Clad in nature’s greenest hue, embellished by the mighty Brahmaputra, the small northeastern paradise of the country, Assam is bestowed not only with nature’s finest bounty but also a colorful diverse culture. It is the meeting ground of various races like the Austrics, Mongoloids, Dravidians, Aryans, Tibeto-Burmese etc. who came and settled at different time periods. Assimilating bits from all the races, mutual appreciation and acceptance of each other’s values resulted in blending of a variety of different customs and practices forming the vibrant “Assamese”community.
300 years under the Varman dynasty, 200 under the Xalostombho dynasty, 200 under the Pala dynasty, 600 years under the Ahom dynasty and then over a century under the British Rule, a strong base of Assamese culture and traditions was established gradually which underwent reformations time to time. Remarkable cultural benchmarks include the Vaishnav movement under the leadership of Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardev which gave a new shape to the Assamese culture. The present day Assam is mainly a mixture of the Aryan and Ahom descendants and various tribes like Bodo, Kachari, Mishing, Deori, Karbi, Phake etc, each with their own vivid traditions interwoven with the bond of love and compassion forming the Assamese population. The Assamese community has been a peaceful and compassionate lot by nature, simple in their ways and content among themselves.
But there is a huge contrast to this beautiful picture. The present indigenous people of Assam are under the threat of losing their identity in their own motherland. Every living Assamese soul has been aware of the increasing numbers in a group of foreigners in their state although given the calm and peaceful nature of the Assamese people there has not been much ado about it. Assam has seen illegal migration since colonial times. In 1905 after the partition of Bengal there was a high migration of people from East Bengal into Assam lured by nature’s bounty and the fertile lands of the Brahmaputra valley. The influx of Bengalis was so much that Bengali was on the verge of becoming the first language and Assamese was termed as just a dialect in 1937. It was the untiring efforts and blood and sweat of some dedicated sons of the soil that we still have Assamese as the official language of Assam. But Bangladesh even after being liberated in 1971 has been posing as a big problem for Assam since its inception. Given the pathetic border system of the country, people from Bangladesh have been illegally crossing over to India since a long time.
Even though everyone noticed the increase in the numbers of illegal immigrants setting up colonies in lots of places, no action was taken until 1978 when a MP in the Mangaldai constituency of Assam named Hiralal Patwari died requiring a re-election in the place. In the re-election, the dramatic increase in the number of voters was the first noticeable hint that voting rights were given to some foreigners to increase the vote count for a particular political party. This led to the start of an agitation led by a student party and a local political party of the state which was supported by the whole state. Massive protests were held across Assam against granting of voting rights to illegal infiltrators at the cost of huge damage to the overall development of the state. Assamese people- youths, aged, women gave their lives for this cause (the martyrs count was 855). They died in order to protect their motherland from these illegal foreign infiltrators. The agitation subsided with the assurance by the then government in the form of the ‘Assam Accord’ signed in the year 1985 between the “then PM” and some “incapable” leaders of the Assam movement, which later turned out to be a joke as rather than freeing Assam from these outsiders, their influx increased like wildfire throughout the state and continues even till date.
Illegal immigration has given rise to a host of hazardous political, social, economic, ethnic and communal tribulations. Politically, the Bangladeshi immigrants are in a position to influence the results of the elections in a large number of constituencies in Assam. Some particular political parties are alleged to have given voting rights and citizenship to these foreigners in order to increase their vote count resulting in unfair elections in the state. Economically, these immigrants have always been a financial burden on the state owing to their dilapidated life conditions. Encroachment of lands by them has led to depletion of forest wealth resulting in great harm to the natural environment. Also reduction in wages of skilled labors has emerged as a huge problem in employment of the indigenous workers of the state. They also have created a lot of socio economic problems like threat to identity of the native Assamese community, degradation in the social environment as a whole and of course rapid increase in crime rate of the state.
Another big issue regarding the illegal immigration is their rapid population increase. Their population growth is so uncontrolled that there is a fear the Assamese are going to be a minority in our own state. Also the Assamese way of life will get subverted once the migrants dominate the state and a strong impact is envisioned in the spheres of language and religion. Assam, being a Hindu majority state with Assamese as the official language is now under threat that it will become Muslim-dominated with Bengali as the first language due to the influx and unchecked family planning of these illegal migrants. Government reports like the 42-page report sent by former Assam Governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S.K. Sinha to President K. R. Narayanan in 1998 hinted towards the growing sense of insecurity in Assam where it was categorically stated that “the influx of illegal migrants is turning the lower Assam districts into a Muslim-majority region. It will only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made…. The loss of lower Assam will sever the entire land mass of the Northeast from the rest of India and the rich natural resources of that region will be lost to the nation.”
It is high time that this issue is taken as emergency crisis by both the central and state government and appropriate measures are taken. There should be strict monitoring to curb the vote bank politics and strict actions should be taken against politicians and political parties who shelter these people in order to increase their vote count. There should be ways for identification and proper documentation of the immigrants as to keep track of their number and activities. Also the indigenous people should be aware and vigilant about assimilating the immigrants into their way of life.
The protection, preservation and promotion of identity as Assamese is the responsibility of each of us also as individuals. If we do not contribute our bit towards preserving our roots, the day is not far when we will lose our identity as an Assamese. So let’s puff our chests, take a bow and join hands to keep the essence of Assam forever alive.