A Relook at the Assam and the North East Problems
The contentious issue of all social economic problems in countries like India is land. To the poor farmer or the ordinary man, in villages it is land which is seen in terms of wealth, because it is land which he identifies as a valuable possession, which in turn is associated with his economy and social status. In a piece of land, he can subsist on; it is here that he can till the soil.
That is why Nandigram and Singur 'happened', that is why there is stiff resistance to Uranium mining in the West Khasi hills district of Meghalaya.
The same is true for Assam, and what is happening now in the Bodo areas. There is a history of land grabbing, and social tensions arising from this in Assam. The immigrant from Bangladesh is a survivalists, he can make a small patch land fertile and can subsist there. This has been happening in Assam, and this was the genesis of the people's movement in Assam, which was called the anti foreigner movement.
It had a genuine call, and Assam festered for years, the movement being led by the All Assam Students Union, and was supported by the masses in Assam. The movement also got widespread empathy in different parts of India. The Government finally had to sign the historic Assam Accord with the Student Leaders, which underlined deportation of illegal immigrants who came to Assam after 1971.
It is true that nothing was done hereafter, and the migration from all accounts persists, and the native population rightly feels it as a threat to their economy and culture. There can be no doubt about this, that illegal immigration from a neighbouring country is taking place, silently and on a mass scale. But after 1971 the migrants who came were not only Muslims but Hindus as well, and the same standard should apply to them. By just calling such problems as anti Muslim, is applying blinkers to history.
Historical perspectives of the partition of India, and the emergence of Bangladesh as a Nation are important pointers towards looking at these conflicts dispassionately. Now even Nagaland and Meghalaya are feeling the brunt of the threat of immigration of people from Bangladesh. Mind you it is the local businessmen and contractors also who are responsible unabashedly for importing them for reasons which are pecuniary and also, for cheap labour. It is not only the vote bank factor which people are carping about. Yes, it is a factor but not the only factor. The sooner we realize this unpalatable truth, the better.
I am saying this again and again in my articles, and have even suggested 'measures' such as abrogation of voting rights, limited work permit on a renewable basis etc. Unless these steps are initiated, the suspicion and unrest will continue.
This is not an inter community clash, it is a clash borne out of economic conflict. Unfortunately the threat to the people of North East India in different parts of the country has made it appear as an ethnic strife. The 'retaliation' was totally unwarranted, but if there are Pakistani and ISI elements behind it, then it is crystal clear as to the fundamentalist, reactionary forces behind it.
This concept of a pan North East Indian identity, as I have pointed out elsewhere is not only a case of mistaken identities, but also has lead to the matter being further embroiled in morass of a conflict, which could be further bloodied. We must restore tempers, and antagonisms, beyond simplistic 'them' and 'us' syndromes. We cannot afford to look at North East India in terms of a single, unified identity. The history of tension in the Bodo areas reveals that resentment was directed towards the outside forces, who settled there, it was against the Assamese Hindu, the Bengali Hindu and the Adivasis in the past. It also happened against Bangladeshi migrants. Now the tension has come full circle directed once again towards the migrant Bangladeshi, who too considers land as his sole economic position. This is the inevitability of developmental history and the sooner we face it the better it will be for our dispassionate understanding of history and societal crises.