Assam: India's Ethnic Cleansing
We must act now, together, in numbers, before India renders millions of people non-citizens creating yet another refugee crisis the subcontinent cannot handle.
Assam a state in northeastern India, lying next to Bangladesh, bordering Sylhet has a storm coming. Tensions continue to rise with the final National Register of Citizens to be released by the end of this month.
In 1947 with the introduction of colonial borders, came the end to “free movement” within the subcontinent. As Sylhet was asked to vote in a referendum in 1947 about whether they would want to continue being a part of Assam and therefore India, or part of East Pakistan. However Assam was delighted when Sylhet joined Pakistan, (East Pakistan then, now Bangladesh so their dream of a linguistically homogenous region could be successful).
Migration between Sylhet and Assam was still taking place, whilst large numbers of the Bengali elite from Calcutta were also moving to Assam, causing apprehension from the native Assamese community, as the elite Bengalis from Calcutta were much more economically advantaged than them, often hiring the natives for labour work. In 1951 Assam prepared The National Register of Citizens, where it contained the names of “Indian” citizens of Assam. In 1971 a huge number of refugees from East Pakistan went to Assam, causing already underlying tensions ultimately created by West Bengalis to shift heavily on the refugees from East Bengal coming in.
In 1979 theAll Assam Student Union and All Assam Gan Sangram Parishad started a movement against what they labelled as “illegal migrants". The powerful movement went on for six years resulting in a political party established to deal with illegal immigrants and more importantly resulted in an Assam Accord signed between both AASU and AAGSP and the government of India in 1985. The Accord said that all the relatives of people listed in the 1951 NRC along with the foreign migrants registered between 1961 and the midnight of 24th March 1971 will be accepted as legal residents of Assam and therefore India. The specific cut of date ultimately rendered all those refugees who fled violence and genocide in East Pakistan stateless.
After Indira Gandhi's decision to give 4 million immigrants from Bangladesh the right to vote, there was a heightened prominence of the issue of foreign nationals in Assamese society against the inclusion of foreigners in the electoral rolls. The AASU and AAGSP organisers called for a boycott of the election and violent incidents occurred during this period.
In the year of 1983, a massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour period on the morning of 18th February, the Nellie massacre claimed the lives of around ten thousand people. The victims were East Bengal rooted Muslims whose ancestors had relocated in pre-partition British India and to this date, not a single person has received punishment.
The label of “Bangladeshi” within India is often used as a slur and Bangladeshis have become synonymous with Muslim and illegal. The BJP, a far-right Hindutva party won their election on a number of anti-Muslim propaganda, including the promise to deport and detect the “illegal” Bangladeshi population. An update of the National Register of Citizens (final draft) is set to be published this July, following the first draft published on December 31st last year. For inclusion in the updated NRC - 2 requirements are required (1) existence of a person name in legacy data or any other admissible documents, (2) proving linkage with that person. The government claims this register will be used to identify and deport illegal immigrants - code word for Muslims of East Bengal origin. This ultimately means millions of Muslims will be rendered non-citizens in the process. When doing these draft lists, they purposely excluded the Muslim villages who had been living there for generations and whose whole livelihood is based in Assam.
Since 1947, Assam has been rocked with protests over illegal immigration, with increasing sectarian tensions and riots between the states indigenous population and Bengali (Sylheti speaking Muslim migrants). More recently, thousands of Bengali speaking Muslims have been thrown in detention camps in Assam, with no legal or financial help.
In 2014 violence erupted yet again, with the Bengali speaking Muslims being targeted. Almost 100 people were killed, most of whom were Bengali Muslims. 400,000 people were displaced to makeshift camps. Most of the displaced were Muslims. The Indian army was deployed with orders "to Shoot on sight". Around 500 Villages had been destroyed through arson.
So as Assam prepares for the final draft of the NRC, we must put this in context. The Indian government had undertaken a brutal deportation process of many poor and illiterate Bangla speaking Indians, whom they presumed were Bangladeshis. Members of one family were forcibly separated, jailed without notices, denied legal aid, handcuffed to train compartments and deported to Bangladesh. They are among a thousand people who are in six detention centres across Assam - all of which are currently located inside district jails. Assam has also been planning to create the largest detention centre in the world, possibly for housing all those who they will create non-citizens very soon. This community of Bengali/Sylheti Muslims originally from East Bengal have been under attack since they crossed the border over to Assam for refuge only to be met with violent hostility. A community who has had a massacre against them, who have no way of healing, whose very existence is under threat. With the unlawful exclusion of citizenship, the inhumane illegal detention of them, this community is in dire need of international outrage.
A community with a sudden rise of suicides linked to the final draft being published. As the NRC is set to be published this very month, millions of Muslims of East Bengal origin are set to be excluded, where they could be deported, declared a D Voter, stateless or a foreigner and because of that sent to jail or detention centres.
Have the international community learned nothing from the Rohingya crisis? This issue has dangerous parallels to what has happened to the Rohingya community. Once they become stateless and ultimately refugees, it will be harder for the international community to help or assist them, as we have seen with the Rohingya. One must ask where will all these stateless people be deported to, Bangladesh an already overpopulated country, sheltering over one million refugees is set to take the burden, but where does that leave the sub-continent?