The Assam Accord in 1985 had ended a six-year agitation that awakened India to a demographic threat from Bangladeshi migrants. The 2011 census data on religion has put the spotlight back on this accord — rather, its non-implementation — after 30 years as well as an explosive report on illegal influx by a former state governor in 1998.
The pact signed between the Centre and two organisations that led the anti-foreigner movement had set the midnight of March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for detection and deportation of illegal migrants, generally perceived as Bengali-speaking Muslims from Bangladesh.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), one of the signatories, cites British-era census superintendent CS Mullan on its website while bemoaning the government’s disinterest in implementing the accord towards checking influx: “It is very unfortunate but a fact that only
Sivasagar district will remain as Assam for the Assamese people after 30 years.”
Mullan, in his 1931 observation, also said: “Probably the most important event in the province during the last 25 years – an event, moreover, which seems likely to alter permanently the whole feature of Assam and to destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilisation has been the invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrants, mostly Muslims, from the districts of East Bengal.”
Almost five decades later, the AASU raised the Bangladeshi issue with a message for Delhi: save Assam to save India.
“The alarming increase in Assam’s population, as underscored by the religion data, is an outcome on unchecked influx. The Centre has failed to seal the border, a promise made 30 years ago, while the state government has made no headway in deporting illegal migrants. The Assam Accord does not seem to exist for them,” AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath said.
Some 42km of the 263km border that Assam shares with Bangladesh remains to be fenced. Earlier this month, the Assam government informed the assembly that 72,959 people were declared foreigners in the past 30 years but only 95 of them have been arrested and kept in detention camps.
In June, the Supreme Court accused both the Centre and Assam government of “dragging their feet” on fortifying the Bangladesh border after a court commissioner submitted a report on the state of the boundary.
Though the Border Security Force claims influx is negligible, AASU and other indigenous groups say thousands keep crossing over from Bangladesh every day. “The Union home ministry has the figures, otherwise a former home minister (Sri Prakash Jaiswal) would not have said there are 50 lakh Bangladeshis in India,” Nath said.
The census data on religion has also stoked fears that former Assam governor SK Sinha underlined in his 42-page report on illegal immigration from Bangladesh submitted to the President in 1998.
Sinha predicted doom for Assam citing a few districts that became Muslim-majority between 1971 and 1991 (the state had no census in 1981). He also sought the scrapping of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983 that was allegedly loaded in favour of infiltrators. The apex court scrapped this Act in 2005.