In Assam, Indian Muslims are being abused as 'Bangladeshi'
The term has become an excuse to deny them rights and to commit atrocities.
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On August 13, in a discussion in the Assam Assembly about eviction of illegal encroachers from government/khas/VGR/PGR lands, a Muslim Congress MLA was called a "Bangladeshi" by a BJP MLA.
Sherman Ali, the Congress MLA, was only trying to make his point that there are 1,30,000 families affected by erosion who could be occupying these lands and they should be properly rehabilitated instead of being indiscriminately evicted.
Ali was advocating for the most marginalised people of Assam who lost their homes to monstrous erosion of the Brahmaputra. Since Independence, more than 7 per cent of Assam's land mass has been eroded.
In the last ten years, more than 35 revenue villages got eroded by the Brahmaputra in Barpeta district alone. A very large number of affected people are Muslims.
On March 12, 2015, vide notification RGR 785/2014/6, the previous government had launched a special scheme to relocate and rehabilitate families affected by river erosion.
Moreover the standing committee on works department recommended that erosion-affected homeless families should be rehabilitated before starting any effort to evict encroachers from government/khas/VGR/PGR lands.
Now, the BJP government has sent circulars to district administrations to evict encroachers from such lands.
The best answer BJP MLA Ramakanta Deuri had is to abuse the Muslim MLA as "Bangladeshi".
As India approached its 70th Independence Day, an Indian citizen who was constitutionally elected to the Assam Assembly was being abused as "Bangladeshi", because he spoke for landless people.
If a Muslim MLA can be abused as "Bangladeshi" inside the legislative assembly, imagine the condition of common Muslims in Assam.
Muslims comprise 34 per cent of Assam's total population. With abysmally low literacy and employment rate, many of them work as daily wage labourers, vegetable and fruit vendors, rickshaw-pullers and in other menial jobs.A relief camp in Kokrajhar.
These people who venture out to urban areas are being abused as "Bangladeshis" on a daily basis.
Mostly Assamese Muslims of Bengal origin face this humiliation; they are suspected citizens in their own motherland.
The daily wage labourers who construct roads and high-rise buildings are mostly Muslims, but their contribution towards building a modern Assam is rarely acknowledged, all they get in return is humiliation and harassment. They are stripped of their dignity every day.
The migration of Muslim peasants of Bengal origin started in the later part of the 19th century under the patronage of colonial administrators, according to a well thought-out colonial policy.
The British promoted such migration as they wanted the hardworking Bengali Muslim peasants to cultivate the barren and fertile land of the Brahmaputra valley.
They have enormously contributed towards agriculture and irrigation since then. The migration of these peasants was at its peak in the first three decades of the 20th century.
Slowly, Muslims of Bengal origin got assimilated with Assamese culture and language and started calling themselves Assamese.
Post-Independence, during language movement, Assamese became the official language of Assam, mainly because Muslims of Bengal origin overwhelmingly accepted Assamese as their mother tongue to make it the language spoken by the majority people of Assam.
Muslims of Bengal origin even gave their blood for Assamese language. Today, in the entire area dominated by Muslims of Bengal origin, there is not even a single Bengali medium school.
The Muslims of Bengal origin sacrificed their mother tongue for Assamese language.
But no amount of sacrifice and contribution has stopped the daily humiliation they have to face.
MLA Sherman Ali from Baghbar LAC in Barpeta district scored the highest marks in the state in Assamese subjects in the HSCL examination (Assam Board) in the year 1983.
But even if he was not the highest scorer, even if he was an illiterate person, no one has any right to call an Indian citizen a "Bangladeshi". Nothing whatsoever can justify such humiliation of an Indian citizen.
The term "Bangladeshi" has become an excuse to deny even basic rights to Muslims and to commit worst atrocities against them.
Every time Muslims become victims of targeted mass violence, the murderers get away without punishment just by accusing the victims as "Bangladeshis".
On February 18, 1983, Independent India saw its worst massacre.
More than 3,000 Muslims were slaughtered in less than six hours in Nellie. A day before, around 500 Muslims were murdered on the small river island of Chaolkhuwa.
No one was ever punished, because the victims were branded "Bangladeshis", because they were seen as lesser Indian, lesser human.
The impunity didn't stop there. Mass violence against Muslims and Adivasis has become cyclic in Assam.
Hundreds of Muslims were killed in Kokrajhar (1993), Bashbari (1994), Udalguri (2008), Kokrajhar and Chirang (2012) and Narayanguri (2014).
Every time Muslims are killed and branded as "Bangladeshi", the debate immediately shifts from gross violation of human rights to illegal immigration.
Not just that, Muslims are being made "doubtful voters" and stripped of citizenship rights despite having all valid documents.
Even Bengali Hindus are victims of this menace, but now that Bengali Hindus who came to India on or before December 31, 2014, will be granted citizenship, they will be exempted from this humiliation - the only target will be the Muslims who have been here for generations.
The Border Police, which has presence in every police station and outpost in Assam, arbitrarily and without investigation sends "reference cases" against genuine Indian citizens to the Foreigners Tribunal to prove their citizenship under the Foreigners Act.
No wonder the majority of such "reference cases" are held as negative and the so-called suspected citizens are held as Indian citizens.
Those held as foreigners by the tribunal either don't appear before it and are thereby considered foreigners by ex-parte judgment, or are held as foreigners on frivolous ground such as minor anomalies in name and age in the voter list and other documents.
Many Indian citizens held as foreigners for these reasons are languishing in detention camps, without parole. Some might have to spend the rest of their lives in detention.
Most of these people are poor and illiterate, who hardly understand complex judicial procedures. They are damned as foreigners in their own motherland.
This way of branding and abusing Indian Muslims as Bangladeshis won't die out anytime soon as it provides rich dividend during elections.
In the last Assembly election, the BJP openly called Muslim-dominated constituencies as "seats dominated by Bangladeshi immigrants".
No wonder the 2016 Assembly election was one of the most polarised elections in the history of Assam, which BJP won by a thumping majority.