India needs an immigration policy for sure. What makes Assam so sad beyond reason is that both the host and the guest are barely well to do.
It makes little sense for poor people to have nations. Unlike the rich ones, who have a lot to lose. Consider India and Bangladesh. How green really indeed is the grass on the other side? But still they come from across the border to India, hoping for the best.
The poor are looking for a way to sustain life. The rich do not migrate. They are welcome everywhere. For a certain amount of money you could buy a citizenship anywhere in the world. The poor migrate in hordes. From Africa to Europe. From Vietnam and Cambodia to Australia. From lesser developed European states to the more affluent ones. From India to Canada. Most recently, Syrians to Germany. And from Bharat to India, villages to cities. Migration is the story of the human race, beginning with the long march out of Africa 270,000 years ago.
From Bangladesh to Assam too. According to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), nearly four million people in Assam lost a nation. Sort of. The NRC is a draft. And the Narendra Modi government said those left out of the document could try registering again. Those who have fallen into no man’s land number around four million, nearly the population of a small European state.
The register is being updated at the instance of the Supreme Court. And its stated objective is to tell Assam’s citizens from illegal immigrants, most of who apparently migrated from Bangladesh. Assam has of late seen much restlessness on account of who is a native, and who is not.
That Assam is one of the most corrupt states in India adds to the problem. The state’s BJP chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has declared “zero tolerance towards corruption”. But nepotism and kickbacks are a part of the culture of the state. Naturally the funds that ought to go into development end up lining individual pockets. The corruption-engendered resource crunch uglily aggravates survival struggles and drives division in people. Add to this the steep tribal loyalties of Assam, and the fact that it shares a border with Bangladesh in the south.
A great influx of immigrants in Assam occurred in the 1970s just before and after the India-Pakistan war over Bangladesh in 1971, a collateral of the victory. Just eight years later, anti-immigrant sentiment erupted in the form of the Assam movement, led by the All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU). It was then for the first time that the issue of illegal immigrants’ names figuring in the electoral rolls came up. The most violent phase of the sons of the soil movement was the Nellie massacre of 1983, where 3,000 Muslims were killed.
The Centre brokered a kind of peace in the state with the Assam Accord in 1985. But tensions continued to simmer. Violence between ethnic Assamese and outsiders flared up sporadically, and climaxed with the 2012 confrontation between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims. The war displaced over 400,000 people from their homes.
Close to half a century since the Bangladesh war, the immigration issue is alive and hot, if the NRC is anything to go by. That the BJP, both at the Centre and the state, have a Hindu axe to grind does not help the situation. Leave aside the little irony that in the age of Akhand Bharat — an area spread across Kandahar, Lahore and Dhaka — “internal” migration ought to be a worry at all. For sure, in some secret map of the RSS, Bangladesh is likely to be a part of India and, therefore, the Assam migration is a non-issue.
India needs an immigration policy for sure. What makes Assam so sad beyond reason is that both the host and the guest are barely well to do. What could be more fraught and hopeless that migration between two equally poor countries? The Assam immigration issue is a humanist’s nightmare. But a fertile ground for politicians and jingoists. The last two are likely to gain ground. And there will be blood.