Wildly fluctuating and suspiciously rounded figures (10 million in 1997 by CPI’s Indrajit Gupta, 20 million by BJP’s L.K. Advani in 2003, 12 million by Congress’s Sriprakash Jaiswal in 2004) of alleged illegal Bangladeshi migrants, based on nothing in particular or attributed vaguely to ‘intelligence reports’, have dominated the discourse on the ethnic strife in Assam. Yet, official census figures tell a completely different story.
- In the last three Censuses (1991, 2001 and 2011), decadal growth rates of population have been lower than the national figure.
- Also, it’s incorrect that abnormal population growth automatically suggests illegal migration.
Population in Dhemaji district grew dramatically by 74.72 per cent between 1971 and 1991. But 95 per cent of the population happen to be Hindus.
- Tripura has a 900-km border with Bangladesh (as compared to 270 kms for Assam) and yet illegal migrants do not seem to be an issue there.
The BJP Member of Parliament, Bijoya Chakrabarty, declared in the Lok Sabha this month that ‘Bangladeshis’ were in a majority in 13 of the 27 districts of Assam. Even the otherwise sober Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said in the Rajya Sabha that in both Dhubri and Goalpara districts, ‘foreigners’ constituted 60-80 per cent of the population.
In an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court of India this month, the ministry of home affairs however claimed that electoral rolls in Assam went through several revisions between 1997 and 2005 and there was little possibility of ‘foreigners’ being included in the list. The latest census appears to support the claim.
Population growth in Assam: In absolute terms, the number of people in the state went up by 4.51 million in a decade (45,13,744 to be precise) in the 2011 census (provisional).
Children below the age of 6: The population of children below the age of 6, born after the last census in 2001, is also 4.51 million (45,11,307). The fear of run-away illegal migration, therefore, may well be misplaced.
Decline of population in Kokrajhar: The lowest population growth (5.19 per cent) in Assam has been recorded in Kokrajhar district, the seat of the Bodo Territorial Council, where it has come down from 14.49 per cent in 2001.
Muslim population in Kokrajhar: While figures for population by religion in the 2011 census are yet to be declared, in 1971, Muslims constituted 17 per cent of the population, 19.3 per cent in 1991 and 20.4 per cent in 2001. This clearly does not indicate an alarming growth. Muslims as a whole, constituted 30.9 per cent of Assam’s population (comparative figures are 25.2 per cent for Bengal and 24.7 per cent for Kerala.) Most of the ‘migrant’ Muslims—Indian citizens if they came before April 1971—are forced to live on the shifting sandbars of the Brahmaputra and frequently uprooted by floods. Many migrate to urban centres to work as rickshaw pullers, vegetable vendors and construction workers. Politicians feeding on their fear seem to have pushed them again to the brink.