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Is Migration In Assam Nothing But A Crisis Of Identity? All You Need To Know.

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By Mohika Sharma:

The most disturbing development in the twentieth century Assam, has been that of the spike in the population arising out of the influx of migrants. This influx was prevalent, right from the Colonial Era, when labourers from Odisha or Jharkhand were brought in to be recruited in the tea plantations. Likewise arrived the Marwaris or merchants of Rajasthan who have a monopoly over trade, both wholesale and retail. These migrants came in and occupied tracks of land for settlement. However these migrants, despite being considered ‘outsiders’ did not pose a threat to the Assamese sense of identity and economic independence. The numbers were small and they lived generally within the confines of their own community.

assam

In the early 1940s, a large number of migrant labourers of Muslim origin were brought in from the erstwhile East Pakistan towards implementation of the ‘Grow More Food Campaign’ of the government. Shortly thereafter, when India attained Independence, there was a large influx of Hindu Bengali refugees from East Pakistan into Assam and its adjoining states. Prime Minister Nehru was well aware that immigrations from overcrowded East Pakistan to Assam will continue and the problem was how they should ‘control and organize this immigration’ so that the Assamese would not be outnumbered in their own state. However, Nehru’s government failed to realize that the rehabilitation of the refugees was not a responsibility of Assam alone or her neighbours — Tripura and West Bengal. The issue of rehabilitation remained unresolved. It was in the wake of the liberation of Bangladesh that several lakhs of refugees came to North-East India. These ‘outsiders’, had come in search of a living, from their impoverished land. But, they were seen as encroachers on scarce resources like land and potential competitors to employment opportunities and political power. This perception has now become a reality and, more often than not in an insidious way through the machinations of the politicians who are hell bent on securing electoral votes. The problem of immigration persisted and grew larger with time. This issue has even taken political and sometimes violent forms in many states of the North-East.

The Assam Movement from 1979 to 1985 led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) is probably the best example of a movement against the ‘outsiders’. It was against illegal migrations, other outsiders and against faulty voters’ registers that included names of lakhs of immigrants. Eventually the matter was supposed to be settled on signing of an accord in 1985, which stated that foreigners who migrated into Assam during and after the Bangladesh war and since, were to be identified and deported. But, despite the efforts being made, the problem of immigration did not come to an end; this influx of immigrants is so vast that in certain parts of the North East, its original inhabitants have been reduced to being a minority in their own land.

Assam is in ferment and turmoil. While the ULFA on one hand have been demanding a “Swadhin” Assam, on the other hand autonomous demands of different ethnic groups have caused serious concern to the authorities at the respective centres. A sense of neglect and deprivation has created a crisis of identity or identity consciousness amongst different ethnic groups of the valley of Brahmaputra.

Assam movement
Assam movement

The influx of immigrants into Assam is nothing but inevitable. As we know the density of population of neighbouring Bangladesh is the highest in the world, the pressure on the land and resources and the stagnant economy have forced the Bangladeshis to cross the porous border and settle here. On this side of the border, economic opportunities were larger and as the immigrants wanted land and employment as labourers, crossing the border was the easiest thing to do. If the influx continues unchecked it is only a matter of time when indigenous Assamese will be alien in their own homeland. The fact that these immigrants provide cheap labour encourages the employers to employ them instead of indigenous labourers. The lax political system also encourages these immigrants to come settle in this region. On crossing the border, they are provided with Pan Cards and are enlisted on the voters’ identity list. For instance, if one travels to the passport office, located in Guwahati, the majority of the applicants there, waiting in queue are these “illegal” immigrants, with absolutely no proof against them stating that they are not Indian citizens? Thanks to the vote bank politics of our country! The immigrant community has gathered enough strength to influence many major decisions of the state government overlooking the security of the state and country. There is a commonly held apprehension that majority of the immigrants and the leaders behind them are determined to create instability in the region to serve the interests of foreign powers.

The problem of detection, dispersal and even deportation of infiltrators would not be formidable one if the Centre and State governments tackled it with zeal and imagination in time. The issue of illegal immigrants in the state of Assam is a seemingly intractable problem which, unresolved, would imperil the local communities identity and culture. In spite of her vast potentialities in resources – human, natural and mineral, it cannot be denied; economically Assam is quite a backward state in India. This has been attributed, and rightly so, to the utter neglect and step-motherly treatment of those at the helm of affairs in Delhi. The fact that such a grave issue of illegal immigration has not been looked into since such a long time, clearly proves it right that not only Assam, the issues pertaining to states of north east are definitely not the centre’s priority. A resolution of the problem would warrant an early and concerted action on the part of political leadership across the spectrum which is devoid of a narrow selfish interest.

This article is also published at sevensistersproject.org

You must be to comment.
  1. Bishali

    A well written article indeed.I still don’t understand why a religious angle was given to Assam riots when clearly it was an agitation against illegal immigrants.Whats worse is Pro Muslim parties such as MIM defend these immigrants with backing of Congress.Akbaruddin oasis I has dared the govt from acting against them and his brother too warned of radicalism if action against them is taken

    1. Mohika Sharma

      Thank you Biashali. Glad you liked it. I do not think i mentioned the Assam riots had a religious angle to it. However, later the agitations against the immigrants were driven by anti-Muslim sentiments.
      This is what i wrote in my piece-
      (The Assam Movement from 1979 to 1985 led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) is probably the best example of a movement against the ‘outsiders’. It was against illegal migrations, other outsiders and against faulty voters’ registers that included names of lakhs of immigrants. Eventually the matter was supposed to be settled on signing of an accord in 1985, which stated that foreigners who migrated into Assam during and after the Bangladesh war and since, were to be identified and deported. But, despite the efforts being made, the problem of immigration did not come to an end; this influx of immigrants is so vast that in certain parts of the North East, its original inhabitants have been reduced to being a minority in their own land.)

      Again, i appreciate your feedback. 🙂

  2. Meet Kaur

    Good Job Mohika! You’ve only just started and you’re already going places! so proud of you!!
    Clear in thought and facts well put into an engaging piece…girl you have a long way to go!

    1. Mohika Sharma

      Thank you Meet Kaur 🙂

  3. Roopa Sharma

    A very well written article Monika. Keep writing.

    1. Mohika Sharma

      Thank you Roopa Sharma! 🙂

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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