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When a Court Verdict Ignites Assam

The influx from Bangladesh to Assam (India) remained a major issue of concern for the Assamese civil societies and advocacy groups since early Seventies. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) led historic Assam Agitation to the outcome of the prolonged anxiety of the indigenous people of the State against the illegal Bangladeshis living in Assam. The movement staring on 1979 to deport millions of Bangladeshis from the State that had united all social and advocacy groups for the cause.

The issue of influx once again came alive after a historical judgment by the Gauhati High Court. The court observed in one of its verdicts that illegal Bangladeshis, who used to get Indian passports because of callous approach of police and passport authorities, were slowly becoming the ‘king makers’ in Assam, as many politicians started using them as their traditional vote banks. The landmark judgment of the high court on July 23, also observed that a strong political will to free Assam from illegal Bangladeshis was the need of the hour. The judgment was passed while disposing the petitions of 61 petitioners after they were pronounced as foreigners by the respective Foreigners’ Tribunals.

In one Md Kamaluddin’s case, the court ruling said that he was in possession of a passport issued by the Pakistan government for his travel to Bangladesh. After coming to Bangladesh, he stealthily came to Assam, stayed back and even filed a nomination during the 1996 State Assembly polls. This can happen only in Assam, it said.

It also stated that in due course of time, the Bangladeshis had ‘incorporated their names in the voters’ lists on the basis of which they must have cast their votes’. Thus the petitioners and such other large number of Bangladeshis present in the State of Assam have a major role in electing the representatives both to the Legislative Assembly and Parliament and consequently, in the decision-making process towards building the nation. They have become the kingmakers, the judgment added.

The day, if phenomenon continues, is not far off, when the indigenous people of Assam, both Hindus and Muslims and other religious groups will be reduced to minorities in their own land and the Bangladeshis who are freely and merrily moving around the fertile land of Assam, will intrude upon the corridors of power, the court ruling warned, adding that neither the Centre nor the state governments can disown their foremost responsibility of defending the borders of the country, prevent any trespass and make the lives of citizens safe and secure.

Meanwhile, the media in Assam start pouring news, editorial and analysis on the issue. The AASU leaders have taken the advantage of the situation to materialize the public anger against the authority for their failure in detecting and deporting the illegal Bangladeshis from the State. Criticising the concerned authority and also both the governments at Dispur and New Delhi for their failure to detect and deport the illegal foreigners from Assam, the students leaders even appealed to the common people not to employ suspected Bangladeshis in any domestic and industrial works.

The initiative of the students’ body has been supported by various other organisations including Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad, North East Students Organization, Assam Public Works, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Assam, Purbanchaliya Loka Parishad, with political parties like Asom Gana Parishad, Trinamul Gana Parishad, Bharatiya Janata Party with others, who subsequently initiated different campaigning against the Bangladeshi citizens, illegally taking shelter in various parts of India.

The AASU leaders (President Shankar Prasad Ray, general secretary Tapan Gogoi and adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya) argue that the influx from Bangladesh have already increased the threat to the indigenous communities of the region. Moreover it has emerged as a threat to India’s integrity and sovereignty with those infiltrators possessing the capacity to grab political power in Assam in near future. The student activists were also worried that the Jehadi elements might have entered Assam with the help of those Bangladeshis and could place the region at severe risk any time.

They have already launched a series of agitational programmes in support of their demands starting on August 6. The student activists demonstrated in front of the regional passport office at Guwahati on the day, as it was indicated in the court verdict that illegal Bangladeshis managed to get Indian passport from the office with false documents. *

The Sentinel*, a Guwahati based English daily, editorialised the issue of Indian passport, which was managed by some Bangladeshis on false pretexts, saying, “What is the ultimate proof of Indian citizenship if even a foreigner can get an Indian passport?” It also added, “A passport is a document issued by our government permitting us to travel to other countries….How many countries will agree to give us visas on our passports once it becomes known that even a foreigner or a terrorist from another country can acquire an Indian passport without verification?”

Next phase of agitation by the student’s organization begins on August 10 with public rallies in various parts of the State. It will be followed by another demonstration beginning on the early morning (6 am) of August 14 to the time of flag hoisting on August 15 on Independence Day to raise voice against the government for their failure to implement the Assam Accord effectively. The Accord was signed between the agitating leaders and the Union Government of India on August 14, 1984 to culminate the Assam movement. More public meeting and processions on August 20 and a torchlight rally on August 26 will follow it, the students’ body declared. *

The Assam Tribune*, the oldest English daily of Northeast, in one of its editorials commented that the development ‘brings to the fore issues that have sinister implications for the security and integrity of not just Assam but the entire country’. It also reveals that ‘despite it being an open secret that unabated cross-border infiltration from Bangladesh is fast reducing the indigenous populace of Assam to a minority, the response from the Congress-led State Government as well as the Centre has been one of utter indifference’.

It also added, “Let alone admitting to the fact that more and more Bangladeshi nationals are getting themselves registered as Indian citizens – thanks to their easy access to crucial documents like ration cards and even passports – the State Government seems to be reluctant even to admit the presence of infiltrators, and has all along been maintaining a casual approach on the issue. If the State Government needed any further proof of cross-border influx as also the evil designs behind the infiltration, the High Court ruling should wake it up from its slumber.”

The deportation of illegal foreigners from Assam however runs in slow pace. Statistics made available to the media reveal that only 12,846 persons were declared as foreigners under the provisions of the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act (during 1985 to 2005 July) and 1547 of them could be deported. No one knows where the rest has gone. Quoting the Border Police, the local media reported that another 30,000 persons were declared foreigners under the provisions of the Foreigners Act (during 1986 to 2008 March). Among them, 674 were deported, but once again the rest got vanished.

Facing the heat of growing public resentments, the State government has come out with declaration that it had already detected over 4 hundred thousands suspected Bangladeshis living in Assam. The Assam government spokesperson, Himanta Biswa Sarma has recently announced during a press conference that the government had also ‘charge-sheeted 3,92,000 suspected Bangladeshis before the Foreigner’s Tribunal Act’.

“If the Government is really serious in detection and deportation of foreigners without harassment of genuine Indian citizens, the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) should be expedited and photo identity cards should be given to all genuine Indian citizens on the basis of that,” commented in another editorial of the daily, adding that the Government of India must try to sign an extradition or push back treaty with Bangladesh, as at present, the Bangladesh government refuses to accept the persons sought to be pushed back.

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