Donít blame the immigrant

The contention that Muslim migration is behind the violence in Assam is prejudiced

When opinions expressed by high constitutional functionaries on a human tragedy tend to bolster deep-rooted prejudices, they cannot be left unquestioned.

H.S. Brahma, Election Commissioner of India, expressed his opinion on what caused the Kokrajhar riots ('How to share Assam', IE, July 28) by not only blaming illegal Bangladeshi immigrants for the violence but also hinting that the illegal immigrants being Muslim perhaps increases the enormity of the threat.

I have a few questions to ask. The EC claims, "recent ethnic clashes between Hindu Bodos and Muslim immigrants... were unfortunate. However, the clashes were not wholly unexpected. The question that is generally asked is: why did it take a few decades to occur in the first place? Assam has been virtually sitting on a huge tinderbox."

The EC would want us to believe that the spate of ethnic violence that has erupted in the Bodoland Territorial Districts of Assam is due to illegal Muslim immigrants. If this is so, would he explain why there were recurrent clashes between Hindu Bodos and not-at-all Muslim adivasis in Kokrajhar and Chirang, which have left thousands of adivasis homeless and still living in relief camps after more than a decade, unable to return to their homes? Would he explain why a majority of the 32,613 families (as per figures provided by the government of Assam) still living in relief camps are adivasis? To the best of my knowledge, they had not been attacked and uprooted by Muslim immigrants. The adivasis were not illegal immigrants nor were their numbers multiplying alarmingly to pose a threat to Bodos. Why were they massacred then, in some of the bloodiest acts of ethnic cleansing, in the 1990s?

The EC further writes, "Any knowledgeable person in Assam knows well enough that migration into the state started during the late 1960s and early 1970s." That the migration of impoverished Bengali Muslim peasants from East Bengal to the British province of Assam began in the late 1800s is a well-documented historic fact. The EC's claims are as factually untenable as they are historically inaccurate. It is important to understand that the immigrants and natives have lived cheek-by-jowl for over a century and, in spite of occasional friction, hostility between the communities is not such that bloodshed is inevitable.

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