Violent Protests By Bangladesh-Origin Protestors Should Not Deter Assam Government From Clearing Them Off Public And Temple Lands

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Sep 24, 2021 01:14 PM +05:30 IST
Violent Protests By Bangladesh-Origin Protestors Should Not Deter Assam Government From Clearing Them Off Public And Temple Lands
Himanta Biswa Sarma
  • After an eviction drive against encroachers turned violent on Thursday, there have been many calls for the Assam government to suspend its actions against Bangladesh-origin infiltrators.

    But the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led government is ignoring such pleas, and rightly so.

Assam’s drive to clear land belonging to the government as well as a prehistoric Shiva mandir that had been occupied by Bangladesh-origin Muslim enroachers in the state’s Darrang district took a violent turn Thursday (September 23).

The encroachers, armed with machetes, choppers, sickels, swords and other weapons, attacked the police and injured a dozen of them, forcing the latter to open fire that killed two encroachers.

The deaths of the two Bangladesh-origin Muslims have, expectedly, triggered angry condemnations: the Congress, human rights groups and, of course, the leftists.

They have demanded a halt to evictions from all lands belonging to the government, temples and xatras (Vaishnavite religious institutions) that have been occupied by illegal Muslim infiltrators from Bangladesh, rehabilitation of all those already evicted, and hefty compensation to the dead and injured.

The Assam government though, headed by Himanta Biswa Sarma, has ignored all the condemnations and demands.

Assam has been facing a demographic onslaught since the British rule when lakhs of Muslim peasants from the erstwhile East Bengal (which became East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh) were brought in and settled in vast tracts of forest and fallow land in order to boost agricultural production. The influx has continued unabated since then and has altered the demographic profile of vast swathes of the state, turning them into Muslim-majority areas where indigenous tribals and Hindus find it impossible to dwell.

According to records dating back to the early British rule, the percentage of Muslims in Assam in the later part of the 19th century was barely four per cent and almost all of them were indigenous, Assamese-speaking Muslims.

But within just two decades, thanks to the British policy of encouraging Muslims peasants from East Bengal to settle down in Assam, the percentage of Muslims in Assam more than doubled to 12.4 per cent. Their numbers doubled within the next one decade from 3.03 lakh (in 1901) to 6.34 lakh in 1911.

By 1931, Muslims (and an overwhelming majority of them were Bengali-speaking Muslims) numbered nearly 13 lakh and accounted for 23.4 per cent of the state’s population. As per the 1941 census, the population of Muslims in Assam was nearly 17 lakh. The sharp rise in the population of Bengali-speaking Muslims was due not only to unabated migration from East Bengal to Assam, but also the high birth rates in this community.

In 1937, Assam, which had a minuscule Muslim population earlier, saw Muhammed Saadulah become the state’s premier. Saadulah, an Islamist, encouraged more migration of his co-religionists from East Bengal with the objective of eventually turning Assam into a Muslim-majority province.

After 1947, successive Congress governments did little to check the immigration into Assam. The illegal Muslim infiltrators were looked upon as valuable vote banks.

The state administration, under the Congress politicians, even facilitated the entry of the Muslim infiltrators many times, looked the other way when they encroached on and settled down on lands belonging to the government, temples and xatras and cleared vast tracts of forests for agriculture, and in numerous instances even gave them land deeds and citizenship documents.

The Bengali-speaking Muslims, who have been evicted from government and temple land at Dholpur in Sipajhar revenue circle of Assam’s Darrang district have claimed that they had been living there since the early 1970s.

That may well be true, but it does not absolve them of the crime of encroaching on land belonging to the government and prehistoric Shiva mandir. They willingly, and knowingly, committed that crime.

The encroachers at Dholpur--in fact, all Bangladesh-origin Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam--don’t deny that they entered Assam from East Pakistan or Bangladesh. They, or their parents who sneaked into Assam, were fully aware of the illegality of their acts.

The Congress, human rights activists, leftists and other apologists for the illegal Muslim infiltrators and settlers would argue that they migrated from Bangladesh for economic reasons and in search of livelihood.

That’s a specious justification for ignoring the illegal influx that had happened over the decades and absolving the infiltrators of their high crime. A person who committed a murder three decades ago, for instance, cannot claim that he cannot be prosecuted today because 30 years have lapsed since he committed that crime.

Encroachers do not have any right to the land they have illegally occupied, irrespective of the number of years that the land has been in their illegal possession. Encroachers have to be evicted, irrespective of the number of years or decades that they had been living off that land illegally. If anything, they have to be stiffly penalised for their illegal occupation of the lands.

Also, these Bangladesh-origin encroachers and illegal settlers can have no legal basis for demanding rehabilitation or compensation. Rehabilitating these encroachers and providing them land to build their houses and to farm cannot be the state’s responsibility and would only encourage more encroachment on government, forest, temple and xatra land.

The drive to evict the illegal settlers at Dholpur was launched Monday (September 20) and continued peacefully over the next two days. About 800 families of Bangladesh-origin Muslims were evicted and 4,500 bighas of land (1 bigha=0.13 hectare) was taken back from them.

But on Thursday, about 2,000 Bangladesh-origin Bengali-speaking Muslims, who were to have been evicted put up a stiff resistance (watch this), shouted angry slogans and then assembled with lethal weapons to attack the police.

Why did the illegal settlers turn belligerent? One can be quite certain that they were encouraged to protest and resist their eviction. Who were the agent provocateurs and what was their motive? The Assam government has set up an inquiry headed by a retired judge of the Gauhati High Court that will look into all this.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is absolutely right in asserting that the eviction drive will go on. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Assam are under the illicit occupation of illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh. Far from the right to rehabilitation, the infiltrators don’t even have any right to be present in Assam.

The government’s primary duty is towards its citizens. Illegal infiltrators, even though they have illegally acquired citizenship documents, cannot be treated as Indian citizens.

More so when ostensibly many of them are driven by the agenda to increase their numbers and make Assam a Muslim-majority state. The Assam government has no obligation to feed, clothe, educate and provide livelihood to the illegal infiltrators and their progeny.

That is why the drive to evict them from the lands they have occupied has to continue. Without, of course, any rehabilitation that Indian citizens may be entitled to on humanitarian grounds.

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