Monday, February 07, 2005

INDIA:Effects of Migration

+ The British had almost decided to give undivided Assam to East Pakistan till the Assamese agitated that their future lay with India — something that Assam and present-day Bangladesh have never forgotten. Politically aware hill tribes feared assimilation into either the Hindu or Muslim homeland and demanded freedom from the British. Independence with a weak and inexperienced leadership and administration, coupled with communal violence and a bad economic situation in the north-east after partition, contributed to a difficult situation. The British Forward Policy in trying to bring areas of Arunachal (NEFA) under direct control brought India into direct confrontation with the Chinese who also claimed these areas. The socialist movements and their success in Russia and China drew dissenters from the north-east into their fold. Chinese irritation with India over border disputes automatically resulted in their giving whole-hearted support to such groups which included insurgents from Naga and Mizo Hills and Manipur. +

EFFECTS OF MIGRATION

New Delhi and the north-eastern states failed to take remedial action against migration that started during British rule resulting in insurgency, strife, discontent and deployment of security forces

By JR MUKHERJEE

THE north-east has over 500 ethnic groups owing to frequent migrations and invasions, though all its neighbours played a major role in segregating these groups, concentrating the population in the main river valleys. The Siliguri corridor and the Brahmaputra valley became the core. Imposition of British rule, the philosophy of imperial capitalism, creation of infrastructure to export extracted raw material to Chittagong and Kolkata along with large-scale import of staff and labour, induction of Kukis to counter Nagas, settling of Nepalese in large numbers, encouraging Bangladeshi migration to till land, the policy of divide and rule, the creation of artificial state boundaries and creation of Inner Lines to segregate the hill tribes have all contributed to the situation that exists today.

Migration of population creating demographic changes is an issue of concern. While figures quoted by authorities are suspect, it is pertinent to note that in the 20th century under British rule, immigration and migration, particularly into Assam, North Bengal and Tripura, was probably to the extent of about 30 per cent of the population, of which about two-thirds was from East Bengal. Unfortunately, after Independence this trend was allowed to continue, with the majority of the migrants being from then East Pakistan. In 1971, again there was a major refugee exodus from East Pakistan, the majority of whom never returned owing to the situation which led to the Indo-Pak war.

Thereafter, consequent to major agitations, particularly in Assam, immigration was reduced but did not stop, primarily due to vote-bank politics. As people are now conscious of the demographic changes, illegal immigration has come down to a trickle. The effects of immigration are that Tripura which had a tribal majority in the early 20th century is now a tribal minority state with a consequent long-drawn insurgent movement. Sikkim now has a Nepalese majority. 30 per cent of Assam’s population consists of Bangladeshi immigrants with another 8 to 10 per cent from Bengal, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan, giving birth to the Ulfa, Bodo Karbi and Dimasa insurgencies; Assam now also has a minority Islamic fundamentalist movement, reduced per capita income and forest wealth.

In North Bengal it gave rise to the Naxalite, GNLF and Kamtapuri movements. In Meghalaya it gave birth to the Khasi movement and the anti-non-Khasi agitations. Other hill states adopted harsh anti-immigrant policies. While we may blame the British, the fact remains that the maximum number of immigrants came after Independence. Both Delhi and the States failed to take suitable remedial action giving rise to insurgency, strife, discontent, unnecessary deployment of security forces resulting in wasteful expenditure.

The partition disrupted trading patterns. East Pakistan being hostile, no routes were available except through the Siliguri corridor to the rest of India with extremely indifferent communications. Chittagong was no longer available. It became uneconomical to trade either with the rest of India or through Kolkata. Consequently both Kolkata’s industry and Assam’s fell into decay. Artificial boundaries created between India and Burma split the Naga, the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes and the Meiteis (Manipuris), pitted ethnic groups against each other and segregated the hill people from plainsmen, created the demands by Nagas, Mizos and Meiteis for uniting their homelands and sowed the seeds of ethnic sub-nationalism and strife.


The British had almost decided to give undivided Assam to East Pakistan till the Assamese agitated that their future lay with India — something that Assam and present-day Bangladesh have never forgotten. Politically aware hill tribes feared assimilation into either the Hindu or Muslim homeland and demanded freedom from the British. Independence with a weak and inexperienced leadership and administration, coupled with communal violence and a bad economic situation in the north-east after partition, contributed to a difficult situation. The British Forward Policy in trying to bring areas of Arunachal (NEFA) under direct control brought India into direct confrontation with the Chinese who also claimed these areas. The socialist movements and their success in Russia and China drew dissenters from the north-east into their fold. Chinese irritation with India over border disputes automatically resulted in their giving whole-hearted support to such groups which included insurgents from Naga and Mizo Hills and Manipur.


The late fifties saw the start of Naga insurgency and commitment of security forces in the Naga Hills. The Meitei insurgency started almost the same time with the Lushai (Mizo) Hills insurgency a few years later. The insurgencies were sustained for long periods due to external support and power politics, popular support of the people, and the prevailing environment all over South-east Asia. It needs to be noted that Central and Northern Myanmar were in flames while Malaya, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were starting to get communist-supported insurgencies.


India’s quarrel with China leading to the Indo-China war of 1962, US support to the Tibetan insurgency reportedly from Indian soil, Western support to India against China only strengthened China’s resolve to help the Indian insurgent groups. India’s antagonism also gave Pakistan the resolve to support these groups through East Pakistan and to join hands with China. India’s subsequent alliance with Russia, who had fallen out with China during the Cold War, brought the West clandestinely into the fray. There was thus no dearth of external and environmental support for the insurgencies. While after Mao’s death, China has always claimed stoppage of this support, circumstances indicate that whenever we happen to have annoyed China, there has always been an upsurge of insurgency and whenever we have pleased them, insurgency is on a low key.

In the next part I will cover Assam and subsequently the other states.

The author is a retired lieutenant-general, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, of the Indian Army