Targeting Bengalis in Assam

The ISIS-style gunning down of five Bengalis in a village in the Tinsukia district of Upper Assam, will revive the nightmarish memories of ‘drive-out-the-Bengali’ movements that used to take place periodically in the last century. Assam saw such movements in 1948, 1955, 1960, 1974 and from 1979 to 1985. It was thought that with the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, the bitterness of the past had been buried and the Bengalis in Assam would be able to live peacefully. Indeed, there was peace. But an ill-conceived decision of the BJP Government at the Centre has revived the anti-Bengali bitterness again.
In July, 2016, the Modi Government introduced a Bill in Parliament seeking to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955, so that all non-Muslim immigrants coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are given Indian citizenship. The discrimination of immigrants on the basis of their religion in the matter of granting citizenship is atrocious in a secular country. As a very large number of Bengali Hindus have migrated to Assam, giving them citizenship would, the Assamese feared, change the demography adversely against them. On the other hand, the process of preparing a new National Register of Citizens (NRC) filled Bengalis in Assam, both Hindus and Muslims, with the fear that they would be declared illegal immigrants, denied citizenship and be either driven out of the State or made Stateless.
For the last few months, anti-Bengali sentiments in Assam have been on the rise again and stray cases of assault and intimidation have been reported. Now the gunning down of the five Bengalis by one faction of the ULFA, which calls itself ULFA (Independent), has created both panic and anger among the Bengalis in Assam. The outfit has denied responsibility for the massacre, but it will not wash. The responsibility of raking up anti-Bengali feelings in Assam lies squarely on the shoulders of the BJP Government at the Centre.
The obvious objective of giving citizenship rights to Hindu Bengalis from Bangladesh was to increase the vote bank of the BJP, but the BJP leaders were myopic enough not to foresee its impact on the Assamese-speaking people of the Brahmaputra Valley and the animosity it will rouse among the Assamese. If a mass exodus of Bengalis in Assam starts, West Bengal will be the place they will seek shelter in. In turn, it will create social unrest in West Bengal also. The West Bengal Government should take up the case of Bengalis in Assam with the Centre urgently to ensure that these hapless people can live in their hearth and home without fear and with dignity.

Saturday, 3 November, 2018