Who are Bodos

The Bodos are a tribal community, listed as the Scheduled Tribes. They are animists who follow the Bathouist faith, though some are Christians. They are politically aligned with Assam’s ruling Congress. The Political Party that represents their interests is the Bodoland People’s Front, which has a Lok Sabha and a Rajya Sabha member. Its 12 legislators in the State Assembly are part of the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress coalition. In 2012 violence in Assam broke out with riots between indigenous Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims. The first incident was reported in 2012, when 77 People had died and over 400,000 People took shelter in 270 relief camps, after being displaced from almost 400 villages.

Definition Illegal Immigration in India

An illegal immigrant in India is a person residing in the country without official permission as prescribed by our relevant Indian law, However those who are explicitly granted refugee status do not fall under this category. No reliable numbers on illegal immigrants are currently available. The 2001 Census gives information about Migrants but not exclusively, Illegal Immigrants. The Census also says that the Bangladeshi’s form the largest group of migrants in India. As per the same census there are 3,084,826 people in India who came from Bangladesh No reliable numbers on illegal immigrants are currently available. Extrapolating the census data for the state of Assam alone gives a figure of 2 million. Figures as high as 20 million are also reported in the Government and Media. The Indian Statistical Institute called these estimates “Motivated & Exaggerated”. It says that a significant numbers of internal migration is sometimes falsely thought to be immigrants. Nationals might have crossed over to India every year during the years 1981-2014 but how many of them were identified and pushed back is not known. According to one commentator, the trip to India from Bangladesh is one of the cheapest in the world, with a trip costing around Rs.2000 (around $30 US), which includes the fee for the “Tour Operator”. As Bangladeshi are culturally similar to the Bengali people in India, they are able to pass off as Indian citizens and settle down in any part of India to establish a future., for a very small price. This false identity can be bolstered with false documentation available for as little as Rs.200 ($3 US) can even make them part of the vote bank. Most of the Bengali speaking people deported from Maharashtra are originally Indian citizens from West Bengal. Police would demand 2000-2500 from each from the detained Bengali for their release. If they fail to pay that amount, they are kept behind the bar for 10–15 days following which they would be taken to the border and pushed into Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Liberation War

The Bangladesh Liberation War threw up a Political and Economic turmoil in Bangladesh, which forced some Bangladeshis to seek refuge in India. During the Bangladesh Liberation War at least 10 million Bangladeshis crossed into India illegally to seek refuge from widespread rape and genocide. Most of them migrated to the border states, particularly West Bengal and Assam. This issue became more visible after the 1991 census when patterns of abnormally high growth rate of Muslims were observed in the border states Assam and West Bengal. In 1991 census Muslim population growth rates in these States were found to be much higher than the growth rates of the local Hindu population even after adjusting for the usual higher growth rate of Muslims observed throughout the country.

Out Siders

Approximately 50,000-100,000 BurmeseChin immigrants are residing in India, mostly in the Indian state of Mizoram and a small number is found in Delhi. India has thousands of Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan, living illegally.According to one figure in 2009, it was above 7,700. By 2009, India had over 13,000 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan.

Assam Agitation and Accord

asdfABVP stirred In Assam,an agitation against immigrants started as early as 1979,which was led by All Assam Students Union. Their demand was to put a stop on the influx of immigrants and deportation of those who have already settled. It took a violent form and ethnic violence started between Assamese and Bengalis, mostly Muslim. It eventually led to the infamous Nellie massacre in 1983 due to a controversy over the 1983 elections. In 1985 we signed the Assam accord with the leaders of the agitation to bury the issue. As per the accord India started building a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border which we hope is now complete. However, Assam also has a large number of genuine Indian Muslim Bengalis. It is difficult to distinguish between illegal Bangladeshis and local Bengali speakers. In some cases, genuine Indian citizens have been discriminated. Allegations exist that the Indian National Congress have discriminated against Bengali-speaking Muslims. On the other hand, in some places reports of Bangladeshis being able to secure Indian ration and voter identity cards have come out. After 1991 census the changing demographic patterns in border districts became more visible. It created anxiety and tension in India throughout the nineties. Both conservatives as well as moderates expressed concern on this issue. The first BJP Government came into power in 1998 and ordered the construction of the Indo-Bangladesh barrier to stop migrants and illegal trade along the border. It was planned to enhance the already existing barrier in Assam and to encircle West Bengal, Tripura and Mizoram as well. The other Indian state affected by this problem, West Bengal, remained mostly calm during this period. However Indian newspapers reported that “the State Government has reports that illegal Bangladeshi migrants have trickled into parts of rural Bengal, including Nandigram, over the years, and settled down as sharecroppers with the help of local leaders. Though a majority of these immigrants lack documents to prove their Citizenship.” Lately, Bangladeshi illegal migrants have been moving to Kerala owing to the high wages for unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, and also the presence of sizable Muslim population in the State. The Kerala police are reportedly finding it difficult to check the influx of these Bangladeshi illegal migrants. Kerala State Intelligence officials said they found that a large section of migrant laborers in the state claiming to be from West Bengal were actually from Bangladesh. In 2005, a Supreme Court bench ruled Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act (IMDT) as unconstitutional while, with reference to the Sinha Report, maintaining that the impact of the “aggression” represented by large-scale illegal migrants from Bangladesh had made the life of the people of Assam “wholly insecure and the panic generated thereby had created fear psychosis” in other north-eastern States. In August 2008, the Delhi High Court dismissed a petition by a Bangladeshi national against her deportation. The High Court ruled that the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants “pose a DANGER TO INDIA’S INTERNAL SECURITY”.

Social Concerns

Apart from immigrants a large numbers smugglers regularly cross the porous border along West Bengal into India. They mainly smuggle and livestock from India into Bangladesh to avoid high tariff imposed on some Indian goods by Bangladesh government. Bangladeshi women and girls are also trafficked to India and via India to Middle East for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The Centre for Women and Children Studies estimated in 1998 that 27,000 Bangladeshis have been forced into prostitution in India. According to CEDAW report, 1% of foreign prostitutes in India and 2.7% of prostitutes in Kolkata are from Bangladesh.

What is Bodoland

With the argument that they are native people, the Bodos waged a self-determination movement off and on since the 1960s. This ultimately resulted in the militant group Bodoland Liberation Tigers’ Force surrendering arms to sign an agreement with the Assamese and Indian governments in 2003. The agreement resulted in the creation of a semi-autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council that administers four districts in western Assam. These four districts – Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang – are together known as the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts. The Bodos seek to transform the BTAD into a “pure” homeland of the Bodos. That ambition is at the heart of the recurring conflict in these districts. Identity, territory and power have come together to make Bodoland the biggest flashpoint of ethnic violence in Assam today.

The Congress hand

The BTAD area has one seat reserved for the scheduled tribes in the Lok Sabha that has been held by the Bodoland People’s Front, a party formed by former militants of the Bodoland Liberation Tigers’ Force. The Bodoland People’s Front also controls the Bodoland Territorial Council and is an ally of the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government. The Congress is accused of handling the situation badly from the start. It reached the 2003 settlement with the Bodoland Liberation Tigers’ Force without involving the majority non-Bodos who live in the area. Second, the Bodos have repeatedly violated the ceasefire they promised as part of the agreement, but the Congress government has taken no action. The Congress has thus been seen as deliberately helping the Bodos consolidate power in the area for its own political benefit.

A Dominant Minority

The 2003 Bodoland Territorial Council accord is an official recognition of the Bodo political aspiration as one of the “earliest inhabitants of Assam”. As per the accord, the aim of the Bodoland Territorial Council is to “fulfill economic, educational and linguistic aspirations and the preservation of land rights, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the Bodos…” This created a perverse condition for Bodo dominance in a territory where the Bodos constitute only 26% of the population. The accord made them a dominant minority by giving them special status under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution (meant for tribal rights) at the cost of the 74% of non-Bodo population. This was felt as a gross violation of equality and democratic rights by the non-Bodo majority. At the same time the non-Bodo communities have often expressed fear of the consequences of demands that Bodo leaders prove their majority in the BTAD areas. This gives the Bodos an incentive to try to create a majority through acts of violence. Ethnic cleansing is round the corner.

The Muslims of Bodoland

Politics around Muslim rights and grievances in Assam has come a long way. The All India United Democratic Front with significant clout over the Muslim vote and has become the principal opposition party in the assembly, replacing the Asom Gana Parishad. The AIUDF has actively supported the All Bodoland Minority Student’s Union to emerge in recent years as a powerful body representing Muslim interests in the BTAD.

In the 2010 elections to the Bodo Territorial Council, the organisation had demanded that the Bodo People’s Front give atleast three seats for Muslims in those constituencies where they have absolute majority. When this demand was not accepted, the All Bodoland Minority Student’s Union together with the All Assam Minority Student’s Union formed the Sankhyalagu Aikhya Mancha (Minorities United Front) to contest the Bodoland Territorial Council elections from constituencies with the highest number of Muslim votes and caused some electoral damage to the Bodoland People’s Front-Congress alliance.

The All Assam Minority Student’s Union has called for dissolving the BTADs time and again, citing growing incidents of murder, kidnapping, extortions and rape. These incidents have made life and property extremely insecure for non-Bodos. Besides, the All Assam Minority Student’s Union has demanded proportionate employment policies to the community numbers and reservations for minority students in medical and engineering colleges in the area. Another All Bodoland Minority Student’s Union-All Assam Minority Student’s Union demand includes removing non-Bodo majority villages from the BTAD areas.

Conclusion

The Muslims of Bodoland are both Assamese-speaking and Bengali-speaking, and the Bengali-speaking Muslims are not recent migrants from Bangladesh. Bengali-speaking Muslims have lived in Assam since the British era. But many have been forced to migrate from one place to another within Assam because of floods and land erosion. It is significant that one of the prominent demands of the All Assam Minority Student’s Union has been a rehabilitation package for people affected by floods and land erosion, and that the government take preventive measures against land erosion. In a politics constructed around land rights, Bengali-speaking Muslims have become doubly insecure about the language they speak and because they face displacement from floods and land erosion.

Not just Muslims The killings this week or the large-scale riots in 2012 are not a straight case of communal violence targeting Muslims. The violence is a specific response to an effort by all non-Bodos to assert themselves politically. The Bodo elites show complete intolerance towards anyone who challenges or could challenge their homeland doctrine of a Bodo territory with autonomy and a special status to Bodos as the dominant power elite of the area. The Bodo elites have consolidated power and privilege through the BTAD and do not want to share it. In the past they have also targeted adivasis and ethnic Assamese speakers. Hapless Muslim villagers in western Assam are the latest victims of Bodo assertion, but they were not the first and won’t be the last.

The unified fight against Bodo dominance In this Lok Sabha election, the All Bodoland Minority Student’s Union and the All Assam Minority Student’s Union, along with 18 other non-Bodo groups under the umbrella Sanmilita Janagostiya Aikkyamancha, an amalgamation of non-Bodo ethnic and linguistic groups based in the BTAD, supported the independent candidature of Naba Saraniya, a former militant leader of the United Liberation Front of Assam. Saraniya is seen to outweigh the powerful Bodoland People’s Front candidate Chandan Brahma, formerly a minister in the Assam government. While the Bodo votes are split in many parts, this Sanmilita Janagostiya Aikkyamancha managed to unite the non-Bodo votes. That is why 32 Muslims were killed in Kokrajhar and Baksa this week, including women and children, one of them as young as two years old.