The BJP launched ‘Save Bengal’ protest against Mamata government at Rajghat in July, in New Delhi. (Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • It is not the Gorkhas who pose a threat to Bengali Hindus. The real threat comes from illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants.

The average Bengali Hindu, who is overcome by horror, and a lot of impotent rage as well, at the very mention of ‘Gorkhaland’ has got it all wrong. He, in fact, is barking up the wrong tree.

For, the biggest and gravest existential threat to Bengali Hindus, who form about 60 per cent of Bengal’s population (2011 census), comes not from the Gorkhas but from the illegal Bangladeshi Muslims residing in Bengal. Most of them have been radicalised by Salafi preachers and are hardcore Islamists who favour the establishment of the Sharia (Islamic law).

Thanks to large-scale, unchecked illegal migration from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) since the late 1950s, the demography of several districts of Bengal, especially those along the Indo-Bangladesh border, has changed drastically. At the time of the 2011 census, three of Bengal’s 19 districts (four more districts have been created since then, taking the total to 23) – Murshidabad, Malda and Uttar Dinajpur – had become Muslim-majority ones.

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It is estimated that in another ten years, three more districts – South 24 Parganas, Birbhum and South Dinajpur – will become Muslim-majority districts. And by the time of the 2031 census, if the current rate of growth of the Muslim population in the state and the influx from Bangladesh continues unabated, the districts of North 24 Parganas, Nadia, Howrah, Cooch Behar and the two Bardhaman districts will become Muslim-majority districts.

The Threat

The demographic change, on the face of it and in itself, does not pose any apparent danger to Bengalis. The rise in Muslim population in Bengal, per se, is not a cause for alarm. The danger lies in radicalisation of the illegal Bangladeshi migrants. These migrants are poor and vulnerable, and suffer from an acute sense of insecurity caused by their illegal status.

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Though successive regimes in Bengal, and more so the present one, have even encouraged this illegal influx from across the border for their own selfish political gains and facilitated their acquisition of citizenship documents, the migrants remain insecure. And firebrand Islamism as preached by hardcore, regressive mullahs provide them a sense of security.

“This is an interesting phenomenon. When they were in Bangladesh, these illegal Muslim migrants may not have been even overtly religious. But once they enter India illegally, they feel vulnerable despite the documents like voter ID cards, ration cards and other documents that our politicians happily provide to them. They suffer from an acute sense of insecurity. They are (and used to be) told that they could lose their Indian ‘citizenship’ if the current (Trinamool) regime (and the Left before the Trinamool) is replaced by a BJP dispensation. Hence, they have to resist and subdue the Hindus,” said Shankar Ghosh, a former Indian Police Services officer who had served in the Border Security Force (BSF), and has studied this subject closely.

The radical mullahs, said Ghosh, feed on the sense of insecurity and vulnerability among the illegal Bangladeshi migrants. “The illegal migrants are told, repeatedly, that Hindus are their enemies and if a ‘pro-Hindu’ party like the BJP comes to power in Bengal, they will be disenfranchised, dispossessed and driven back to Bangladesh. Hence, they have to subdue the Hindus and drive away the Hindus from the villages and towns where they slowly grow in numbers. And so they become hardline Islamists who are ready to strike at ‘kafirs’ at the opportune time,” explained Ghosh.

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Ghosh’s observations, based on his years of experience in the BSF and in the intelligence services, are endorsed by sociologists who have studied the Bangladeshi migrants. The fact that the illegal Bangladeshi have been highly radicalised by Salafi mullahs is borne out by the recent Basirhat riots. Basirhat, a development block in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district adjoining Bangladesh, had seen dramatic demographic changes since 1961. Hindus formed 72 per cent of the population then, but their numbers have dwindled drastically and today, Hindus have been reduced to a minority of 35 per cent, while Muslims form more than 64 per cent of the population there.

The Basirhat Example

Till the late 1970s, when they were a minority, the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants lived at peace with their Hindu neighbours in Basirhat. “It was very peaceful and the Bangladeshi Muslims were docile. They never used to get into any quarrels with us. But things started changing from the early 1990s as their numbers grew. The Bangladeshi Muslim migrants started pushing out Hindus from the villages in the border areas very aggressively. They started behaving belligerently towards Hindus,” said a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader who did not want to be named for fear of being targeted by the vindictive state administration.

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The attitude of the Bangladeshi Muslims, who had portrayed a false image of docility in order to ward off any backlash from the Hindu-majority populace at the time – this phenomena sanctioned under Islam is called taqiyya – changed drastically by the end of the last century. “They (the Bangladeshi Muslims) started picking up quarrels with us on the slightest pretext, they started harassing our womenfolk, they started abusing us and targeting our temples. They started objecting to our rituals like beating of drums and blowing of conch shells and forced the spineless local administration under the (then Left, and subsequently Trinamool) politicians bending over backwards to appease Muslims to impose restrictions on our pujas and other ceremonies. The Bangladeshi Muslim migrants also started to hit us economically and many Hindus were thus forced to migrate away to Kolkata and other places which are relatively safer,” said Basudeb Naskar, a trader in Basirhat town whose relatives have sold their homes and farmlands to Bangladeshi Muslim migrants who had started torturing them and migrated away to other places.

The Basirhat riots was the culmination, and reflection, of rising aggressiveness among the radicalised Bangladeshi Muslim migrants there. The Salafi mullahs mobilised the Bangladeshi Muslims there to attack and loot Hindu homes. “The objective was long-term: to instill fear and a deep sense of insecurity among the Hindus here so that we slowly move away from Basirhat. Not only drive us away, but they also want to abduct our girls and convert them forcibly to Islam,” said the BJP leader. In large parts of Basirhat, he added, the Sharia is in force and many areas are already ‘no-go’ areas for non-Muslims (quite like the Islamist 'no-go' zones in London).

The Danger Ahead

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Of the 2.46 crore Muslims living in Bengal (2011 census), nearly 1.9 crore are Bengali-speaking Muslims. And of them, more than 25 lakh are said to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Most of these illegal Muslim migrants are highly radicalised. Add to their numbers the Urdu-speaking Islamists in the state, mostly residing in and around state capital Kolkata, and one would be looking at an alarmingly large number of people in the state who are Islamists, want the Sharia imposed in Bengal and look upon the state as one area to be liberated from kafirs for the Islamic caliphate.

Various scholars and organisations put the number of Islamists in Bengal at around 20 lakh, more than 2 per cent of the state’s population. “That is a dangerously high number because the Islamists wield influence far beyond their numbers. They dictate the agenda of the Islamist-appeasing government of the state since they deliver the Muslim votes to the ruling party. By employing the principles of taqiyya, they are silent now. But once the number of Muslims rise beyond 35 per cent of the state’s population, as it will before 2021, the Islamists will start asserting themselves in ways that are unimaginable now. Bengal will change forever then and will surely go the way of Bangladesh where Islamists and the hardline Muslim clergy are all-powerful,” said Basudeb Mullick, a sociologist who has written a few books on the condition of Hindus in Bangladesh.

It is, thus, not the Gorkhas who pose a threat to Bengali Hindus. The real threat comes from illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants. But, as Mullick regrets, the Bengali Hindu is blissfully oblivious of the existential threat he is facing, and is fighting a pointless battle with the Gorkha. “It will be much better for the Bengali Hindu to have the brave Gorkha by his side in the battle against the Islamists, and this battle will become inevitable before long. On his own, the Bengali Hindu will not be able to resist the Islamist and prevent Bengal from being overrun by the Salafists,” said Mullick. Bengal’s 5.45 crore Bengali Hindus would do well to heed Mullick’s advice.

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