Protest erupts over settlement of Bangladeshi Hindu refugees in Assam

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Assam-Protest-1Activists of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), under the leadership of Akhil Gogoi, a former member of the Anna Hazare team, are on indefinite hunger strike since Jul 25.

At the same time, several local organisations, including the All Assam Students Union (AASU) have opposed the Modi government’s move and said Assam will not shoulder the burden of Hindu Bangladeshis any more.

The Government has sent the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 to a joint select committee after bowing to a united opposition’s demand in Lok Sabha.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to help refugees, mostly Hindus, from neighbouring countries in getting citizenship in India.

Echoing similar views, Assam’s apex literary body Asom Sahitya Sabha (ASS) expressed stiff opposition over settlement of Hindu Bangladeshis in the state, declaring that Assam will not take the burden of Hindu Bangladeshis any more.

ASS President Dhrubajyoti Bora, in a press statement, said that Assam, in its limited territory, has already accepted and accommodated all migrants from Bangladesh from 1951 to 1971.

“The state cannot accept any more burden now. The Government of India should try to settle Hindu Bangladeshi refugees in other parts of the country to ensure that there is no ill will among the Asomiyas, tribals and Bengali-speaking people,” he said in the statement.

Assam-Protest-2The literary organisation also expressed grave concern about the tense situation in the state after the central government decided to grant citizenship to Hindu and other minority migrants from neighbouring countries.

AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said they will not tolerate the Government of India’s move to grant citizenship to those who have come after 1971.

The student leader said that the Assam Accord was signed on 15 August 1985 to ensure such problems can be solved.

“The mass movement went on for nearly six years to protest Bangladeshi infiltration when 855 of our supporters became martyrs. The Government of India then made it clear in the Assam Accord that any illegal Bangladeshi citizen who came to Assam before 1971, be they Hindu or Muslim will be allowed to stay.

“But Bangladeshi citizens who came after 1971 will be identified and deported. But in 2016, the central government in New Delhi again said that more Bangladeshis will be settled here and this will not be tolerated.”

Bhattacharyya said the BJP has been given a strong mandate in Assam so that they protect the future of the indigenous people.

“Assam had, on behalf of the country, bore the burden of illegal Bangladeshis, but a small state like Assam cannot do it anymore. This is a political injustice for the people of Assam. The central government should respect the Assam Accord. The accord is a national commitment, added Bhattacharyya.

The BJP government in the state has tried to assuage doubts by reassuring that all the Hindu Bangladeshi refugees will not be settled exclusively in Assam. The government is yet to determine the exact number of such Bangladeshi citizens.

Assam’s PWD Minister Parimal Suklabaidya said that their party’s stand had been quite clear regarding those belonging to minority communities who seek asylum in India due to religious persecution from neighbouring countries.

“The issue was also included in the party’s manifesto before the Assam Assembly elections and the people had given their verdict in favour of the BJP only after due deliberations. Should some flaws remain after the amendment and enactment of the law, the same will be discussed.”

“The Assam government has its vision on the issue. It is not a crime to be a Bengali Hindu. It is not right to treat people who have settled in Assam before independence in this manner. The agitators should first determine how many Hindus have come from Bangladesh to India. The government is trying its best to do a good job,” the minister who hails from Bengali-speaking Baralk valley said.

Organisations opposing the move are of the opinion that the amendment of the Citizenship Act will pave the way for entry of hundreds of thousands of Hindu Bangladeshis to India.

On the other hand, the Congress, which ruled the state for three consecutive terms, while favouring granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi refugees, is, however, lending it support towards the dissenting organizations.

Spokesperson of Assam Pradesh Congress, Apurva Bhattacharya said that the Indian government will have to understand the sentiments of the people of Assam.

“The state alone cannot bear the burden of the entire Hindu Bangladeshi population. It is the responsibility of the entire nation to rehabilitate the victims of religious persecution from neighbouring countries after they are granted Indian citizenship and the central government should take its decisions accordingly.”

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