Saturday, October 09, 2004

Assessment: Demography phobia - A Third "Islamic Republic" in the Sub Continent?

[“There is a distinct danger of another Muslim country, speaking predominantly Bengali, emerging in the eastern part of India in the future, at a time when India might find itself weakened politically and militarily.” And second that the danger is as grave even if that third Islamic State does not get carved out as a full-fledged country. You may quarrel over the answer, but you can be certain of one thing: secularists will dump the figures themselves! India: the State of Denial.]

Right on course
ARUN SHOURIE

Secularists may dump the figures and we can quarrel over the reasons, but the difference in the growth of Muslims and non-Muslims in the districts bordering Bangladesh is alarming


Readers will recall that after the reports that he had sent to the President and to successive prime ministers as governor of West Bengal had failed to adduce even letters of acknowledgement, TV Rajeswar, at present the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, had gone public with his warnings. He had warned that the way we were shutting our eyes, a real prospect had arisen that, after Pakistan and Bangladesh, a third Islamic Republic would be carved out in the sub-continent. In important articles in The Hindustan Times, he had drawn pointed attention to the districts bordering Bangladesh, and the vast and strategic region whose demographic composition was getting changed.

He had written, inter alia, “Muslims in India accounted for 9.9 per cent (of India’s population) in 1951, 10.8 per cent in 1971 and 11.3 per cent in 1981, and presumably about 12.1 per cent in 1991. The present population ratio of Muslims is calculated to be 28 per cent in Assam and 25 per cent in West Bengal.

In 1991, the Muslim population in the border districts of West Bengal accounted for 56 per cent in South and North Parganas, 48 per cent in Nadia, 52 per cent in Murshidabad, 54 per cent in Malda and about 60 per cent in Islampur sub-division of West Dinajpur.

A study of the border belt of West Bengal yields some telling statistics: 20-40 per cent villages in the border districts are said to be predominantly Muslim. There are indications that the concentration of the minority community, including the Bangladesh immigrants, in the villages has resulted in the majority community moving to urban centres. Several towns in the border districts are now predominantly inhabited by the majority community but surrounded by villages mostly dominated by the minority community. Lin Piao’s theory of occupying the villages before overwhelming the cities comes to mind, though the context is different. However, the basic factor of security threat in both the cases is the same.”

Furthermore, he had urged us to look beyond Bengal and Assam, and to look at the region as a whole: “…Figures have been given showing the concentration of Muslim population in the districts of West Bengal bordering Bangladesh, starting from 24 Parganas and going up to Islampur of West Dinajpur district, and their population being well over 50 per cent of the population.

The Kishanganj district (of Bihar), which was part of Purnea district earlier, which is contiguous to the West Bengal area, also has a majority of Muslim population.

The total population of the districts of South and North 24 Parganas, Murshidabad, Nadia, Malda and West Dinajpur adds up to 27,337,362. If we add the population of Kishanganj district of Bihar of 986,672, the total comes to 28,324,034. (All figures are based on the 1991 Census.) This mass of land with a population of nearly 2.8 crores has a Muslim majority. The total population of West Bengal in 1991 was 67.9 million and of these, 28.32 million are concentrated in the border districts, with about 16-17 million population of minority community being concentrated in this area. This crucial tract of land in West Bengal and Bihar, lying along the Ganges/Hughly and west Bangladesh, with a population of over 28 million, with Muslims constituting a majority, should give cause for anxiety for any thinking Indian.”

From these figures, he had advanced two warnings. First, “There is a distinct danger of another Muslim country, speaking predominantly Bengali, emerging in the eastern part of India in the future, at a time when India might find itself weakened politically and militarily.” And second that the danger is as grave even if that third Islamic State does not get carved out as a full-fledged country:

“Let us look at the map of Eastern India—starting from the North 24 Parganas district, proceeding through Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda and West Dinajpur before entering the narrow neck of land lying through Raiganj and Dalkola of Islampur sub-division before passing through the Kishanganj district of East Bihar to enter Siliguri. Proceed further and take a look at the north Bengal districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar before entering Assam, and its districts of Dhubri, Goalpara, Bonaigaon, Kokrajhar and Barpeta. A more sensitive region in Asia is difficult to locate….”

The figures of the 2001 Census show that the dreaded prospect is right on course. Take first the districts of Assam that border Bangladesh. Table I gives the decadal growth of Muslim and non-Muslim population in the districts that Rajeswar had listed.

Reports have also pointed out that Bangladeshi infiltrators have been making their way into four other districts—Barpeta, Naogaon, Marigaon and Darrang.

The Census bears out the intelligence reports. Table II gives the percentage growth of Muslim and non-Muslim population in these districts.

In Assam as a whole, the number of Muslims has increased between 1991 and 2001 by 29.3 per cent. The number of non-Muslims has increased by 14.8 per cent. The result is that the percentage of Muslims to the total population in these areas, and therefore in Assam as a whole, has increased exactly the way Rajeswar had apprehended. Table III indicates the figures.

Next, recall the districts in West Bengal to which Rajeswar had drawn attention—South and North Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur and the rest. The figures for these are truly alarming. Table IV indicates the way population of Muslims and non-Muslims has grown in these districts between 1991 and 2001.

As a consequence, Muslims now constitute 64 per cent of the population in Murshidabad, close to 50 per cent in Malda, close to 40 per cent in South and North Dinajpur…

And the districts that Rajeswar had listed in Bihar present the same forbidding picture. In Kishanganj, the place that has sent Taslimuddin to Parliament, Muslims now constitute close to 68 per cent of the population. In Purnea, Araria and Katihar they are 37 to 42 per cent. In these districts the population of Muslms is growing a quarter to three-quarters faster than the population of non-Muslims. And these are precisely the districts in which Bangladeshis are settling down. Table VII shows who determines who shall win elections.

What accounts for the differences in the growth of Muslim and non-Muslim population? That the Muslims of these areas are exceptionally fecund? Is it that non-Muslims of these areas are suddenly seeing the light and embracing Islam? Is it that Muslims from other parts of India are flooding these non-too-prosperous districts? Or that the growth in their numbers is being topped by inundation from Bangladesh?

You may quarrel over the answer, but you can be certain of one thing: secularists will dump the figures themselves! India: the State of Denial.

(To be continued)

Indian Express 09/10/2004