burnt, butchered bodies recovered, railway lines blocked in protest, and at least 150,000 peoplehave fled their homes in fear.
At its heart, Assam’s troubles are about corrupt politicians encouraging illegal immigration at t
heexpense of locals.
“Since 1971, there’s been a steady influx of immigrants from Bangladesh,” says Rahul Pandita,associate editor of Open magazine who’s covered India’s northeast extensively. “And local
politicians gave them Indian identity documents so
they would vote for them. They’ve changedthe entire demographics of the area and created a powder keg ready to explode.”
It would be akin to state politicians in Texas inviting economic migrants from Mexico in
exchange for votes, says Mr. Pandita, pitting migrants against their own citizens for jobs,education, and welfare benefits.
It’s an open secret that the northea
st is the main entry point for millions of illegal Bangladeshimigrants into India. From there, they travel into Indian towns and cities, providing a cheap,useful work force. But in places like Assam, they also change electoral politics.
This week’s ethnic clashes involved one of Assam’s tribal communities –
the Bodo people
against Bengali speaking Muslim migrants. The violence was initially sparked by the death of four Bodo men, but signifies a much wider conflict.
“The borders are so porous,” says Pandita. “A Bangladeshi laborer can bribe his border guards
and Indian border guards, come into India, earn a few dollars, and go back the way he came
By Wednesday evening, the debate over illegal immigration had exploded on Indian televisionwith journalists challenging state and national politicians.
A correspondent for the Times Now channel reported that Bangladesh’s foreign minister told
him that the subject of illegal immigration had never been raised by India.The government denies the charge.Meanwhile, with local police unable to cope, Assam called in Indian Army forces who were
given “shoot on sight” orders to quell the clashes. By Wednesday evening, armed for
ces had shotdead five people.
"Both sides are in fear,” says Binod Ringania, a journalist in the state capital,
are scared that in the night, they might be attacked by the other side, so they are fleeing into
towns and taking refuge in government offices and schools.”
But according to Pandita, brute force is no answer to this problem that’s been decades in the