By selectively focusing on some of the exclusions in Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), the mainstream media has done us a great disservice. The Indian Express went to the extent of pointing out that the four million people left out in the draft NRC, which is subject to corrections, were equal to the population of Croatia or five Bhutans. It failed to explain that in a country of 1.3 billion people, even small percentages can be huge in terms of absolute numbers. Four million is 0.3 per cent of India’s population.
Worse that this kind of statistical duplicity, the media has tended to obliterate the thin line that separates persecuted refugees (mostly Hindus and some Buddhists) from illegal migrants (mostly Muslims) who have crossed the border for improving their economic prospects.
This is fake news masquerading as liberalism. India owes nothing beyond humane treatment to economic migrants, but has a deep obligation, including the fast-tracking of citizenship, to migrants driven out by creeping Islamism and bigotry in Bangladesh.
While the sentiment in Assam may be against both Muslim and Hindu migrants, the attempt to equate the rights of the two groups is deplorable. Assamese sentiments can be assuaged by shifting the burden of hosting Hindu refugees to some other states, so that the economic costs are not borne by one small state; but India owes no citizenship rights to economic migrants until they are actually deprived of it in the first place. We can allow them to remain in India and work for a living, but citizenship rights through naturalisation can follow only when their illegal status is first accepted and confirmed.
Tathagata Roy, the Governor of Tripura and close observer of migrations from Bangladesh, puts the issue squarely in a talk with The Economic Times today (9 August). He told the paper: “Bangladeshi Muslims living in several places in the country are not refugees, but illegal immigrants… Civilised countries give asylum to refugees. But no country will allow illegal immigration. According to the UN, (a) refugee is essentially a person living outside his home country for fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion. This does not include people who have entered India in search of jobs.”
Roy makes it clear that the NRC process is legitimate, and merely because some genuine citizens may have been excluded due to their failure to provide acceptable documents, the whole process cannot be delegitimised.
Some simple macro data will tell us that it is Hindus who have largely been driven out of Bangladesh. In 1951, Hindus were 21 per cent of Bangladesh; now they are down to 8-9 per cent.
According to Dr Abul Barkat, a Dhaka university professor, in another 30 years there will be no Hindu left in Bangladesh if the current rate of exodus remains unchecked. In the last two decades, the Hindu migration level has accelerated. In a recent book, Barkat estimates that 11.3 million Hindus left Bangladesh between 1964 and 2013 due to religious persecution and discrimination – yielding a daily rate of exodus of 632.
The exodus had slowed for two decades from 1971 to 1991, after the liberation of Bangladesh, but is now back to its old rates. And worsening. When Bangladesh was East Pakistan, the daily exodus rate was 705 persons. In the next two decades (1971-81 and 1981-91), the rate reduced to 512 and 438, but since then the rate has upped again to its pre-1971 levels. The 1991-2001 and 2001-12 periods saw the daily exit rates at 767 and 774. In short, under the more “secular” Sheikh Hasina administration, the exodus rate is worse than what it was in the East Pakistan days.
This is not surprising, since the more the number of Hindus who leave, the more insecure will those who remain feel, aggravating the need to flee persecution.
The NRC is not a lie; the lie is the alleged truth being perpetrated by the media that there is no difference between persecuted Hindus and economic migrants. Not only in Assam, even in the remaining states of north-eastern India, the situation is similar. The Naga Students Federation recently announced a plan to identify non-locals without Indian papers and seek their deportation. Illegals in Nagaland are estimated at anywhere between one to three lakh people, and in 2015, one Muslim man was lynched for allegedly being in a relationship with a Naga woman. The man was dragged out of jail and killed, even though the relationship was reportedly consensual.
The English media is playing with fire by not differentiating between two kinds of migrants, as the Naga situation additionally attests. There is no Hindu-Muslim problem in this state; it is Christian-Muslim. There is a huge illegal migration problem in the north-east and the sooner we realise this, the better.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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