The possible ethnic cleansing of specific groups has once again been the talking point in the Nation of India, especially after the film “The Kashmir Files” hit the screens. The film basically portrays a picture of political unrest that happened in the alluring state of Kashmir in between late 80’s and early 90’s. This period probably can be referred to as one of the darkest periods not only in the history of Kashmir but also in India as a whole.
Be it the plight of the Pandits or the Gawkadal Massacre, one has to agree to the fact that the failure of the Union and the State administration to take apt measures, ultimately led to a communal bloodbath in Kashmir, something which could have been avoided. And was in 1987, after the formation of the government in Kashmir by Farooq Abdullah, the militants of JKLF took the upper hand in Kashmir, leading to grapples between the indigenous Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims, who were living amicably prior to that.
Historical accounts have shown that it was during this period, a retired judge of Jammu & Kashmir High Court, Neel Kanth Ganjoo (the one who sentenced Maqbool Bhat to death) was shot dead outside the premises of the court, journalist cum lawyer, Prem Nath Bhat was shot dead and many more had to face the wrath of the JKLF, the group that not only praised Pakistan but also made their intentions clear to portray the supremacy of Islam against Hinduism.
The consequences of these events meant, many Hindus, especially the Kashmiri Pandits had to leave Kashmir in fear of their lives. According to a report given by Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, around 70,000 families of Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir and around 399 were killed by the militants.
The story of Jammu and Kashmir evidently draws a picture of how improper border and refugee management alongside security lapses and religious extremism and dominance can not only lead to a state’s indigenous people becoming a minority but also a country’s foe, getting a diplomatic advantage in terms of extending its territorial jurisdiction and spreading its genocide based propaganda.
In this relation, we not only get to know about areas known as Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) but also how back in 1990’s Kashmiri Pandits were either asked to convert, run or die by the extremist. To be honest, Kashmir still suffers from the consequences of the events that happened back in 1990’s and in order to somewhat counter the unrest that Kashmir was suffering for a long, the abrogation of Article 370 can be considered a big milestone.
However, with the context of Kashmir on hand, a popular question still circulates amongst the residents of Assam: “Is Assam going to become the next Kashmir?” The sense of foreboding and the validity of the question can be understood by taking into account, the drastic demographic change that Assam has witnessed over the last 30-40 years due to illegal immigration.
If we look at the census figures from 1971 to 1991 (in 1981 there was no census due to unrest in the state), there was a steady rapid increase in the Muslim population, especially in the border areas, which directly hinted at the notion of Assam being invaded by illegal immigrants. This can be understood when we take into consideration the Muslim population in the districts that either share a border or lie close to Bangladesh, namely, Dhubri, Barpeta, Karimganj, and Hailakandi.
According to the 2001 census, the Muslim population in Dhubri was 74.3%, which increased to 79.67% in 2011. In Barpeta, the Muslim population was 59.3% in 2001, which again increased to 70.74% in 2011. In Hailakandi, the Muslim population was recorded at 60.32% in 2011 which was 57.6% in 2001. And in Karimganj, the Muslim population which was 52.3% in 2001, rose to 56.36% in 2011.
This, therefore, clearly shows an increase in the Muslim population which probably is the effect of illegal immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. However, the worrying fact is that with each passing year, the number of districts with a majority Muslim population is increasing drastically and at present out of the 34 districts in Assam, at least 9 to 10 districts have a Muslim majority. The point here is that the growth of the indigenous Muslim population can never be an alarming issue but it is the growth of the illegal Muslim population that can come as a threat to the indigenous people of Assam.
Moreover, if one considers three districts of Assam, namely, Sivsagar, Jorhat and Dibrugarh, the Muslim population in these three districts according to the 2011 census was 8.30%, 5.01%, 14.9% respectively. This shows that probably the illegal influx of the Muslim population is escalating at a higher rate rather than the indigenous Muslim population.
According to the census of 2011, the percentage of the Hindu population in Assam, is 61 and that of Muslims is 34. But, with more and more districts coming into the list of increase in Muslim population or topping the list of Muslim majority districts, one cannot deny the apprehension that illegal immigrants might have moved from one district to another, thereby not only causing an increase in Muslim population comprising of illegal immigrants but also posing fatal threats upon the indigenous community irrespective of religion.
If we take into account, the state of Tripura, the indigenous people residing there, have already become a minority and the same threat cannot be discarded in the case of Assam as well, where people speaking Assamese, is only 48.38% which was earlier 57.1% in 1991 and 48.8% in 2001. And that puts an additional threat on the language, culture and identity of the Assamese people in Assam.
Considering these facts, one cannot deny that if apt steps are not taken, Assam might witness adverse events like the cleansing of its ethnic people, community-based clashes, religion-based clashes and something similar to what happened with the Kashmiri Pandits who were once the majority group in Kashmir. Moreover, a possible concept of BOA (Bangladesh Occupied Assam) might also come into the picture if the demographic jitters in Assam, are not taken care of by proper border and refugee management measures.
In fact, the long agitations and struggles in the form of language agitation and the Assam movement were once done to protect the identity of the indigenous community at large, but all these efforts will go in vain, if the noted 35% population of Assam (mainly dominated by illegal influx) is diplomatically not taken care of at the earliest.
Therefore, in the political game of one party blaming the other, if the indigenous Assamese people irrespective of religion do not stand as one united force to tackle these fatal threats, the time is not far, when the Nation of India might have to call, “Assam: The next Kashmir.”
Bishaldeep Kakati is an advocate at Gauhati High Court and Bagmita Borthakur is a student of Political Science & International Relations at Pondicherry University.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not reflect the view of Northeast Now.