When did Bengali come to Assam

Analysis: the end of tolerance?

With the new citizenship law, the Hindu nationalist Bharata Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled since 2014, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is driving another wedge into Indian society. It was passed by the government on December 12th, 2019. But protesters across the country are challenging Modi this time.

While in large parts of India liberal Hindus and Muslims accuse discrimination, Northeast India protests, because illegally immigrated Hindus from Bangladesh are now allowed to stay and not - like Muslims from Bangladesh - should be put in camps or deported.

The government is trying drastically to stifle the demonstrations. In the state of Assam, for example, the Internet was turned off for ten days, curfews were imposed, the military were sent out onto the streets and public gatherings were banned. Several people were killed by police violence during the demonstrations that took place, markets and shops remained closed. Citizenship Law states that people who immigrated illegally from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh before 2015 can obtain Indian citizenship - if they are Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Parsees or Christians. Only Muslims are excluded from the law. In practice, it means that hundreds of thousands of Hindus who have previously been classified as illegal immigrants will now receive Indian citizenship.

Clear plan

Officially, it is a humanitarian act to rescue the persecuted, and according to the reading of the Indian government, Muslims in Muslim countries cannot be politically persecuted. But many Indians see through this representation. On the one hand, there are persecuted Muslims in the affected countries. For example, supporters of the Ahmadiyya community suffer from active political discrimination and attacks. On the other hand, many are wondering why India chose these three countries of all places. After all, in the neighboring states of China and Myanmar, Muslim Uyghurs and Rohingya, respectively, are oppressed and expelled because of their religion without getting any Indian help.

Countless protests

The real reason for the law is probably to be found in Assam. The state with around 30 million inhabitants is located north of Bangladesh and has historically been heavily influenced by migration from the Bengal region and in particular from East Bengal. After the partition of India, East Bengal became East Pakistan in 1947 and the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971. Bengal came to Assam at different times: During the British colonial period as a worker. In the confusion of the Indian partition and during the genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani military in East Pakistan in 1971 as refugees. And then for economic reasons, since Bangladesh is poorer than India and very densely populated. For the population of Assam, who in addition to the Assamese consists of very different indigenous ethnic groups with their own languages, immigration meant increasing competition for land and political influence.

As a reaction, a nationalist movement emerged from universities at the end of the 1970s, which advocated strict action against migration from Bangladesh. There were countless protests and a massacre of Bengali.

In order to get the situation under control, the Indian central government finally signed a contract in 1985 with the leaders of the Assam movement. Among other things, all illegal immigrants after 1971 should be identified and expelled from the country. But for a variety of reasons, politicians delayed this process until the finished register of the citizens of Assam was published in the summer of 2019.

Anyone who likes it has successfully proven to the Indian bureaucracy that he or his ancestors lived in India before 1971. One can only guess how error-prone this process is in a region where many people have no documents and a quarter of the population is illiterate.

In any case, almost two million people in Assam did not find their names in the finished register. All of these people are now threatened with statelessness. Bangladesh, which is already losing a lot of land due to climate change, does not want to accept them. The Indian government's alternative plan is to lock them up in camps, the first of which will be ready soon.

A problem arose for the ruling BJP party. On the one hand, it positions itself clearly against illegal immigration and therefore demands a citizenship register for all of India. But it also stands for the ideological restructuring of India: Away from the secular state that India has been since independence and which treats all individuals and religions with equal respect. Towards a land of devout Hindus.

However, among the two million people who are now about to lose their citizenship, there are a large number of Hindus. The new citizenship law now protects them in the sense of the BJP from ending up in camps like Muslim immigrants. It joins a long list of pro-Hindu agitation. The BJP, for example, incited people against Muslims at the end of the 80s, when it was still far from being part of all Indian government. She demanded that a more than 400-year-old mosque in the city of Ayodhya, the alleged birthplace of the Hindu god Rama, should give way to a Hindu temple. Eventually the party organized a huge march during which the entire mosque was razed to the ground by a worn-out mob.

Things got worse in 2002 in the metropolis of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. A pogrom there cost the lives of at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Serious allegations were made against the authorities at the time: They deliberately did not intervene and supported the violence. The USA even banned the then Prime Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, from entering the country. Today this is the prime minister of all India.

Islamic country too

Under his aegis, the mood continues to heat up. There are more and more cases in which mobs kill Muslims who they accuse of wanting to slaughter holy cows in Hinduism. India is the second largest Muslim country in the world after Indonesia. Almost 200 million people, or 15 percent of the population, follow Islam. There have been Muslims on the subcontinent for around a millennium. Indian empires with Muslim rulers shaped history and provided some of today's greatest tourist attractions, such as the Taj Mahal.

The BJP and other extremist organizations want to get rid of this legacy. From the point of view of many Indians who are now protesting, the party is betraying the genuine, tolerant Hinduism and multiculturalism of the largest democracy in the world. And from the Assamese point of view, she betrays the promise to guarantee their ethnic dominance in their own state. The protests will not die down quickly.