Opportunities, not religious persecution, make Bangladeshis flock to India; border residents fear more immigration on pretext of atrocities

  • For people living along the northern Dhubri sector of India-Bangladesh border in western Assam, their friends from Bangladesh have more than a single perspective to share on the issue

  • Along the border areas in Dhubri, the support for the Act is at much lower with people fearing an influx of immigrants under the pretext of persecution

  • Residents say Bangladeshis have been coming to Assam since Independence, not because they suffered persecution, but for opportunities

It’s all calm at the southern part of Assam along the Karimganj sector of the riverine India-Bangladesh border — a small section of people had resorted to protests earlier, without disrupting law and order.

People living along the India-Bangladesh border in Karimganj district are divided in opinion over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 — it was not, and is not a religious issue in Assam, but the Act seems to find acceptance among the Hindu Bengalis in the border district while an equal number of Bengali Muslims are against it.

Debdulal Das, a resident of the bordering village of Sarisha, Karimganj said it is a “good decision by the government” to grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

 Opportunities, not religious persecution, make Bangladeshis flock to India; border residents fear more immigration on pretext of atrocities

For people living along the northern Dhubri sector of the India-Bangladesh border in western Assam, their “friends” from Bangladesh have more than a single perspective to share on the issue.

"The Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan have long faced religious persecution, and today they find great relief in the Citizenship Act. I also believe that genuine Indian Muslims will not be harmed in any way by this Act, as the government assured. Then what is this ‘andolan’ for? The Assamese language has long been prevalent, and it will remain. Bengali children also go to Assamese schools, learn Assamese language and culture. Where is the threat here?” asked Das who earns his living as a small-time contractor registered under the state government.

On the other hand, Ekbal Ahmed Choudhury, the principal of MK Gandhi College in Fakirabazar town called it “unacceptable” and “unconstitutional”.

“The Act is unconstitutional, it violates Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Indian Constitution — I will never support it. India attained Independence through ‘andolan’, and this democratic protest against CAA should continue — we must not resort to violence,” said Choudhury who lives along the Fakhirabazar area of India-Bangladesh border, about 8 kilometres from Karimganj town.

For people living along the northern Dhubri sector of the India-Bangladesh border in western Assam, their “friends” from Bangladesh have more than a single perspective to share on the issue. The views intersect with existential fears of the indigenous people, and support for the Act is much lower here — 90 percent of Muslims in the bordering villages of Dhubri strongly oppose it.

Living at a distance of 500 metres from the border at Jhaskal village, 45-year old Deep Roy believes that “minorities are managing to live in tough conditions” in the neighbouring country.

“We have no problem if they come here. I have come to know of many stories of minorities living in Bangladesh — my friend Biswajit Saha is the proprietor of Partha Sarathi Traders there, and he has told me of the difficulties these people face. I believe, it is misinformation that migrants would keep coming to Assam from Bangladesh with the implementation of CAA,” said Roy, a businessman who hails from the Koch-Rajbongshi community that makes about 17-19 percent of the population living along the 134.5-kilometre border in northern Dhubri. The undivided Goalpara district, of which Dhubri is a part, has a rich history to tell about the erstwhile Koch dynasty.

Not too far away from Deep Roy’s residence, and at a distance of 4 kilometres from the fully-fenced border lives Mizanur Rahman Sarkar, a librarian at the Golakganj College. The 50-year-old temporary government servant of Lakhimari village is wary of the threat posed by the Citizenship Act.

"I have been to Bangladesh a couple of times, and I have never met or heard of any victim of religious persecution. I spoke with one of my friends there – he said not just Hindus, but even Muslims in Bangladesh see India as a big country of opportunities. Since Independence, they have been coming to Assam, not because they suffered persecution, but for opportunities,” said Sarkar.

People living along the India-Bangladesh border in Karimganj district are divided in opinion over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.

People living along the India-Bangladesh border in Karimganj district are divided in opinion over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.

“This Act has created problems in the entire country. The government has set a cut-off date of 2014, but what if tomorrow, in 2020 or later, someone under the pretext of suffering religious persecution in Bangladesh wants to come to India. What will they do with those people? It will create division between communities under the same religion. Assam will once again have to bear the migration burden,” he added.

Meanwhile, Abu Hanifa Ahmed who lives about 200 metres from the border said that the Citizenship Act goes against the Preamble of the Constitution of India.

“The Preamble declares India to be a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic, but this Act goes against these principles. The world looks upon us as a great democracy. Initially, it seemed to be a communal Act, but is now seen more as an insult to the Assamese people. It has hurt our sentiments,” said Ahmed, a farmer from Barbhangi border village in Dhubri district who takes pride in the fact that he graduated in the early nineties from Gauhati University.

However, Ahmed went on to narrate how he has coped with the stereotypical representation of Muslims in Assam — a result of common misconceptions.

“Instead of feeling vulnerable, I am often hurt to find that people consider all Muslims living along the border as Bangladeshis. During the Language Movement, the people in undivided Goalpara district had accepted Assamese as the state language — my children are studying in Assamese school, my ancestors studied in Assamese institutions. We cannot accept anyone now from across the border — they pose a threat to our language and identity.”

With inputs from Jyotirmoy Chakraborty and Gourish Nandi

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Updated Date: Dec 28, 2019 12:01:38 IST