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Bangladeshi immigrant cases: Criticism unjustified

IT IS amazing that apart from CPM, even the Central Government has expressed its unhappiness over the Court judgement on illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The judgement is not just an off-the-cuff remark of some judges. A three-judge strong bench headed by Chief Justice Lahoti has considered the facts and law thoroughly in a judgment comprising 51 printed pages of Supreme Court cases.

india Updated: Jan 02, 2006 00:11 IST

IT IS amazing that apart from CPM, even the Central Government has expressed its unhappiness over the Court judgement on illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The judgement is not just an off-the-cuff remark of some judges. A three-judge strong bench headed by Chief Justice Lahoti has considered the facts and law thoroughly in a judgment comprising 51 printed pages of Supreme Court cases.

the judgment is written by a UP judge having roots in Lucknow, Justice GP Mathur. The length of the judgment is not attributable to any verbosity or repetition but to excellent marshalling of facts and law. It is worth study by all students of international law too.

There exists on the statute book a Foreigners’ Act 1946, which applies to all foreigners. For some petty political reasons an exception was made for Assam with reference to Bangladeshis in 1983.A separate law called the IMDT Act was passed whereby a wholly impractical long-winded procedure was prescribed for their identification.

It thus encouraged further immigration from across the border and their settlement all over Assam, West Bengal and North Eastern States. When it assumed alarming proportions the local residents, more particularly the Assamese students, became restive. Their cause was espoused by the All-Assam Students’ Union. Their demand for repeal of the IMDT Act had to be conceded by government through the Assam Accord. But the Central Government was evasive in practice and never actually implemented it.

So surcharged has the political atmosphere become that even to ask for action against these illegal immigrants or for a stern anti-terrorist law (as in Britain and USA) have come to be equated with communalism. That is the reason for the soft line taken by all political parties on these issues.

The effect of the IMDT Act can be judged from the revealing figures (given in Government’s own affidavit) of 1481 as the number of persons identified and deported, a ludicrously low figure considering the tens of millions involved. The IMDT Act, it has been pointed out is meant not to facilitate their deportation but to help the immigrants in avoiding being deported.

Justice Mathur’s judgement points out that India’s own stand before the UN bodies has been that the expression “aggression” cannot be confined to open military action alone.

It includes situations of proxy war through terrorists as in J&K and elsewhere in India from across the border. India’s distinguished representative at the UN Dr Nagendra Singh in Nov. 1971 on the definition of aggression had categorically stated that aggression can be even indirect and without the use of any arms whatsoever.

For example, there could be a unique type of bloodless aggression from a vast and incessant flow of millions of human beings forced to flee into another state. If this invasion of unarmed men in totally unmanageable proportion were to not only impair the economic and political well-being of the receiving victim State but to threaten its very existence.

In this context the judgement quotes from the Assam Governor Lt. General SK Sinha’s report to Center on 8-11-1998, inter alia it states:

“There is a tendency to view illegal migration into Assam as a regional matter affecting only the people of Assam. Its more dangerous dimensions of greatly undermining our national security, is ignored. The long cherished design of Greater East Pakistan/Bangladesh, making inroads into strategic land link of Assam with the rest of the country, can lead to severing the entire landmass of the North-East, with all its rich resources from the rest of the country. They will have disastrous strategic and economic consequences.

Migration into Assam—historical background
Failure to get Assam included in East Pakistan in 1947 remained a source of abiding resentment in that country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his book ‘Myths of Independence’ wrote – ‘It would be wrong that Kashmir is the only dispute that divides India and Pakistan, though undoubtedly the most significant. One at least is nearly as important as the Kashmir dispute, that of Assam and some districts of India adjacent to East Pakistan.
To these Pakistan has very good claims. Even a pro-India leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his book ‘Eastern Pakistan: Its population and Economics’ observed, ‘Because Eastern Pakistan must have sufficient land for its expansion and because Assam has abundant forests and mineral resources, coal, petroleum, etc. Eastern Pakistan must include Assam to be financially and economically strong.

Contributory factors
Besides the above considerations, there are other contributory factors facilitating infiltration from Bangladesh. Ethnic, linguistic and religious commonality between the illegal migrants and many people on our side of the border enables them to find shelter. It makes their detection difficult. Some political parties have been encouraging and even helping illegal migration with a view to building vote banks. These immigrants are hardworking and are prepared to work as cheap labour and domestic help for lower remuneration than the local people. This makes them acceptable.

Inderjit Gupta the then Home Minister of India stated in Parliament on 6.5.1997 that there were 10.83 million illegal migrants residing in India.

Gupta was a leftist and yet he frankly stated in the explanatory Note:-
Muslim population in Assam has shown a rise of 77.42 per cent in 1991 from what it was in 1971. Hindu population has risen by nearly 41.89 per cent in this period.

As per 1991 census four districts (Dhubri, Goalpara, Parpeta and Hailakandi) have become Muslim majority districts. Two more districts (Nagaon and Karimganj) should have become so by 1998 and one district Morigaon is fast approaching this position.

The illegal migrants coming into India after 1971 have been almost exclusively Muslims.

Pakistan’s ISI has been active in Bangladesh supporting militant movement in Assam. Muslim militant organizations have mushroomed in Assam and there are reports of some 50 Assamese Muslim youths having gone for training to Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Consequences
The dangerous consequences of large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh, both for the people of Assam and more for the nation as a whole, need to be emphatically stressed. No misconceived and mistaken notions of secularism should be allowed to come in the way of doing so.

As a result of population movement from Bangladesh, the specter looms large of the indigenous people of Assam being reduced to a minority in their home state.
Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined.

The silent and invidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of the geo-strategically vital districts of lower Assam. The influx of these illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim majority region. It will then only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made.

The rapid growth of international Islamic fundamentalism may provide for driving force for this demand. In this context it is pertinent that Bangladesh has long discarded secularism and has chosen to become an Islamic state. Loss of lower Assam will sever the entire land mass of the North-East from the rest of India and the rich natural resources of that region will be lost to the Nation.
The situation has much worsened in over eight years that have passed since.
Should any politicking colour our vision even on such a grave issue of national security?

First Published: Jan 02, 2006 00:11 IST