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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2015-07-10

Updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951, currently on in Assam, was hoped to be the panacea for the vexed problem of detection and expulsion of Bangladeshis. The hope stemmed from the political consensus that if the NRC 1951 is updated by including names of all Indian citizens whose names appear in the electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971 or in the 1951 population register and their descendants, it will be easier to identify and expel Bangladeshis, who illegally entered the state through a porous border.

However, outside such political consensus two major political parties – the Congress which rules the state and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre – have made promises to certain sections of post-1971 Bangladeshis. The BJP has promised citizenship for Hindu Bangladeshis while the Congress has extended it to all those, irrespective of religion, who fled ‘persecution’ in Bangladesh. This has created confusion and triggered intense speculation over the efficacy of the updated population register for identification and expulsion of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

A necessary and sufficient condition for the applicants to get their names included in the updated NRC is that their names appear in NRC 1951, or pre-1971 rolls or they produce admissible documents to establish their linkage with those having their names in these the primary set of documents, collectively called as 'Legacy Data'.

The gigantic exercise has also triggered fresh debates and discussion about the number and fate of the post-1971 illegal Bangladeshi migrants. While consensus over the exact number of post-1971 migrants still eludes the political class, official records kept preserved in the stacks of the Assam State Archives have much to reveal. 

“During the short span of 190 days, as many as 9 million refugees have sought refuge in India. The rate of influx has been as high as 2000 persons per hour round the clock from 25th March 1971 to 30th September 1971. The influx still continues unabated. On humanitarian considerations, the Government of India has extended massive relief assistance to the entering trains of refugees," says the booklet published by the Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation on October 15, 1971 on the refugee situation during Bangladesh liberation war.

The booklet titled "Statistical Information relating to the Influx of Refugees from East Bengal into India till 30th September, 1971" reveals that 7 lakh refugees entered Assam between 1947 and February 1971. These refugees included 4.87 lakh refugees who left erstwhile East Bengal following partition of India and migrated to Assam between August 15, 1947 and March 31, 1958 while about 2.14 lakh refugees, who fled erstwhile East Pakistan due to communal riots and entered the state between January 1, 1964 and March 24, 1971.

Another stream of 2.77 lakh refugees entered Assam between March 1971 to September 30, 1971 due to Civil War (Bangladesh Liberation War) and Pak Army atrocities in erstwhile East Pakistan (present Bangladesh).  The total population of Assam in 1971 was 1.49 crore.

It also reveals that among the five Indian states – Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, West Bengal and Bihar which recorded the influx of post-1971 refugees, the highest number of 68.51 lakh refugees came to West Bengal (4.44 crore population in 1971) during 190 days followed by Tripura (15.57 lakh population in 1971)  where 13.50 lakh refugees came. About 6.04 lakh post-1971 refugees came to Meghalaya (9.83 lakh population in 1971 Census) and about 9,000 to Bihar. West Bengal also received about 40.13 lakh refugees between 1947 and 1971 while Tripura received 5.17 lakh refugees during the same period. Altogether 939 camps (West Bengal 615, Tripura 273, Assam 27, Meghalaya 17 and Bihar 7) were opened to accommodate about 62.52 lakh refugees while about 28.39 lakh refugees stayed outside the camps. Out of 13.50 lakh refugees in Tripura 27,000 refugees were dispersed to Assam, says the booklet.

Among 90.91 lakh post-1971 refugees were 22.75 lakh children below 8 years of age, 7.27 lakh lactating mothers, 5000 "unattached women" while 5,000 boys 2,000 girls were among the orphans in the age group of 8-14 years. The per capita daily expenditure on feeding refugees was limited to Rs 1.10 for an adult in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura and Rs 1 in West Bengal, Bihar and other states where central transit camps were opened. For children aged 1-8 years, the ceiling was 60 paise per day per child. Infants below one year were provided baby milk and baby food with donations by foreign and voluntary organisations.

If government records are to believed then most of the post-1971 Bangladeshi refugees, immediately after the liberation war, barring few thousands who were living with their friends and relatives, returned home.

"As the State Governments are aware, most of the Bangladeshi refugees who came to India after 25th March and were staying in camps have already returned to Bangladesh. It is requested that the refugees, irrespective of the fact whether they are Bengalis or non-Bengalis, staying with their relatives or friends or outside the refugee camps may be required to return to Bangladesh. A statement may also be furnished to this ministry by 10th April 1972 positively indicating as to how many are still left in the country as on 31st March, 1972 together with reason why they have not returned to Bangladesh and the date by which they will return to that country," states the "Express Letter" from RAS Mani, Deputy Secretary to Government of India at the Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation to all state governments and Union territories.

The archival records reveal that "some 7699 refugees were still living with their friends and relatives in Assam" as on May 9, 1972 (Tour Note of PN Luthra, Additional Secretary on his visit to Assam and Meghalaya on May 2-5, 1971 for audit of refugee relief accounts).

The government later lost the headcount, leaving room for guesswork by political parties and organisations on the number of post-71 Bangladeshis, although it admits that influx continues through the porous India-Bangladesh border.

Speculations are rife whether the updated NRC, targeted to be published in January 2016, the year of assembly polls in Assam, will provide a solution to this political arithmetic.

(Sushanta Talukdar is the Editor,  www.nezine.com)

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