SHILLONG: BJP Rajya Sabha MP and Editor of Pioneer Chandan Mitra has advocated a three-pronged approach-“prevent, prohibit and protect”- to deal with the issue of illegal immigration in the Northeast.
Participating in an interactive session on ‘ Foreigners issue of North East , a problem that awaits solution’ as part of the Golden jubilee celebration of Dr Radhakrishnan Boys’ Secondary School at R & R Colony here on Saturday, Mitra said that there is a design on the part of some groups in Bangladesh to drive away religious and ethnic minorities as well as to encourage migrants of the same community to come to several parts of Northeast including Meghalaya ,and the purpose is to create a “Greater Bangladesh”.
According to Mitra, though the Government had adopted three-pronged approach which included “detect, delete and deport” the foreigners, in reality the riverse is happening in the Northeast.
“The names of Indian voters are deleted and foreigners are included in the voters list and this is a clear cut vote bank politics as the political parties have vested interest in not deleting the names of foreigners,” Mitra said.
While genuine Indians are denied the citizenship, foreigners enjoy the Indian citizenship, he deplored.
The Rajya Sabha MP said that according to his three -pronged new proposal-“prevent, prohibit and protect”- there will be a deterrent to further entry of foreigners to the Northeast.
As per his proposal, Mitra said the migrants who come in search of jobs to India will also be prohibited to become citizens of India as they will have to go back without acquiring the Indian citizenship.
He said this way the Indian citizens will be protected from the perennial problem of illegal immigration.
Building up a case for the Bengali Hindus, former Editor of the The Shillong Times Manas Chaudhuri said that during the Assam movement in the 1970s and 80s, the Bengali Hindus were dubbed as ‘aliens’ even though the community has been an integral part of the Northeast. He reminded that in 1874 when Assam was created by the British, the state comprised Bengali pre dominant areas like Sylhet, Goalpara and Cachar, besides Khasi and Garo Hills and Brahmaputra valley.
He said when the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act,1950 was created, the law had provided provisions for the religious minorities to take refuge in Assam.
According to Chaudhuri, it is an irony that the Bengali Hindus who got land from Government of India as a part of rehabilitation package were denied Indian citizenship by the Assam Government and several cases in this regard are pending in the Foreigners Tribunal.
Chaudhuri cited the case of a bread earner who migrated to India being separated from the family and languishing in the detention camp for the Hindus, due to the faulty system being adopted by the Assam Government.
He said another cause of concern was categorization of three lakh Hindu voters as ‘D’ voters ( doubtful voters).
Chaudhuri also recalled that in 2004 the then NDA government brought about amendment to the Citizenship Act which allowed providing Indian citizenship to the Hindu migrants in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
He wanted to know why the same yardstick was not adopted for the Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in the context of Northeast.
On the first settlement of Bengalis in Meghalaya, Chaudhuri recalled that when Khasi and Jaintia Hills was created in 1854 by the British with their headquarter in Cherrapunjee, the Bengali Hindus were brought by the British to be the interpreters and support staff. “There were no refugees as there was no Bangladesh then and when the headquarter of the British was shifted to Shillong in 1866, the Bengalis came to Shillong.
To drive his point home that Bengali Hindus were part of Shillong since its inception, he quoted the first census in 1881 when Shillong had the total population of 3737. The number of muslims was 311 whereas Khasi and Britishers were 1564. The majority were Bengali Hindus with a population of 1862”, Chaudhuri said.
While asserting that a microscopic tribe like the Khasis in Meghalaya should be protected, Chaudhuri said that at the same time, the existence of others cannot be wished away.
Hafeez Rashid Chaudhuri , Senior Advocate, Gauhati High Court pointed out that the Indian constitution does not define who is the Indian citizen as there is only a negative definition as one who is not a foreigner is considered as Indian.
He stressed the need for a collective effort on the part of various communities to address the problem of illegal immigration.
He pointed out that in Assam since 1977 till 2011, 93% of genuine citizens were deprived of voting rights as they were considered as ‘D’ voters while in reality only 6.5 were proved to be illegal migrants.
Touching upon various problems in Assam, Prof. Nani Gopal Mahanta, Coordinator Peace and Conflict Studies, Guahati University said that there were several examples of unrest in Assam on the issue of foreigners.
Advocating a middle path, Mahanta said that there are two schools of thought, one is that Assam is flooded with foreigners, and another is that there are no foreigners in Assam.
As a solution to the problem, he advocated the need for identifying the migrants first and then curtailing their rights by way of giving them partial citizenship or any other mechanism.
Mahanta further said since Assam does not have enough land, and hence there is an urgent need to freeze illegal immigration.
He also pointed that while the Hindu population declined by 7.2 percent in Assam, there is an increase of over 6 percent of Muslim population in Assam.
Mahanta also stressed the need of providing constitutional protection to the indigenous groups in the Northeast.
Local legislator Jemino Mawthoh, while stating that the question on who is a foreigner is hazy and vague , advocated the need for protecting the indigenous people.
“The small groups and indigenous communities should be protected while at the same time other communities should also be respected”, he added.
Mawthoh also asserted that if foreigners are there, they should be deported as illegal immigration is a threat.
Thomas Lim, Editor of Meghalaya Times was the moderator of the session.