured, have been captured in a video of the site, where thousands of laborers were protesting against the deaths.
While the local administration has clamped an indefinite curfew on the entire town, a high-level inquiry has been ordered by the state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. The deaths have stirred the sentiments of the already enraged Bengali speaking Muslim population of the state; which has been facing discrimination by the BJP-led government that has initiated the National Registry of Citizenship (NRC) that seeks to identify and deport Bangladeshi Muslims who have been illegally living in India after 1971.
Many Bengali Muslims say that their families have been living in Assam since before 1971, but do not possess documents to ascertain their claims. They see the NRC as a ploy to weed out Muslims from the area. Muslim anger has been stoked by BJP ministers in recent times. A Senior leader from Bharatiya Janata Party Sundhanshu Mittal was caught red-handed when he lied to misrepresent the number of Muslims living in Assam.
The whole thing is that we have to decide who our enemy is. Who is our enemy, the 1-1.5 lakh people or the 55 lakh people? The Assamese community is at the crossroads. We could not (save) 11 districts.
Mittal has been severely criticised on social media for his act. In a story published on media outlet Arab News over NRC (National Register of Citizens) – which is a cause of many problems for the Muslims living in Assam – Mittal was quoted saying, “The demography of Assam has changed completely in the last 40 years.” “There used to be only five percent Muslim population in 1947, which has risen to over 35 percent now,” said Mittal to the Arab News.
“This consists largely of illegal migrants who have come from Bangladesh,” he added. “Through the NRC, we will be able to identify the illegal immigrants the moment they are isolated and their names are struck off from the voters list,” Mittal continued. “It will alter the politics of the state altogether.” “Illegal migrant” is a terminology to target Bengali-speaking Muslims who have been settled in Assam for generations.
However, soon after the story was published, Aman Wadud, a Guwahati-based human rights lawyer countered Mittal’s claim by pointing out that the Muslim population of undivided Assam was 24% in 1951, which increased after Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal and Mizoram were separated from Assam.
While he did not elaborate on the figures, Sarma seemed to be referring to Hindu and Muslim migrants as he was replying to queries on the opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam.
Before that in November, stating that it is his party’s policy to differentiate between Hindu and Muslim migrants, Assam Minister and convener of the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Himanta Biswa Sarma on Tuesday asked the people of the state to choose their enemy — “the 1-1.5 lakh people or the 55 lakh people?”
While he did not elaborate on the figures, Sarma seemed to be referring to Hindu and Muslim migrants as he was replying to queries on the opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in Assam. “The whole thing is that we have to decide who our enemy is. Who is our enemy, the 1-1.5 lakh people or the 55 lakh people? The Assamese community is at the crossroads. We could not (save) 11 districts.
If we continue to remain this way, six more districts will go out (of our hands) in the 2021 Census. In 2031, more (districts) will go out,” said Sarma, pressing for the Bill. While Sarma referred to “11 districts”, the 2011 Census identified nine districts as areas with Muslim majority, up from six in 2001. The oppression of Muslims at the hands of state institutions highlights an Islamophobic atmosphere in Assam being exploited by the powers that be for their own twisted ends.