News Analysis |
Senior leader from Bharatiya Janata Party Sundhanshu Mittal was caught red-handed when he lied to misrepresent the number of Muslims living in Assam. Mittal has been severely criticised on social media for his act. His statement highlights an Islamophonbic atmosphere in Assam being exploited by the powers that be for their own twisted ends.
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.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India granted the use of verified Gram Panchayat certificates as the proof of citizenship, but still many Indians are waiting to be counted as one.
Mittal was commenting over the category of doubtful voters, called ‘D-voter’ where a person’s name has been struck off from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and thereby denied basic fundamental rights guaranteed to every Indian citizen. Assam has been facing this condition since decades where ordinary Indian citizens have been marked as D-voter after they failed to produce proof of their citizenship according to the NRC rules.
“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.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric unfortunately is not something new to Assam where insurgency and a struggle for independence have been waging since the 1970s, at times violent and also in a peaceful way. Historically, Assam has never been a part of India proper while attempts were made to assimilate it into the rest of India by different powers. The Mughals were briefly successful before relinquishing control in the face of guerilla warfare by the local populace. The British were finally able to assimilate Assam into their Empire after defeating the Burmese and concluding the Treaty of Yandabo.
Such indifference suits the central Indian government. The Muslims of Assam are mainly impoverished peasants, usually at the end of the social ladder and thus do not have the power to be of concern.
After the partition of Pakistan and India, Assam was made a part of India by the British. Many question the partition boundaries drawn by the Radcliffe commission who allegedly “drew borders in such a manner as to support British interests”. Assam at that time contained many different groups such as Assamese, Bodos, Bengali Muslims and others. Later on, Assam was further divided into modern day Assam, Nagaland, Meghlaya and Mizoram. This was done to fulfill “tribal aspirations”, however it has not been enough to end campaigns for freedom from the Indian state by the people of that area.
While currently the whole unrest in Assam has been blamed on the “illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants”, the reality has more to do with government failure and the spread of Hindutva extremism. The initial conflict started not because of the much propagated “Muslim infiltration” but between Hindu groups over linguistics resulting in language riots in the 1960s. During nearly the same period India was using this same area to host, train and support terrorist elements known as the Mukti Bahini to wage cross border terror attacks in the former East Pakistan.
“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.
Later on, it was used as a launching pad for the Shanti Bahini to destabilize the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Later on in the 70s, with turmoil in East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh, tensions also erupted in the Assam Movement. This movement was “not because of the basic Assamese fear of losing jobs to Bengalis but losing their land”. The target of this movement despite widespread belief was not “Bangladeshi infiltrators” but “outsiders”.
This was the reason the first casualties were not Muslims but two Bodo brothers gunned down by police as they fled vigilantes of the All Assam Students Union who had come to evict them. However, while this movement detested all “outsiders”, it was not long before the local Muslims began to feel its wrath. Bengali Muslims, who had lived in Assam since the 15th century and even before, suddenly became illegal immigrants overnight as the bogey of the “Bangladeshi Infiltrator” was set up.
The reality has more to do with government failure and the spread of Hindutva extremism. The initial conflict started not because of the much propagated “Muslim infiltration”
This was a label to be used as a pretext for inhuman atrocities to be committed upon them. The accumulation of nationalist feeling and social frustration culminated in the “Nellie massacre” in which according to unofficial estimates 5000 Muslims lost their lives. The number of deaths in this massive act of murder and carnage surpasses the combined death toll of the Babri Masjid riots and Gujarat pogrom. Yet despite the passage of 31 years not a single person has been punished and successive governments have turned a blind eye to this crime against humanity.
Such indifference suits the central Indian government. The Muslims of Assam are mainly impoverished peasants, usually at the end of the social ladder and thus do not have the power to be of concern. Also the rise of Hindutva would help this oppression of minorities to carry on without political fallout as well as deterring any political will to stop the suppression of Muslims.
The so-called mistake of Mittal again exposes the fake rhetoric over which the whole illegal immigrants issue, fuelled and used by BJP, is based. Recently, the Supreme Court of India granted the use of verified Gram Panchayat certificates as the proof of citizenship, but still many Indians are waiting to be counted as one.