Influx Of Bangladesh-Origin Muslims Causes Demographic Change In Jharkhand, Tribals Under Grave Threat
Experts say that by 2050, at least the two districts of Sahibganj and Pakur will become Muslim-majority districts.
Local administrations, say leaders, have started imposing many restrictions on celebration of religious and cultural festivals by tribals and non-tribal Hindus. The Bangladesh-origin Muslims have also been grabbing lands belonging to the tribals.
Unabated influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims into the Santhal Parganas division of Jharkhand, from neighbouring Bengal, has not only triggered a cataclysmic demographic change there, but is also posing a grave threat to the tribals of the state.
The Santhal Parganas division of the state comprises six districts — Jamtara, Deoghar, Dumka, Pakur, Godda and Sahibganj — that has the largest concentration of tribals, also known as santhals.
This northeastern part of Jharkhand also lies very close to the international border that Bengal shares with Bangladesh.
This serious issue was , once again, by Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to the state late last week. Shah pointed out that the population of tribals in Jharkhand, a state that was carved out of Bihar in 2000 for the welfare of tribals, had declined from 35 per cent to 24 per cent in recent decades.
How The Influx Of Bangladeshi Muslims Started:
The influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims started in the early 1970s with turmoil in, what was then, East Pakistan.
The barbaric crackdown on Bengalis (mostly Hindus, but also Muslims) launched by the West Pakistani army and their Islamist collaborators called Razakars triggered the exodus of tens of lakhs of people from that country into India.
The West Pakistani army launched a against all Bengalis it suspected of being involved in the movement to free East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from the vicious grip of West Pakistan.
The West Pakistani army and its associates allegedly killed and raped lakhs of people in a months-long operation launched in March 1971, thus triggering the exodus of an estimated 1.2 crore people into India.
A huge mass of Bengali-speaking Muslims entered districts like Malda, Murshidabad and Dinajpur in Bengal. But these districts were already overpopulated and so the illegal Muslim immigrants started settling down in the Santhal Parganas, which was then in Bihar.
The Congress, which ruled Bihar almost uninterruptedly till 1990, encouraged this influx in order to create a Muslim vote bank.
“Successive Congress governments encouraged these illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh to settle down in the Santhal Parganas, gave them citizenship documents and land deeds. The Congress protected these Muslim immigrants in return for their votes,” BJP leader Ram Niwas Singh, who was once associated with the Congress, told Swarajya.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which came to power in Bihar in 1990, was even more protective of these Bangladesh-origin Muslims.
“By the time Lalu Yadav became the chief minister (he was in the Janata Dal at that time) in March 1990, the demography of Santhal Parganas had already changed and Muslim immigrants then formed about 15 per cent of the population. Mostly illiterate or semi-literate, they have always voted en bloc for the party they are asked to by their powerful clerics who were courted by the RJD,” explained Singh.
Former RJD legislator Bhole Nath Yadav, who has retired from active politics and is now engaged in social work in Dumka, told Swarajya that some from the immigrant Muslim community had, by the mid-nineties, emerged as local politicians and they were actively empowered by the Janata Party, which later metamorphosed in Bihar into the RJD.
“By the middle of this century’s first decade, the immigrant Muslim community had become politically assertive due to their growing numbers. Some of them ascended to positions of power and that triggered more influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims into the Santhal Parganas,” said Yadav.
Yadav pointed out that the easternmost tip of Jharkhand in Pakur district is just under ten kilometres away from the Indo-Bangladesh border.
“Illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh have always found it very easy to cross the riverine border to enter Malda, where they are provided shelter by local politicians and fellow-immigrants. And from Malda, they migrate to Pakur and Sahibganj as well as other parts of Santhal Parganas,” he said.
The Demographic Change
Muslims formed just about eight percent of the population of Santhal Parganas till the early 1970s. Today, they form well over 27 per cent of the population of the six districts in the Santhal Parganas division.
While the first Muslims settled in the Santhal Parganas during the Mughal rule, they are a small minority in the overall Muslim population of the division. More than 90 per cent of the Muslims of Santhal Parganas are of East Pakistan or Bangladesh origin.
The two districts of this division that have been affected the most by influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims are Sahibganj and Pakur, which border the Malda district of Bengal.
Malda’s demography itself has changed since the early 1970s and it is now a Muslim-majority district where Muslims (most of them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh) form about 55 per cent of the population.
Muslims form more than 38 per cent of the population of both Sahibganj and Pakur, and their numbers are rising.
Muslims also form more than 25 per cent of the population of Godda district, nearly 24 per cent of the population of Deoghar district, more than 22 per cent of the population of Jamtara district and more than 10 per cent of the population of Dumka district.
One of the areas worst affected by the unabated influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims in Santhal Parganas is the Barharwa community development block of Sahibganj district. Muslims, who formed just 8 per cent of the population of this area in 1971, now form more than 55 per cent of the population.
Senior officers in Jharkhand say that while the influx of Bangladesh-origin Muslims from Bengal has declined appreciably in recent years, the population of this community is rising at a very fast rate. That’s because of the high birth rate in this community.
“Most of these Bangladesh-origin Muslims are illiterate and poor, and they all have multiple wives who bear many children. Thus their numbers are growing very fast,” said Hemlata Soren, a social activist based in Dumka.
“They (the Muslim community) do not practise family planning and do not use contraceptives which they believe is un-Islamic. The men have multiple wives; a large segment even have four wives. The average size of one family is more than 12! They fiercely resist any attempts to educate their womenfolk and spread awareness about family planning and multiple childbirths,” said Soren.
Experts say that by 2050, at least the two districts of Sahibganj and Pakur will become Muslim-majority districts and Muslims will form over 35 per cent of the overall population of the Santhal Parganas division.
The steady migration of other sections of the population of Santhal Parganas, including the tribals, to other parts of the state or the country for education and livelihood is another reason why the percentage of Muslims is rising.
“The literacy rate of the non-Muslim population, including the tribals, has vastly improved in recent decades. Jharkhand does not offer good livelihood opportunities and so many youth from the non-Muslim communities leave their native towns and villages. But the Muslims, who are mostly illiterate, do not.
"Even the ones who migrate as unskilled wage earners in the construction or farm sectors to other parts of the country leave their families behind and return periodically. So their (the Muslims’) numbers are rising fast while that of the other communities is declining,” S M Tudu, a teacher of political science at a college under the Sido Kanhu Murmu University at Dumka, told Swarajya.
Threat To Tribals And Non-Tribal Hindus:
The fast-growing population of Bangladesh-origin Muslims in Santhal Parganas has posed a grave threat to the tribals and their culture.
“Many tribal girls are being enticed by Muslim boys and men and after marriage, they are converted to Islam, often forcibly. Many tribal families have suffered the pain of their daughters marrying Muslims and being forced to convert to Islam. Tribals are innocent and quite gullible, and fall easy prey to the love jihad strategy of Muslims to increase their population,” said BJP leader Rameshwar Dubey.
The Bangladesh-origin Muslims have also been grabbing lands belonging to the tribals. Though non-tribals cannot own land belonging to tribals, these illegal immigrants have been displacing the tribals from their lands forcibly or have been purchasing tribal lands illegally, and are de-facto owners of huge tracts of tribal lands.
In many areas where Muslims have become a majority or now constitute over 35 per cent of the population, tribals and non-tribal Hindus are finding it increasingly difficult to celebrate their religious and other festivals.
Local administrations, say BJP leaders, have started imposing many restrictions on celebration of religious and cultural festivals by tribals and non-tribal Hindus.
For instance, officials often change the traditional routes of processions taken out during , a spring festival of the tribals, to ensure they do not pass through areas which now have a sizable section of Muslims.
Hindu religious processions are also being subjected to similar restrictions in order to appease Muslims. Last year, Ram Navami processions were attacked by Muslim mobs in Lohardaga, Hazaribagh and other places in Jharkhand.
Local BJP leaders say that the Bangladesh-origin Muslims, who are quite radical and often fundamentalists, systematically drive out non-tribal Hindus and tribals from areas where they are present in substantial numbers. The objective, say BJP leaders, is to slowly transform such areas into Muslim-majority pockets.
BJP’s Charge Against JMM And Congress
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while addressing a Vijay Sankalp rally (his second in Jharkhand this year) at Deoghar last week, charged the present Hemant Soren government of “benignly watching over the changing demography of Jharkhand”.
“Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are grabbing tribal lands and exploiting tribal girls, but the state government is looking the other way due to vote bank considerations. Population of tribals and backward classes is declining sharply in Santhal Parganas,” said Shah.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been demanding a statewide exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in order to identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Godda Lok Sabha MP Nishikant Dubey, who has raised this demand in Parliament many times, told Swarajya that the Union Government will order updation of NRC in Jharkhand soon.
According to BJP leaders, over seven lakh illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and their descendants are fraudulently registered as voters in Jharkhand. This figure was, say BJP leaders, a little over three lakh in 2000. “This reflects the danger that tribals and other communities face in Jharkhand,” said Dubey.
Former chief minister and prominent BJP leader Babulal Marandi said a task force has to be constituted to study the grave problem and suggest measures to check the demographic changes brought about by the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Marandi, Dubey and others say that the Congress and the RJD are primarily to blame for this grave crisis that threatens the very existence of tribals and non-tribal Hindus in Jharkhand, especially in the Santhal Parganas division.
“Jharkhand was part of Bihar till 2000 and successive Congress and RJD governments not only encouraged the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, but also made them politically powerful,” said Marandi.
He cites the instance of Jamtara Assembly constituency. Though Hindus (including tribals who profess to be Hindus) form an overwhelming majority of the population of this Assembly segment, the Congress has always fielded Muslims.
The Jamtara Assembly seat, where Hindus form nearly 70 per cent of the population, has been a Congress stronghold. In the 1995 and 2000 Assembly elections, the seat was bagged by Furqan Ansari of the Congress.
“The Congress managed to play its divide and rule game successfully and divided the Hindus along caste lines in order to ensure victory of its Muslim candidate,” said Marandi.
The BJP’s Bishnu Prasad Bhaiya won the seat in 2005, but he defected to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) four years later and in the 2009 polls, the seat was won by JMM patriarch Shibu Soren (the present CM’s father).
But that was a short-lived victory for the non-tribal Hindus and tribals of Jamtara and the seat once again went to the Congress’ Irfan Ansari (son of Furqan Ansari) in 2014. Ansari retained the seat in 2019.
Of the 18 Assembly seats in Santhal Parganas, three are now represented by Muslims: Jamtara by Irfan Ansari, Madhupur (in Deoghar) by JMM’s Hafizul Hasan and Pakur by Alamgir Alam (Congress).
Both Hasan and Alam are powerful ministers in the Hemant Soren government: Alam holds the important Rural Development portfolio while Hasan is in charge of Tourism, Art and Culture, and Sports and Youth Affairs.
Former chief minister and senior BJP leader Raghubar Das, says that urgent measures should be adopted immediately to identify the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants through a very strict NRC updation exercise, following which all these immigrants have to be disenfranchised and then deported.
Also, he added, land belonging to tribals that have been taken over by the immigrants should be restored immediately to the tribals.
“The identity of Jharkhand is under serious threat from the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and if urgent steps are not taken, Jharkhand will become a lost case,” warned Marandi.
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