You Don't Need to Give A Dog A Bad Name in the N-E, Just Call Him a
'Bangladeshi' And Hang Him

Thursday, September 22,2016

GUWAHATI: The public lynching of Syed Sarif Uddin Khan, an Assamese
Muslim charged with rape, in Dimapur, Nagaland on March 5, 2015 for
once drew public attention to the simmering tensions in the North
Eastern part of the country. Accused falsely of being an illegal
Bangladesh immigrant, Khan was one of thousands of Bengali-speaking
Muslims who had been living in Dimapur for decades.

What mainstream India failed, and fails, to understand are the many
complex and layered tensions that are at work in the region that
exploded in Sarif’s lynching.

In Nagaland, the trend is to label the Bengali-speaking Muslim as
Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrant (IBI) and pressurise him to leave
Nagaland to start with. If he does not comply, he faces all kinds of
harassment as a result of which he is compelled to leave behind his
assets and business and move on. These are then grabbed. The term IBI
is used so often by the local newspapers and TV channels that it has
assumed the status of official terminology today.

In the case of Khan, his late father Syed Hussain Khan was employed in
the Indian Air Force (IAF) and retired from service while he was
posted at the Air Force Station at Kumbhirgram near Silchar in Assam.
Sarif’s mother, Zubeda Khatun, is an IAF family pensioner. Sarif’s
three brothers work with the Indian Army. One of them, late Inam Uddin
Khan, participated in the Kargil War of 1999 against Pakistan, was
severely injured in the battle, and died of the injury at a later
period. His two other brothers, Jamal Uddin Khan and Kamal Uddin Khan,
are serving with the Indian Army in the Assam Regiment, and were
posted in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh respectively at the time of
Sarif’s lynching.

What hurt the Muslims in general and the vast majority of
Bengali-speaking Indian Muslims of this region is that despite the
impeccable credentials of the family, Sarif continued to be referred
to as IBI not only by responsible Naga intelligentsia and media but
also by many national news channels. If Sarif had been a Bangladeshi,
his mortal remains would not have been flown from Nagaland by an IAF
helicopter to his native place in Karimganj, Assam. The Bengali Muslim
community in the region sees a sinister design in this to cripple and
destabilise their existence.

A similar story got repeated in Assam on Sep 19 last when two people,
including a woman, died in police firing during a drive to evict
alleged illegal settlers near the 430 sq km Kaziranga National Park
(KNP). The Gauhati High Court had in October last year ordered
eviction in three villages – Bandardubi, Deosursang and Palkhowa –
near KNP. The area, about 200 km east of Guwahati, falls in Nagaon

The eviction was scheduled for Sep 21, but the Nagaon District
authorities advanced it reportedly to prevent the settlers’ resistance
from building up. District officials said more than 1,000 security
personnel were sent to Bandardubi and adjoining Deosursang and
Palkhowa areas to help in the eviction drive. While some families had
shifted ahead of the drive, others tried to prevent the eviction team
from entering their area.

The evicted villagers, mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims have documents
to prove that they were descendants of paddy farmers the British had
settled more than a century ago along Assam’s river banks and water
bodies to “grow more rice”. Forest officials said encroachment on the
fringes of Kaziranga has been a major hurdle to checking poaching of
rhino and other animals in the park.

Declared a protected area in 1905 when there were barely a dozen
one-horned rhinos alive, Kaziranga was upgraded to a national park in
1974. Conservation efforts led to the increase in the population of
rhinos, tigers and wild buffalos that made the government expand
Kaziranga’s buffer zone. Over the years, 429.49 sq km were added to
Kaziranga across six parts. The first, fourth and sixth additions to
the park are under heavy encroachment.

No one can question the steps taken by the court or the government for
the protection of the national park. What is questionable is the way
the demolition of villages took place. It violated all human rights.
The villagers should have been provided with alternative plots of land
elsewhere and given compensation for the loss of their dwellings.

What is worse, the public in general and the regional media in
particular kept on referring to these unfortunate people as
“Bangladeshis.” If they were Bangladeshis, it was not necessary for
the government to deploy 1,000 police personnel equipped with
bulldozers and elephants to inhumanly uproot them. There was an easy
way out for the administration. Just send police summons, pick up the
targeted villagers, and send them to the ‘Detention Camps’ where
hundreds of “suspected Bangladeshis” are rotting already.

Muslims are over one-third of Assam’s population. For the first time
in the history of independent India, there is not even one Muslim
Minister in the government of Assam. Muslims are increasingly feeling
left out and segregated. To add insult to injury, a vast majority of
the ruling dispensation speak in a way that reflects as if all Muslims
of Assam are Bangladeshis.

The slur of being Bangladeshi is crossing all limits. Recently, one
MLA of the ruling party called another MLA, belonging to the
opposition, as Bangladeshi. The Speaker of the Assembly looked the
other way. There was no censure, no reprimand for the MLA who insulted
another fellow MLA.

Immediately before and during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971,
there was a situation in which one could put the label of ‘Razakar’ on
somebody and commit any atrocity on him, and no question would be
asked. Many people settled old scores and took revenge by terming
their opponents as Razakars, often annihilating them from the scene.
In Assam, a scenario is emerging in which you can label an entire
community as Bangladeshi, snatch away their human rights, and no
questions will be asked.

The Nellie massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour
period on the morning of February 18, 1983. The massacre claimed the
lives of over 3,000 people, the vast majority of whom were children,
from 14 villages - Alisingha, Khulapathar, Basundhari, Bugduba Beel,
Bugduba Habi, Borjola, Butuni, Indurmari, Mati Parbat, Muladhari, Mati
Parbat no. 8, Silbheta, Borburi and Nellie - of Nagaon District.

The victims were East Bengal rooted Muslims whose ancestors had
relocated in pre-partition British India. Three of Assam’s well known
journalists were witnesses to the massacre. The victims were
descendants of Muslims who came to Assam on the direct patronage of
the then Assam Government of British India in the first decade of 20th

The Nellie massacre was the biggest pogrom of its nature in
independent India but no one has been punished for the crime till
today. The matter is more or less forgotten because the victims were
suspected Bangladeshis.

In July 2012, violence in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts
(BTAD) of Assam broke out with riots between indigenous Bodos and
Bengali-speaking Muslims. Over 4,00,000 people were taking shelter in
270 relief camps, after being displaced from almost 400 villages. This
is recorded as the largest inland migration of people in the history
of independent India. A vast majority of the affected people are still
living in camps and there is hardly any visible effort to rehabilitate
them and restore their human rights, after all they are “suspected

In English language, there is a proverb “Give a dog bad name and hang
him.” In many parts of North East India today, the proverb is
transformed to “Call a man Bangladeshi and get rid of him.” The
country has a Foreigners Act in place to detect and deport a
foreigner. In Assam, there is an additional tool in the form of
National Register of Citizens (NRC), an operation that is in its final
stages, to detect the foreigners.

We must all extend support in the detection and deportation of
foreigners. But until then we must refrain from calling an entire
community as “suspected Bangladeshis.” If we don’t restrain ourselves,
we will be alienating a major chunk of the population from the
mainstream which does not augur well for the country.

[The writer is the former Consulting Editor of The Sentinel & former
Executive Editor of Eastern Chronicle, both English dailies published
from Guwahati.]

Peace Is Doable

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