Migration debate

BJP leaders warn illegal Bangladeshis to leave, but census figures refute the myth of large-scale infiltration

Rate of growth of Assam's population has been declining since 1971.

Within days of being elected to parliament, new MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party have announced a campaign to drive illegal Bangladeshi migrants out of Assam.

“The campaign will be initiated by the youth wing of the party within next 15 days," Kamakhya Prasad Tasa of the Jorhat constituency announced on Sunday. "In the first phase of the campaign, we will appeal to illegal immigrants to leave our land voluntarily in next 15 days. We will also launch a house-to-house campaign urging people not to engage the immigrants in any kind of work.”

Their argument that India is being swamped by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants is based on the following premises.

One, that the population growth in the districts of Assam and West Bengal bordering Bangladesh has been consistently higher than the population growth of the rest of the state.

Two, that the growth of the Muslim population in these areas has been much higher than the growth of people professing other faiths, especially Hinduism.

However, the data shows that the growth among Muslims in Assam is not dramatically higher than the rate at which the community is growing in other states.


While it is true that the Muslim community is growing faster than the Hindu community, the growth rate of Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and the Scheduled Tribes (adivasis) is higher than that of Muslims. One explanation of the higher growth rate among Muslims, SCs and STs is the common thread of poverty and illiteracy that binds them.

However, it is interesting to note that Assam's population growth rate has declined since 1971 and has remained lower than that of India, refuting the assumption of continuing large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh.


A 4,095 km porous border with Bangladesh, with rivers and a difficult terrain, has been difficult to monitor. This means there has most likely been a steady influx of migrants from Bangladesh to escape poverty. But there is nothing to indicate that this migration is so high that it threatens to alter the region's demography.


The graph above using census data shows two things. One, that the population of Muslims in Assam doubled from 1901 to 1941, thanks to the British policy of settling Bengali Muslim labour in Assam. The percentage fell a bit after Partition. The next big increase came after 1971, because India accepted many Bangladesh liberation war refugees. The 2.5 percentage point increase from 1991 to 2001 is in keeping with the Muslim growth rate across India.

Another test of the Bangladeshi "demographic invasion" is that the border districts should see an abnormally high increase in the Muslim population, but the census data shows that the percentage increase in Muslim numbers has been only marginally higher in border districts – which may be partly due to migration from across the border but is mostly because of natural increases.

The rag picker displaced by floods is not an illegal Bangladeshi

Who is that rag picker or rickshaw puller in the city? He is probably someone from Assam’s many "chars" (mid-channel river bars) trying to escape poverty, displaced from his settlement through man-made or natural calamity. As earlier described, the history of Muslims from Bengal migrating to Assam goes back to 1826.

Settled predominantly with Muslims of Maimansingyia descent in colonial times, the char dwellers form 9.4% of the state’s population by some estimates. According to a socio-economic survey report, between 1992 and 2003, the number of char villages in the Brahmaputra increased by 7.8%. The population growth rate in the same villages in the decade from 1991, on the other, was 55.6% compared to 18.9% for Assam.

The chars are densely populated (with 690 persons per sq km), more than double the state average of 340 persons per sq km. They have very little cultivable land but have one of the largest concentrations of illiterate people in Assam. In the decade from 1992-'93, their literacy level rose only marginally, from 15.5% to 19.3%. During the same period, the number of char dwellers living below the official poverty line increased substantially from 48.9% to 67.9%, even as the poverty level in the declined to 36.1%.

According to a survey, about 1,053 sq km of river bank has been eroded in the last 18 years, and more than half of it lies in lower Assam, which is densely populated by Bengali-speaking Muslims. More than two million Muslims have been displaced by erosion of the chars and river banks, leading them to migrate to cities within Assam as well beyond to the national metros.

The people who are accused of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh often turn out to be Indian citizens with identification papers. But the groundswell of unverified prejudices often ends up turning every Bengali-speaking Muslim into a Bangladeshi immigrant. So pervasive is the myth of large-scale illegal Bangladeshi immigration that even the judiciary seems to believe it.

In 2001, upon hearing a public interest litigation filed by OP Saxena representing the All India Lawyers Forum for Civil Liberties, the Supreme Court said that "Bangladeshi migrants were eating into the economy of the country and had to a large extent become a security threat". The bench criticised the Union government for being indifferent to the issue and recommended that it take exemplary steps to tackle the alleged problem.

On July 12, 2005, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, applicable only to the state of Assam "created the biggest hurdle and is the main impediment or barrier in the identification and deportation of illegal migrants". The bench noted that despite inquiries initiated in 310,759 cases under the IMDT Act, only 10,015 persons were declared illegal migrants. Of these, only 1,481 had been physically expelled as of April 30, 2000. Then, in 2008, the Guwahati High Court chastised the Congress government because “these illegal immigrants have come to alter the demographic profile of the state impacting its culture, language and script, seemingly turning now to be the 'kingmakers' exploiting our flawed system”.

The debate would proceed on firmer ground if it was backed by evidence.

 
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.