Funny thought #1: There must be something eerie about countries with the letter B. Whether it is ‘Britain’ or ‘Bangladesh’, they just take over nations, don’t they?
Funny thought #2: When you browse for the word ‘khilonjia’, Google throws up images of movie posters of “Khilona”! Is it a coincidence or what?
Sanjoy Hazarika’s book, The Rites of Passage has a chapter on a Bangladeshi guy called “The Story of Keramat Bhai”. Keramat Bhai is an interesting character, who gives an insight into the congenitally bred ‘immigrant’ problem that post-Independent Assam has been diagnosed with. I remember one passage where he gladly affirms that they keep going and coming in and out of Assam, by ‘pay[ing] a little on this side of the border to the guards, and pay[ing] a little over there to the Indians’. See how easily soil erosion has enabled landless refugees to sneak into the sympathetic riverine villages of our state!
Calamities happen. A refuge is sought. Humanity prevails and people are given shelter. Look how Syria’s suffering melted hearts around the globe. So yes, the human heart feels sorry and provides a home to lost victims. But giving refuge and giving away the whole land are different. The Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, aka the Miyas, as they are more popularly and often derogatorily known, are no longer refugees in Assam. Despite the undercurrent of legitimate xenophobia, they have become a natural sight in our part of the world. There’s a common joke here in Lower Assam: “We eat the vegetables they grow, drink the milk they sell from cow rearing, cook the plump chickens and ducks that come out of their fowl coops. And then when all is done, we stretch our arms and say – Let’s go, chase the Miyas!” Now I’m all for keeping my land to myself. Hail Assam Accord! But I guess we have to first learn the meticulous art of agriculture, industriousness and knowing our human and legal rights by heart, just as the Miyas do.
If you ever drive on the NH-31 towards Bongaigaon, you’ll see unending fields of arahar, corn, cauliflower, cabbage, potato, jute leaves cultivation, laid out with mathematical and seasonal precision. In all possibility, you might spot a couple of men and women even working the fields even in the middle of the day with the scorching sun on their heads. You might also see blue/green mosquito-net like covers either shading the little saplings ready to grow or marking a spot on the ground, to be attended to, later. I’ve seen them using such nets to throw a cover over banana trees planted in the sand. I wish I knew what they do with that but I haven’t had the chance to ask anyone. Rest assured that their knowledge of agriculture is absolutely spot-on; otherwise, our farmer’s markets wouldn’t have been flooded by their produce.
That is a facet of what Bangladeshi immigrants do to make use of the land actually inherited by the Assamese, but skilfully and very legally (read: manipulatively) owned by them now. They own lands more than they own clothes, protect them more than they protect their own family, grab on to them more than ever feeling immigrant enough to go back to whence they came. We are reaping the surface benefits – the local populace from their service and the local government (whenever, whatever, comes) from their votes. But they have (in a very smart political manner) taken over us through their hard work, acquiescence, overwhelming service and industry, legal knowledge and persistence of ownership of our lands hitherto laid bare, due to our own nonplussed attitude.
It’s embarrassing how we want to oust them and yet actually do not know what we’d do without them. Post 25 March 1971, all Bangladeshi immigrants are supposed to be deemed illegal or given work visa. Indeed! But who’s going to know who’s who, thanks to the seemingly loopholed NRC system that is still sprouting the occasional immigrant who bribed his way into getting his citizenship?
While we’re still brainstorming about whether to give them a work visa or send them home, the new and somehow-assumed-to-be-brilliant idea of opening gates for the Hindu Bangladeshis is wearing the native Assamese’s patience off. Those promoting this move, say that unless we bring them ‘home’, the immigrant Muslim population will swamp us Assamese and leave us a minority. Some politicians are even writing books on The Other Perspective!
Hello!! Your proposed Hindu Bangladeshis are a Bengali-speaking, Bangladeshi-born populace, who don’t seem to be desperately seeking refuge and have no inbreeding history with the Assamese. They will, therefore, be only strengthening the Hindu population, NOT the Assamese. And if you still want to bring them in, you can take them off to Haridwar, Surat or the Hindukush mountains, for all I care! Don’t perch them off on an already constipated Assam.
Majuli is losing its floor, people are getting swamped off to unkind shores and waiting for a better hope than a weeklong media coverage and a trickle of food. Floods are drowning men and livestock and leaving nothing else but devastation. And all we an think of is how to bring Hindu Bangladeshis home. Ironic!
Sometimes I think I might even agree to that. Let the Hindus roll in and populate India so much that the precarious issue of Hindu minority is solved once and for all. But first, let Bangladesh have its stepchildren back. Let the Bangladeshi motherland get responsible for all those truant kids she let off through our gates. Let her remember that we are their neighbours, not parents. Please take your kids off our hands and let us hold on to the little remaining respect we have for you. And if you still think they should remain here, claim their citizenship and accept them as our temporary citizens. Till all that is sorted out, at least pretend to care.
As for pro-Hindu-Bangladeshis, keep your Hinduness on hold and dust off our rusty border districts. Put some fibre in your political diet and flush out the illegal immigrants from the state. Topping it up with the empty calories of unwanted neighbours will only bloat us up and make us sick. Because if that happens, I don’t think the native Assamese, whether Hindu or Muslim (even the Assam-born Bengali Muslim) or Sikh or Christian is going to wait for your kind assistance. They will do what most of us do. Put the finger in the mouth and throw up.
How is that for Another Perspective?