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Immigration vs Foreigners vs Refugees

By Alok Thulung on July 24,2008

IMMIGRATION vs FOREIGNERS vs REFUGEES


By Alok Kantamani Thulung, president of Youth wing of GJMM

It is a pity that every time the Gorkhas residing in India, specially those residing in the
Darjeeling district & Dooars, raise the demand of a separate state in consonance with the
Article 3 of the Indian constitution, we are dubbed as ‘foreigners’ or ‘immigrants’ and the
demand very cruelly labeled as ‘separatist’. These labels of being ‘foreigners’ or
‘immigrants’ or ‘separatists’ have not only been used by communal forces like the ‘Amra
Bangali’ or ‘Jan Jagaran Mancha’ or the ‘Jan Chetana Mancha’ (all of them being outfits
of the highly communal CPI-M), but also by highly esteemed ministers of cabinet rank of
the West Bengal State government, namely Sri Ashok Bhattacharya and Shri Subhash
Chakroborty. Even the Chief Minister of West Bengal calls our movement for a separate
state under the Indian union as separatist. It is not that these honourable (!) people do not
know that to demand a separate state under Article 3 is entirely constitutional and not a
separatist one. They repeatedly call our movement separatist because they constantly
maintain and believe that we, the Indian Gorkhas are ‘foreigners’ and ‘immigrants’. As to
the issue of the foreigners, the Indian constitution is very clear and there is no room for
debate from any quarters questioning our Indian citizenship no matter how hard one may
try. Coming to the issue of being branded as ‘immigrants’, we would like to highlight
certain issues.

In 1839, Dr. Campbell, of the British East Indian Company devoted himself to the
task of developing Darjeeling, inviting the hill tribes of neighboring region including
Nepal to cultivate the mountain slopes, and stimulating trade and commerce. Every
encouragement was given to the settlers, who received grants of forest land. It was
mainly the hill tribes of Nepal who cleared the dense forests in the difficult
mountainous terrain that helped Darjeeling grow by leaps and bounds. It was these
hill tribes who were involved in the formation of the Hill Corps for the maintenance
of law and order and improvement of communications in such a difficult terrain.
Apart from Nepal, the people who worked here on the invitation of the British were the
hill tribes from Sikkim (and of course, Darjeeling, which was gifted to the British by the
Raja of Sikkim in 1835) and Bhutan too. All these facts which are documented in
LSSO’Malley’s Darjeeling Gazeeter prove beyond doubt that apart from the Gorkhas
who became Indian citizens by transfer of their land to British India, the other hill tribes
who came to Darjeeling from Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim were settlers who were enticed
by the British to come to help the British build and develop this part of British India. So,
those who very casually term the hill tribes as immigrants, without knowing the
backdrop of their settlement are doing great injustice to the race of people who
developed this place to this present state so that they are now able to make their
sojourns as tourists to this land. These hill tribes were not refugees like the
Bangladeshis who fled to India from Bangladesh because of insecurity or who
entered and are continuing to enter India on the sly i.e. illegally under the patronage
of the political masters in West Bengal to strengthen their political stronghold.

Later, after the signing of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, some people settled in India
from Nepal by virtue of the treaty but their number is very less as can be verified from
the Census reports. So, we see that even those who settled in India after 1950 did so
legally as permitted by the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950, which is of mutual benefit to India
and Nepal. It may not be out of place to mention that it is by virtue of this treaty that
many Indians have settled in Nepal and are in national mainstream there. Now,
Nepal even has Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, a Nepali citizen of Indian origin as its first
President. Can we dream of this in India at present? One thing which needs to be
stressed and needs to be clear in the minds of all (read Neo-Colonial rulers of West
Bengal) that the Gorkha Indian citizens are not ‘Refugees’ like the Bangladeshis, who
have entered India in hordes and have changed the demography of Siliguri Sub-Division
of Darjeeling district in a very short span of time.

In 1898, the final report on the Darjeeling Terai Settlement published by Sri Sasi
Bhusan Dutta (Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta), a Settlement Officer of the
Government of West Bengal, the total population as well as its ethnic breakup of the Terai
areas of the Darjeeling district (i.e. Siliguri and its periphery of today) has been
documented. The report reveals that more than 31% of the population in the Siliguri and
adjoining Terai regions consisted of the Gorkhas, the Lepchas and the Bhutias. The
remaining population was principally Adivasi and Mohamadden. What is remarkable is
the fact that, the report does not show the presence of any Bengali population then. It is
thus clear that the majority of the population in Siliguri and the Terai at the end of the
19th century was predominantly castes belong to the Nepali/Gorkha and Adivasi
community.

Siliguri showed a population growth of 2.6%, 4.9%, 29.4% and 36.4% in 1891-1901,
1901-11, 1941-51 and 1951-61 respectively. The growth in population till 1941 was due
to the rapid urbanization of Siliguri. However, from 1941 onwards the demography of
Siliguri and its adjoining areas changed rapidly due the influx of refugees from present
day Bangladesh. In 1941-59, the town of Siliguri recorded growth of 61.2%, which
was largely due to the influx of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, following
the partition of the country in 1947 and the communal riots in 1950. In 1951-61, the
population increased by 101.5% for Siliguri town, this again being due influx of
refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan. Immigrant refugees, mostly Bengali Hindus from
erstwhile East Pakistan became a quantitatively important segment of population of the
district, most of who settled in the plains of Siliguri sub-division (West Bengal District
Gazeeter, Darjeeling 1980).

Excerpts from the West Bengal District Gazeeter, Darjeeling 1980 bring out very
interesting facts. It is written that “The refugee influx has helped Siliguri town to grow in
many ways. The Refugee Rehabilitation Department made donations to the Siliguri
College and the Siliguri Commerce College to construct buildings. Land was also
granted to Siliguri Girls’ Higher Secondary School for its building as these
institutions were needed to meet the ever-increasing demand for education of the
new settlers. The state government also advanced more than Rs.1, 50,000 to the
Siliguri Municipality to construct roads, make sanitary arrangements and arrange
water supply in the refugee concentrations within the municipal limits. In addition,
the Refugee Rehabilitation Department opened a market on a 3-acre plot of land at
an expense of more than Rs. 10, 00000 for the benefit of about 800 refugee traders
and named it ‘Bidhan Market’. Half of the refugee colonies are within Siliguri town
and the persons staying there are mostly employed in urban occupations pertaining
to the tertiary sector of the economy. Two are in the semi-urban area, the
inhabitants of which are also employed more or less in the same sector. The other
two colonies are in rural areas and engaged in the primary sector of the economy”.

The Government of West Bengal has taken lots of pains to take care of immigrants from
neighbouring Bangladesh, who have been changing the demography of Siliguri and
adjoining areas, pushing the original inhabitants, the Indian Gorkhas to the fringe areas.
However, when thousands of Nepali speaking Bhutanese citizens were forcefully thrown
out from Bhutan in the 1990s, not only did the Government of West Bengal keep mum on
the issue, on the contrary it helped in the deportation of these Nepali speaking Bhutanese
citizens through its territory in Indian army vehicles at the dead of night to the other side
of the river Mechi in Nepal, where these refugees are languishing in a pathetic state.
Every time they make efforts to go their homeland, they are thwarted by the Bengal
police at Panitanki. The interesting question that arises here is why a differential
treatment is meted out to refugees from Bhutan unlike those from Bangladesh? Are not
both the groups foreigners? The answer to our question is obvious. As the Bhutanese
refugees speak the language of the Indian Gorkhas, have similar physiognomy and have a
similar social and cultural ethos, the West Bengal government was afraid that the
accommodation of the Bhutanese refugees would alter the demography of Dooars,
Siliguri and the adjoining areas. Similar episodes have happened to Indian Gorkhas
residing in Assam and the North East. Had we a separate state, the Indian Gorkhas and
the Nepali speaking Bhutanese refugees could have been saved from the ignominy of
having to lead such miserable lives on the banks of the river Mechi on pure humanitarian
grounds. In contrast, the Bangladeshis have been sheltered in West Bengal simply
because of the common language and culture they share with the Bengalis residing in
West Bengal and of course, the ‘vote bank’ issue. This was possible because the Bengalis
have a separate state of West Bengal for themselves. If the state of West Bengal had not
been in existence, the Bangladeshis would have possibly met the same fate as the
Bhutanese refugees and the evicted Indian Gorkhas from Assam and the North East.

A book titled, ‘Immigration from Bangladesh to India based on census data’ by Aswini
Kumar Nanda has documented the population flows from Bangladesh to India over 1981
and 2001. He reports that as of 2001, there were 3.1 – 3.7 million Bangladeshis in India,
97% of who have infiltrated to the East (i.e. Bengal) and Northeast regions in 1981-2001.
It is reported that an average of 200,000 persons slip annually into West Bengal State
alone’. Almost all of them stay back by procuring ration cards and entering their names in
the voter’s list in collusion with the ruling Left front of West Bengal for the now well
known ‘VOTE BANK’. In collusion with the highly politicized state administration, the
CPI-M is reported to have forged and distributed more than 8 million ration cards,
thereby jeopardizing the public distribution system.

The West Bengal Government has defined the term ‘Refugee’ in the context of
immigration from Bangladesh as ‘families which were displaced from erstwhile East
Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) and settled in West Bengal prior to 25th March
1971’. Those meeting the afore-mentioned criteria are eligible for rehabilitation from the
government (West Bengal Government Official website). The Government of West
Bengal has, even today, a department for Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation headed by
the Hon’ble Minister of State, Shri Binay Krishna Biswas (Secretary: Smt. R.
Venkataraman, IAS, and Officer on Special Duty: Shri A. Kanungo, WBCS). The
Department was formed in 1950 with the objective handling the enormous dimensions of
the human tragedy that West Bengal had to face following the partition of India in 1947
and the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war for liberation of Bangladesh. As per government order
No. 264-Rehab. Dated 1988 & 602-Rehab. Dated 20-02-90 as well as 264-Rehab. Dated
35-01-91, the certificates from elected representatives including MPs, MLAs, Municipal
Councillors, and Sabhapatis of Panchayat Samities would be accepted for the purpose of
regularization of displaced families or for grant of a ‘No Objection Certificate’. Free-hold
Title Deeds against homestead plots in government sponsored and approved ‘Squatters’
Colonies are now issued in appropriate cases to eligible refugee families. Lease deeds for
99 years granted to refugee families prior to 1988 are being converted to Free-hold Deeds
vide government orders dated 17-01-89 and 08-12-88 (West Bengal Government Official
website).

No doubt, the influx of refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan during partition in 1947,
the riots that followed in 1950 and the Indo-Pakistan war for liberation of Bangladesh in
1971 was very unfortunate and the government had to rehabilitate the immigrants.
Having said this, it also needs to be stated that this influx changed the demography of
Siliguri. However, what is unacceptable is the accommodation of the illegal
immigrants after 1971 by the Left front led government, mainly for political reasons
i.e. vote banks for electoral gains. Indian Gorkhas, who were the dominant
community in the Ashrampara, Hakimpara, Gurung busty and Pradhannagar areas
of Siliguri town, have been reduced to a minority. Though it has been more than 60
years since the partition of Bengal and more than 37 years since the Indo-Bangladesh
war, the Department of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation continues to exist. Does it not
indirectly suggest that the illegal immigration from Bangladesh still continues and they
even have a department to welcome them? If there was no illegal immigration from
Bangladesh continuing, why is it necessary to continue having a separate refugees from
Bangladesh?

This influx of refugees and constant efforts at harassing the Indian Gorkhas from
different areas of Siliguri has led to the gradual but pre-meditated ouster of the Indian
Gorkhas by the scheming CPI-M goons from Siliguri town. This activity, akin to ‘ethnic
cleansing’ has been on since a long time and now, again has gained momentum following
the renewed demand for Gorkhaland.

Though it is not necessary for the Indian Gorkhas to react to the issue of
cancellation/review of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of 1950 and the identification and
deportation of those who have immigrated to India from Nepal after 1950, as raised by
the a communal outfit like the Jan Jagaran Mancha, we are responding to their raising the
issues because these are issues of the CPI-M of West Bengal which is being raised by Jan
Jagaran Mancha, the Amra Bangali and Jan Chetana Mancha.

Cancellation of the treaty would have no negative impact on the Indian Gorkhas. Rather,
it would help us in establishing our Indian identity. As regards to the Mancha’s demand
that those who have immigrated to India from Nepal after 1950 should be identified and
deported, all we have to say is that, on signing the treaty the immigration and settling of
people from Nepal and vice-versa the emigration and settling of Indians in Nepal have
been legalized by the government by virtue of an International treaty. So the issue of
identification and deportation of those who have settled after 1950 does not hold water.
Having said so, we demand of the West Bengal government to go back to its
definition of ‘Refugee from Bangladesh’ ( which states that Refugees from
Bangladesh are families which were displaced from erstwhile East Pakistan
(presently Bangladesh) and settled in West Bengal prior to 25th March 1971’) and
identify all those illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and deport them. Further,
people like Prof. Haren Ghosh, who himself is a refugee from Bangladesh (His
family immigrated to India and Prof. Ghosh and his brothers spent the early part of
their life in Kurseong. His brother, Sudhir Ghosh was even the Headmaster of the
Krisnamaya Memorial High School, a Nepali High School in Siliguri) and
spearheading the Jan Jagaran Mancha need to be hauled up by the administration
for spreading canard regarding the Gorkha community and trying to create
communal divide as well as, give fillip to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Gorkhas in
Siliguri and adjoining areas.