January 21, 2018

Now Hindutva cretins peddling creationism ....

January 20, 2018

India: Allowing RSS idealogues to write history can lead to street violence - says Ram. Guha

‘The BJP government is more hostile to writers, scholars, and film-makers than any government in the past’ 

India's 'Internet Hindus' Are in Love With Israel | Saudamini Jain

HAARETZ, January 20, 2018


Anshul Saxena, center, at an event he organized on a south Delhi street corner celebrating Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to India, January 2018.
Anshul Saxena, center, at an event he organized on a south Delhi street corner celebrating Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to India, January 2018.Manu Misra
In New Delhi, Anshul Saxena spends three to four hours a day on Israel.
The 26-year-old gathers information from right-wing websites, blogs, Wikipedia, the American Jewish Committee website and India-Israel friendship forums. He has set up alerts to be notified of any India-Israel news, and tries to tweet about Israel every day.
Back in November, he announced a celebration party when he first heard that Netanyahu would be visiting. Sometimes, the tweets are about Israel in general and the lessons India can learn from it.
A few months earlier, in July, he wrote: "Israel revived its Hebrew, whose fate was similar to Sanskrit about 7 decades ago. India should learn from Israel, We can revive Sanskrit."
Other times, he's inspired by the news. Last month, he wrote, comparing Jerusalem to the northern Indian city where a 16th-century mosque was demolished by right-wing Hindu mobs 25 years ago: "India should shift embassy from Tel Aviv to #Jerusalem. And also recognize that Temple Mount belongs to the only Jewish people. What Ayodhya Ram Mandir to Hindus, same Temple Mount to Jews."
The goal is to convince Indians that Israel is their country's best friend. Saxena has nearly 70,000 followers (and won about 5,000 new followers within six hours of Netanyahus arrival on Sunday.) He is one of the 1,861 accounts followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His tweet about Hebrew inspiring a revival of Sanskrit has been retweeted 1,275 times and liked 1,982 times. The ones about Netanyahu have been retweeted a few hundred times.
Saxena drafts his tweets on a Word document – sometimes hundreds on a given theme. "The first thing I try is to make them informative and not controversial or humorous," he says. Then he forwards them to his friends – his core team of 50 people. On a group chat, they write their views and choose hashtags.

Anshul Saxena at a pro-Israel event he organized on a south Delhi street corner, where he handed out local dishes to passersby, January 2018.
Anshul Saxena at a pro-Israel event he organized on a south Delhi street corner, where he handed out local dishes to passersby, January 2018.Manu Misra

"There are groups on Twitter, WhatsApp, social media .... Each person has 500 to 1,000 people, some are in 100 to 200 groups," he says. "Theyre all pro-Israeli as well. So ... it keeps getting forwarded and circulated on social media."
In the summer of 2015, when Modi announced plans to visit Israel, tens of thousands of people (both Israelis and Indians – largely Hindus – in India and the diaspora) celebrated India-Israel brotherhood, and condemned the Palestinians, Pakistanis and Muslims in general. There were flags, quotes and memes. #IndiaWithIsrael trended a second time within a few days when India abstained from a July vote against Israel at the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.
Over the next two years, Saxena campaigned for #WorstIranDeal (Iran Nuclear Deal is not only Threat to our friend @Israel but for the whole World, he tweeted), and #IndiaAgainstPalestinianTerror (I started it in the evening, but it failed, so I started again the next day, only then did it become successful).
Looking beyond Pakistan
In 2016, when Reuven Rivlin visited India, Saxena introduced #IndiaWelcomeIsraelPres. Last month, when the Palestinian ambassador to Pakistan was seen in a photo at a public event with Hafiz Saeed, considered the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Saxena pushed #ShameOnPalestine. All of these hashtags trended in India.
On India's social media if you're trending Israel, then it's a very big deal, Saxena says. "People are not so aware of Israel, because here in India people dont think beyond Pakistan. When I get Israel trending, I know how much hard work it takes. A lot of people, we put in their minds that were pro-Israel, and you also become a part of this, you also understand it."
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Saxena is what is called in India an internet Hindu: a vast and incalculable army of right-wing Hindu nationalists dominating the country's political discourse. Social media campaigns in India were credited with helping Modi and his Bhartiya Janta Party win the 2014 election in a landslide. These campaigns further encouraged nationalists on the Indian internet.
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Saxena denies being part of the BJP's social media efforts, or being paid for his online campaigns – which he coordinates with BJP workers. I have an attachment to Israel, and that's why I do this. I dont get anything, he says.
In the days leading up to Netanyahu's visit, he tried to find an app that could add a filter of the Indian and Israeli flags to Twitter profile photos. There wasnt enough time to merge the two, so he settled for the Israeli blue and white.
In 2014, a few months after Modi became prime minister, #IndiaWithIsrael trended on Twitter for the first time – during that years Gaza war. Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, now a BJP spokesman in Delhi, was then a famously aggressive internet Hindu. He worked on that campaign, and held a solidarity protest for Israel. Only 200 people showed up, but they made a human chain and carried banners saying India and Israel were united against terrorism.
"We thought we should give a message that Indians are in support of Israel, whatever is going on .... Whenever it comes to Kashmir, Palestine has never stood with us," Bagga says.
"If you want our support, then you should also give support in the same way. But who stands with us on the international platform? Israel. Whenever we have to fight, whenever we have a need, who gives us weapons? Israel. Who gives us technology? Israel. So as a good friend, when it stands with us, and we feel that these issues come to us in Kashmir through Pakistan, similarly Israel is also daily suffering."
Social media is occupied by Hindutva's people, adds former journalist Manoj Joshi, referring to the main form of Hindu nationalism in India. "So its very difficult to kind of make any judgment from that because they are there in great strength and they put forward their view," says Joshi, now a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
He says it's very hard to ascertain how widespread these ideas are beyond Hindu nationalists. But the similarity between Israel and India, Joshi says, is a kind of imagined similarity.
Mainstream Indians are also very affected by these majoritarian kind of ideas, he says. All they see is that Israel has fought so well, Israel has dealt with its Muslims so well, not realizing that the reality is something else. Meaning Israel is a garrison state constantly under pressure, constantly living with insecurity.
Few reporters on the ground
This preoccupation with Israel, though, is largely invisible in the world outside social media. The Indian media is notoriously insular. The only Indian correspondent in Israel is a reporter for the news agency Press Trust of India, and prominent newspapers rely on Western news agencies.
And although he thinks that there is tremendous interest in Israel among many Indians, our understanding of Israel is very limited. Even among informed people, says P.R. Kumaraswamy, a professor of Middle Eastern studies specializing in Israel at New Delhis Jawaharlal Nehru University.
But because Hindutva is dominant today, the discourse is as well – and thus limited in its understanding of Israel. "They think if the Jews can revive Hebrew, we can also revive Sanskrit," Kumaraswamy says. "Jews also have the kibbutz, but are you ready to do a kibbutz?"
Hindu nationalists have vehemently admired and supported Israel since the 1940s. But Hindutva was a very small force in the 40s, and therefore a very small number of people were arguing on those lines, he says. But today it is seen as a large discourse, so the admiration is proportionately increased.
Last month, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, wrote a piece criticizing India's vote in the UN General Assembly. He rejected India's vote that condemned Washington's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 
When I wrote that piece I was expecting to get abused as usual when I criticize this government, he says. But instead, among Hindu nationalists, Indias vote was seen as a betrayal by the government.
Nationalists tweeted to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressing their disappointment. And they also tweeted something to Netanyahu: apologies.
In recent days, the apologies have been replaced by excitement over Netanyahu's visit. Saxena has asked members of his group to change their display pictures to add #IndiaWithIsrael. Hes also putting together a video on why Israel is our best friend and why India runs away from Israel when that country is doing so much for us.
In 2009, Israel's Foreign Ministry had commissioned a survey that found that 58 percent of Indians have sympathy for Israel. The greatest level of sympathy for Israel was found in India, he says, referring to a survey of people in 13 countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, France, China and Russia. I want that in future surveys, this 58 percent turns into 90 percent.
The official hashtag for Netanyahus visit is #ShalomNamaste, combining the traditional greetings of both Hebrew and Hindi. But also trending is Saxenas #WelcomeNetanyahu, and he has also asked his followers to use #NetanyahuInIndia in tweets.
He asked his friends – those with verified accounts – to add the Israeli flag filter to their photos. Last time he checked with the filter creators, 1,030 people had added the filter (though he doesnt know how many of them are in India).
And as he promised, Saxena hosted an Israeli party on the streets in south Delhi. He handed out tea and samosas to everyone in the street, from rickshaw drivers to children. When the samosas ran out, he replaced them with khichri, a dish of rice and lentils. "The event went on for six hours," he says.

January 19, 2018

India: A people divided The communal conjuncture in Karnataka calls for more than policing.

The Indian Express

Written by Valerian Rodrigues | Updated: January 19, 2018 1:15 am 

In Mangalore, a coastal town of Karnataka, you can easily notice burkha-clad women on scooties as you see them in offices and college campuses. In the bourgeoning malls they often seem to outnumber other women. This is, more or less, the case all over south coastal Karnataka. Such public presence of Muslim women, unthinkable two decades ago, clearly reflects the arrival of a strong Muslim middles class in this region. But instead of begetting a shared public sphere, which in turn is expressed in civic ties and personal intimacies, communal troops guard the boundaries of their respective communities, spewing violence, wrenching apart friendships and intimacies, interspersed with brutal murders.
The murders themselves are generally enacted as spectacles, where a young man, at the prime of his age, is assaulted with knives and swords, and allowed to die rolling in blood, bringing down the neighbourhood on the scene, and the mobs spilling on the roads shouting vengeance. Most of these young men hail from lower middle-class backgrounds but act as footsoldiers to political outfits. The later celebrate their death for the political dividends it brings!
On January 3 this year, a young RSS activist was killed in the outskirts of Mangalore, and in retaliation a man belonging to the Muslim community, a street vendor of fast food, was killed. A couple of months ago the son of a local dry-cleaner was hacked to death and in retaliation, a rickshaw driver, belonging to another community and an activist of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) was similarly assaulted, and left to die. The latter two killings led to continued skirmishes between the communal outfits leading to charges of complicity between the BJP and the Congress. The government too went on shuffling the law and order apparatuses in this region, as a section of the police there was accused of harbouring sympathies towards the Sangh Parivar outfits.
Apart from such brutal orgies, there are young people just sacrificing themselves because the communal divide denies them options they regard as most significant in their lives. Some days ago a young girl, friendly with a local Muslim boy, in the small town of Mudigere, at the foothills of Western Ghats, committed suicide since the local Bajrang Dal storm-troopers reprimanded her and her parents that she cannot carry on with this relation. It is now normal to hear of young people of mixed communities being beaten up just because they were found together in a park or a resort in the region. Communal gangs policing inter-community ties and keeping public spaces under surveillance have had their effect: Young people are persuaded by parents and college heads, and even by their employers to stick to their community grove, although given the conditions most of the young do not persuade themselves beyond it either. While young women have to bear the brunt of the denial of options, the stand of the gangs on community-divide finds widespread endorsement in the moralistically seeped conservative setting of the region.
While coastal Karnataka does not hold a mirror to the rest of Karnataka in all respects, reinforcing the communal divide and guarding its boundaries is a self-assigned task that communal outfits have taken on all over the state. Any attempt to highlight shared bonds across communal divide, or defend the option of members of communities to define themselves differently, or to argue the case that all members of the society, irrespective of their segmented belonging, share thick sets of interests, concerns and striving in common has increasingly become difficult. M.M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh recently paid with their lives for trespassing these boundaries. As Karnataka is drawing closer to state elections, the response from the two major players on the scene has already been laid out: Dividing the people into Hindu and anti-Hindu, BJP leaders have termed Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the mascot of the Congress in the state, anti-Hindu and patron of terrorist outfits. The BJP’s social base in the state is made of assorted sections of urban middles classes and upper castes, sections of the rural elite threatened by the rise of the socially and economically lower strata, sections of the dominant castes, proponents of a stronger Hindu identity, and the service sector such as hotel industry, petty shops, and small enterprises, mainly in the hands of upwardly mobile rural castes.
It has also established considerable hold on the burgeoning private educational institutions in the state. The large corporate sector is either divided or yet to take a stance. The term Hindu is going to be given much symbolic and rhetorical flourish in the next three months. While such an invocation will surely harden the community divide, its electoral dividends are doubtful, given the way the Congress, and Siddaramaiah himself, have positioned themselves in the state.
Unlike in the past, the Congress has succeeded in assuaging the cleavages within Dalits in Karnataka and has been generous to the shrines and mutts of the backward castes. The communal divide makes the Congress a better option for Muslims compared to the Janata Dal(S) or fringe outfits such as the SDPI. By covertly supporting the Lingayat claim to a separate religion, and making Basava the reigning icon of the state, Siddaramaiah has tried to reach out to the egalitarian legacies of a deeply plural state. It is understandable why Siddaramaiah has been marked out as their number one target by the BJP already.
While the strategy of the BJP is least prone to bridge the communal divide in the state and is likely to exacerbate it further, it is very unlikely that it can hold the fort through stronghand methods. Such an approach is likely to strengthen extremist elements such as the Popular Front of India, face of political Islam in South India, and the SDPI. Christians in the state too harbour strong memories of attack on churches during the previous stint of BJP rule. The Congress, however, has no clue how it can make communities which are increasingly barricading themselves to speak to one another. In the last two years it has only succeeded in containing the spread of the communal virus by employing the law and order machinery. The present conjuncture calls for something more: Perhaps, a politics plus.
The writer is currently Ambedkar Chair, Ambedkar University, Delhi

India: Communal propaganda campaign by Bajrang Dal in South Karnataka

Sabrang India - January 18, 2018
Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: January 18, 2018
Pamphets that are incendiary are paying havoc in this communally sensitive area

Image Courtesy: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times

The Hindustan Times reports that the Bajrang Dal’s campaign follows a month’s unease in Karnataka over a spate of murders, many of which polarised opinion amid a rush to claim the slain people were Hindutva activists

Shop keepers, young boys, children avidly read this un-reliable and incendiary material that carried the name of Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). The pamphlets reportedly state: “Hindu girls, beware... it is not love, but jihad.” Clutching the pamphlet, Surana said, “It has to be true. We have heard about these cases in Kerala.” Splattered across the pamphlet was the image of a woman behind a veil, behind prison bars, blood flowing from her eyes. Alarm and insecurity pervades as ordinary people are made to feel panic at this kind of material. So far no action has been initiated by the police.

Such materials are key for communal polarisation which is part of the ‘outreach initiative’ of the Bajrang Dal’s 15-day campaign against “love jihad”, a term that is seen to have emerged from fringe Hindutva outfits to describe cases of what they portray as coercive marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women. In fact, such campaigns are attacks on free choice and women acting as individuals with liberty. The campaign started on January 3 and the wheels are turning full speed.

The attitude of India’s higher courts feeds into propaganda. “The fact that the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into love jihad (alluding to the marriage of Hadiya Shefin, born Akhila Ashokan, to Shafin Jahan) proves there is a strategy to lure Hindu women and use them for jihad,” said Sharan Pumpwell, Bajrang Dal’s Karnataka secretary. “It’s not that we are against love, even inter-faith. We are only saying women should be careful that they are not used for jihad.”

The Bajrang Dal is feeding on festering communal tensions. The Bajrang Dal’s campaign follows at least a month’s unease in Karnataka over a spate of murders, many of which polarised opinion amid a rush to claim the slain people were Hindutva activists. When the victims were Muslims, similar claims emerged from fringe Muslim bodies.

For instance, after 18-year-old Paresh Mesta’s body was found in a lake in Honnavar in Uttara Kannada district on December 8 last year, BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje alleged the teenager was murdered because he was a Hindu activist. Karandlaje, Lok Sabha MP for Udupi Chikmagalur, also alleged that Mesta’s body was mutilated and set on fire.

In response to a police questionnaire, a doctor who examined Mesta’s body said it was not mutilated or set on fire. Mesta’s father later said his son was not affiliated with any organisation.Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, a member of social activism group Komu Sauharda Vedike (Communal Harmony Forum), believes there is a strategy at play in the aftermath of every killing to give it a ‘jihadi’ tinge. “Mere polarisation against Muslims is no longer working. This is why there is an emphasis on jihadis.”

On the “love jihad” campaign, Bakrabail said it was a departure only of degrees, not kind. “So-called moral policing has been around for years. It is only the term love jihad that is new.”

Muneer Katipalla, president of the state unit of the Democratic Youth Federation of India, said Hindutva organisations had been successful in mobilising lower caste Hindu youth against an affluent section of Muslims in the district. “The two biggest malls in Mangaluru city are owned by Muslims. This affluence, and the alleged ‘stealing’ of Hindu girls, has been a very successful source of mobilisation among youth.”

However the activities of the Popular front of India (PFI) have added fuel to the proverbial fire. According to Katipalla, the rise of fringe Hindutva organisations has meant the proliferation of PFI, an Islamist outfit.

Abdul Razak Kemmar, PFI’s state secretary, dismissed talk of their “covert” acts. He said the problem with “love jihad” was more Muslim women married Hindu men than the other way around. “What do we call that?” Kemmar offered no evidence to support his claim.PFI and the Bajrang Dal leaders insisted they only spread awareness, but members of both organisations are charged in the murders of rivals.

Kemmar said even if PFI members were implicated in acts of violence, these were personal issues and not a conspiracy hatched by the organisation. This was a line Pumpwell also used.While Katipalla, Umar and Bakrabail said common people in Mangaluru yearned for peace, PFI and the Sangh organisations laid the responsibility for ensuring this on each other’s doorstep.
“We too want peace, and it will come. But only after they leave our cows and women alone,” said Pumpwell.

Dakshina Kannada: Constantly on the simmer
  • Communal polarisation in the district can be traced back to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, according to Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of Komu Sauharda Vedike
  • Since then, the district has had three big riots – in 1992, 1999 and 2007
  • Murders and revenge killings keep the district on the edge
  • One of the flashpoints was in 2017. On June 21, suspected Hindutva activists murdered Ashraf Kalayi, a leader of Social Democratic Party of India, the political wing of the PFI. Two weeks later, RSS activist Sharath Madivala was stabbed. He succumbed to injuries on July 7. A PFI leader is the prime accused in the Madivala murder case
  • Moral policing in Mangaluru hit national headlines in 2009 after members of the Sri Rama Sene, a fringe organisation headed by Pramod Muthalik, beat up women for entering a bar
  • On January 2 this year, three Hindu Jagarana Vedike members were arrested on charges of assaulting two girls, a Hindu and a Christian, who had gone with Muslim male friends to a Mangaluru amusement park.

India: In Adityanath ruled UP, Police unable to control Hindu Yuva Vahini


In Adityanath's UP, can cops ever catch up with Hindu Yuva Vahini

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 15 January 2018, 19:18 IST

The cost of the frenzy that the Sangh Parivar has stirred over inter-faith marriages in India is going up with every passing month. Close on the heels of the Supreme Court's unequivocal assertion that adults can make their own choices, a shameful incident in Uttar Pradesh has shown that the Parivar and its outfits are not ready to back down.

Members of Hindu Yuva Vahini and Vishwa Hindu Parishad reportedly thrashed three Muslim men in the premises of a court in Baghpat, accusing them of 'love jihad'.

'Love jihad' is a concept invented by the Parivar's proponents to malign inter-faith marriages in the country and essentially further their Islamophobic politics. In pursuance of this ghost they have conjured, members of the Parivar do not care that they are assaulting the rule of law in the country, and on not one but multiple counts.

In the latest incident, these men had reportedly approached an advocate in Baghpat to help one of them in getting married to a Hindu woman. The adult couple had fled Punjab and had gone to UP because they were finding it problematic to get married in Punjab, the woman's home-state.

Inter-faith couples in India often face such situations when their families do not support their relationship. In this case too, the girl's family was reportedly hostile to this relationship and filed an abduction case against the man with Punjab Police.

Keeping the case in mind, UP Police handed the couple over to Punjab Police, but only after failing in their duty to protect the couple from harm. A video circulating on social media clearly shows some men thrashing the Muslim men even as policemen are escorting them to a police vehicle.

Baghpat Superintendent of Police Jai Prakash confirmed that the assailants had barged into the chambers of the advocate whom the couple were consulting and started beating the man.

Baghpat district president of Hindu Yuva Vahini, Nitin Chaudhary, and Baghpat city president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Vicky Chaudhary, reportedly admitted that they were indeed present at the spot. Nitin Chaudhary denied allegations of assault but asserted that the man who was thrashed was “trying to fool the girl by marrying her as a part of his 'love jihad' scheme and also had plans to sell the girl for Rs 50,000.”

One can understand that UP Police was duty-bound to hand the couple over to Punjab Police because of the abduction case but what doesn't make sense is the apparent pussy-footing in dealing with the lumpen elements who thrashed the Muslim men.

Baghpat SP said a complaint was taken from the couple and a case for assault was registered, but against unidentified persons. UP Police must first explain how is it that the men belonging to the said radical outfits succeeded in laying their hands on the men in police's presence?

Second, when everything happened in front of the police, why has the case been filed against “unidentified persons”? Additionally, the alleged assailants are well-known faces locally. Why is the UP Police hesitating from identifying them?

These men are guilty of not only interfering in a private matter concerning adults but also of taking the law into their own hands and indulging in violence. They should immediately be apprehended and strict action should be taken against them. Why is the UP Police not showing promptness in this case?

Is it because none other than the present Chief Minister of the state, Yogi Adityanath, is himself a proponent of the concept of 'love jihad'? It is well-known that he has invoked the term repeatedly and has used it to cultivate his image as a Hindutva hardliner.

Is it because the CM himself heads the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the organisation whose men were at the forefront of this attack? While UP Police will have to answer these questions, it is incumbent upon Adityanath himself to say if he approves of this act by the outfit he heads. Will police ever be able to hold the Vahini accountable till the CM is its head?

Edited by Joyjeet Das
First published: 15 January 2018, 19:18 IST

Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.

January 18, 2018

India: Anti-outsider Assam Agitation of the early 1980s - Are illegal Bangladeshi migrants responsible for increase in Assam's Muslim population? Two part report by Ajaz Ashraf


Revisiting Assam Agitation

Fact check: Are illegal Bangladeshi migrants responsible for increase in Assam's Muslim population?

As National Register of Citizens is updated to identify illegal immigrants, a former statistics professor’s book busts a few myths about the state’s demography.

Census reports have long been a pivot of Assam’s politics, spawning anxiety among its people that “unabated infiltration” from Bangladesh would endanger their cultural identity. It is claimed that the influx from the neighbouring nation is why Muslims have grown from being 24.68% of the state’s population in 1951 to 28.43% in 1991 and 34.22% in 2011.
It is a myth that Infiltration: Genesis of Assam Movement busts conclusively. The book, published last year, is written by Abdul Mannan, former professor of statistics at Gauhati University. He concludes that Assam’s Muslim population has increased because of the community’s high birth rate and not because of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Illegal immigrants in Assam are estimated to number between 16 lakh and 84 lakh, in a total population of 3.12 crore according to the 2011 Census.
Discussing Mannan’s findings in a recent article in the Economic and Political Weekly, the political scientist Akhil Ranjan Dutta wrote:
“Successive censuses have proved, as Abdul Mannan has established using extensive data in his recent book on immigration in Assam, that birth rates among Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, and Christians in Assam had been even higher than among Muslims during 1971-91. This was due to the backwardness of these communities in all dimensions of development.”  
But that is getting ahead of the story.
In the 1950s and 1960s, successive Congress governments expelled lakhs of Bengali Muslims from Assam on the ground that they were illegal infiltrators from what was then East Pakistan. It was not until Bangladesh became an independent country in 1971, however, that popular anger against the so-called foreigners acquired intensity. Bangladeshi Muslims were perceived to be flooding into Assam through the porous border to escape poverty.
By 1979-80, the All Assam Students Union was spearheading the anti-foreigner movement, cashing in on wild estimates of the number of Bangladeshi immigrants to gain wide support. One estimate numbered the Bangladeshis at 45% of Assam’s estimated population of 1.6 crore in 1981. Such claims were hard to refute, not least because the 1981 Census could not be conducted owing to the Assam agitation, then at its peak.
In 1991, the Census reported that Muslims were 28.43% of Assam’s population, up from 24.56% in 1971. Several publications interpreted these figures to reach an alarming conclusion: Bangladeshis were demographically colonising Assam.

For instance, Asam Bani, a popular weekly, claimed in its August 18, 1994 edition that 16 lakh Bangladeshis had entered Assam between 1971 and 1991. Who were they? Muslims, Asam Bani declared, after analysing the Census data. Since Hindus had a growth rate of 41.89% in 1971-1991 and Muslims 77.42%, the weekly argued that the excess growth rate of Muslims was primarily because of the Bangladeshis.
It further argued that had the influx from Bangladesh been negligible, the growth rate of Muslims would not have exceeded 45%. Why? It did not offer a reason. Still, such claims became common sense in Assam.
It is this common sense that Mannan challenges: the rise in Assam’s Muslim population was not unusual and it was not a consequence of immigration from Bangladesh. After all, the all-India growth rate of Muslims between 1971 and 1991 was 71.47%, just a little lower than the 77.42% that the Muslims of Assam clocked in the same period.

More significantly, the growth rate of Assam’s Muslims in 1971-1991 compared favourably with the community’s growth rate in states such as Uttar Pradesh (76.30%), West Bengal (77.32%), Madhya Pradesh (80.76%), Rajasthan (98.29%), Tripura (89%), Punjab (110.32%) and Himachal Pradesh (77.64%). Barring Punjab, all these states have always had sizeable Muslim populations.
In this context, Mannan asks a crucial question: “If it is assumed that the high growth rate among Muslims in Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana is due to the migration of Muslim workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam or West Bengal, then how would we explain the high growth rate in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and West Bengal?”
Certainly not on account of Bangladeshi infiltrators, with West Bengal perhaps being the exception.
The growth rate of Hindus (41.89%) in Assam in 1971-1991 was indeed much lower than that of Muslims (77.42%). But parsing this low growth rate throws up a story: Assam’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes grew at a higher rate than even Muslims – Scheduled Castes at 81.84% and Scheduled Tribes at 78.91%.
The high growth rate of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes too is not unique to Assam. As Table 2 shows, the growth rate of Scheduled Castes was far higher than that of Hindus generally in most states. In fact, Scheduled Castes in Andhra Pradesh (83.43%), Maharashtra (189.44%) and Karnataka (91.41%) grew at a higher rate than in Assam. The growth rate of Scheduled Tribes followed similar trends as Table 2 shows. (Remember that Scheduled Tribes, unlike Scheduled Castes, are more concentrated in some states.)
Referring to these trends, Mannan asks: Is the higher growth rate among Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes linked to poverty, illiteracy and social backwardness?
He proceeds to answer this question through another statistical comparison. Table 3 shows the growth rates of various communities in each of Assam’s 23 districts between 1971 and 1991. (There are now 33 districts). The growth rate of the Scheduled Castes is higher than that of Muslims in 10 districts. In eight districts, the Scheduled Tribes outstrip the growth rate of Muslims.

Significantly, Mannan compares the growth rates of Muslims in Upper Assam and Lower Assam in this period. This is because Muslims in Upper Assam are largely of indigenous origin while Lower Assam is home to Muslims of Bengali origin. The latter are not infiltrators. They are descendants of Bengali Muslim peasants settled by the British in marshy and riverine areas of Assam to boost agriculture. Some also migrated voluntarily in search of livelihood, but, in undivided India, they were just moving from one part of the country to another.
Assam’s districts have been repeatedly divided to create new ones, leading to a peculiar trend in Dhemaji. When this district was carved out of Lakhimpur in 1989, a large number of Muslims moved to the latter for reasons of livelihood. Dhemaji thus registered a negative growth rate for Muslims, as Table 3, prepared soon after the new district was created, shows.
In 2011, Hindus comprised 95.47% of Dhemaji’s population and Muslims just 1.96%. “Dhemaji’s Muslim population was low even in 1987,” Mannan told Scroll.in. “The migration of Muslims brought down the population sharply and led to the community’s growth rate being negative. But the growth rate of Muslims in Dhemaji in 2001-2011 crawled up to 20%.”
Leave out Dhemaji as an anomaly then. In all other districts of Upper Assam except Jorhat and Sibsagar (now Sivasagar), the growth rate of Muslims was over 68%. In Jorhat, it was 60.80% and in Sibsagar 59.01%.
What Jorhat and Sibsagar have in common is a high literacy rate. In 1991, it was 65.89% for Jorhat and 64.84% for Sibsagar, much higher than the state average of 52.89%. The high literacy rates are a consequence of their relative prosperity – a large number of Assam’s tea gardens and oil fields are concentrated in these two districts, and they hum with business.
Literacy and prosperity translated, not surprisingly, in the low growth rate of Hindus in Jorhat (33.54%) and Sibsagar (35.91%). But why was the growth rate of Muslims still substantially higher than that of Hindus in the two districts? “The reason may be the social backwardness and relative poverty among Muslims,” Mannan suggests.
He also points out another statistical peculiarity: “If those who say Bangladeshi immigrants have ballooned the population of Muslims in Lower Assam, then how would they explain their high growth rate in the districts of Tinsukia (89.56%), Golaghat (97.24%) and Dibrugarh (68.43%), which are in Upper Assam, where the presence of migrant Muslims is negligible?”
Mannan then turns the spotlight on Table 4, based on the Census figures of 2001 and 2011. It shows that districts with a growth rate of 21% and above also have a high percentage of Muslims. What explains this phenomenon? Mannan chooses two districts – Jorhat and Dhubri – for comparison. In 2001-2011, Dhubri registered the highest growth rate (24.4%) among all districts of Assam. By contrast, Jorhat clocked the lowest growth rate of 9.3%.

This gulf between the population growth rates was mirrored in other social indicators. Dhubri had an infant mortality rate of 72 in 2011 as against Jorhat’s 57. In Dhubri, there was a doctor for every 10,844 people as compared to one for every 7,189 people in Jorhat. Dhubri’s literacy rate of 48.21% was far behind Jorhat’s 76.21%. There was one lower primary school for every 1,129 people in Dhubri as against one for every 638 people in Jorhat. Dhubri had a bank branch for every 29,239 people while Jorhat had one for every 11,355 people. The per capita loan disbursal in Jorhat was three times more than Dhubri’s.
It is truism in demographic studies that population explosion is a consequence of poverty, illiteracy, insufficient health and sanitation services, and a sluggish economy. “This is precisely true of Assam too,” Mannan writes.
Indeed, many foot soldiers of the Assam agitation have veered around to thinking that the presence of Bangladeshi Muslims is not as high as was previously believed. One of them is popular TV anchor and author of Assam After Independence Mrinal Talukdar. In his college days, he was deeply engaged with the All Assam Students Union’s movement. “During those days I believed Bangladeshi Muslims had a substantial presence in Assam,” Talukdar told Scroll.in. “I have a neutral position on the issue now. I am willing to go by whatever number the National Register of Citizens throws up.”
Mannan says he is certain that if the ongoing exercise to update the National Register of Citizens is carried out honestly, Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam will be counted in thousands, not in lakhs.
Regardless of how many Bangladeshi Muslims the National Register of Citizens identifies, there is no denying that the truth about Assam’s demography was sacrificed on the altar of politics. It seems spurious theories about Bangladeshi Muslims were spun not out of ignorance, but with intent. In this, two Assam police officers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh played a crucial role. The RSS deftly turned the All Assam Students Union’s movement against outsiders, that is, Indians from other states, into one against foreigners, that is, Bangladeshi Muslims.
The second part of this series will look at how the two police officers and the RSS changed the course of the Assam movement.
This is the first part of a two-part series.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi.

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scroll.in - 18 January 2018

Revisiting Assam Agitation

How two police officers and RSS changed the script of the Assam agitation against outsiders in 1980s

When it started in 1979, All Assam Students Union’s stir was against Indians from other states, but it soon morphed into a movement against Muslim immigrants.

In 1979, the All Assam Students Union launched a mass agitation to evict outsiders. By outsiders, the union’s leaders meant Indians from elsewhere who were perceived to control Assam’s economy. In a few months, though, they changed tack and started railing against foreigners, specifically illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
This alteration in the course of the agitation has long been ascribed to the union’s leaders realising that the Assamese people were bothered more about Bangladeshi migrants than Indians from other states. Abdul Mannan turns this thesis on its head. He shows the change came about in no small measure because of the efforts of two senior police officers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In his book Infiltration: Genesis of Assam Movement, published last year, the former professor of statistics at Gauhati University cites the forgotten memoir of one of the officers to show how they courted the union’s leaders and persuaded them to redirect popular anger towards Bangladeshi immigrants.
The officers were Hiranya Kumar Bhattacharyya and Premkanta Mahanta. The memoir Mannan draws on is Rajbhaganar Para Kal Thokalaike – the title roughly translates as “from dethronement to the plantain grove” – which Mahanta wrote and self-published in 1994. His intention behind writing it, Mahanta stated, was “to help historians with some truths” that might be forgotten.
Mahanta’s story begins in 1978, the year Golap Borbora’s Janata Party swept the Congress from power in Assam. The Janata Party was a medley of organisations, including the Jana Sangh, which would be rechristened the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980.
On October 1, 1978, the new government appointed Deputy Inspector General of Police Bhattacharyya to head the Border Police Division. It was a historic “historic event for Assam”, Mahanta writes in his memoir, as was his own appointment in the same division the following February.
Mahanta’s was not a routine transfer. He claims that Bhattacharyya “zealously…got me transferred from the post of Head of the Police Training Camp to that of the SP of the Border Police Division”.
By then, Bhattacharyya had already started identifying and expelling Bangladeshi migrants, Muslim and Hindu, from Nalapara, Mangaldoi and Tamulpur in Rangia, kicking off a political storm, Mahanta writes. “I affirm that...the six-year-long Assam movement [1979 to 1985] would not have taken place if we hadn’t come together at this point,” he says.
In March 1979, about a month after Mahanta joined the Border Police Division, the All Assam Students Union held a conference in Sibsagar, now Sivasagar, where Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was elected its president and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan the general secretary. The conference, Mannan notes, adopted 21 resolutions, one of which spoke of the “menace posed to the existence of the Assamese by the outsiders who controlled Assam’s economy”. The idea of Bangladeshi immigrants threatening the state’s cultural identity had not yet been formulated.

Fuelling the fire

That same month, Hiralal Patowari, MP from Mangaldoi, died, necessitating a bye-election. On April 27, 1979, the customary notice to revise the electoral rolls went out in Mangaldoi. The two police officers feared that Bangladeshi immigrants would try to get their names on the rolls – and use it to claim citizenship. To thwart them, Mahanta thought of sending a Border Police Division officer with every Registrar of Voters. The problem was, Bhattacharyya pointed out, there was not sufficient time to train them for such a task.
Bhattacharyya had another idea. He persuaded Chief Secretary RS Paramasivam to ask Chief Election Commissioner SL Shakdhar for more time to revise the roll. Shakdhar gave them an extra week. But instead of trying to prevent Bangladeshi migrants from enrolling as voters, Mahanta writes, Bhattacharyya “came up with the idea that since more time was granted, the names of foreign nationals on the rolls of 1978 might also be struck off.”
This was a cumbersome process. The rules demanded that for a name to be removed from a particular electoral register, a voter from that polling booth must submit a complaint in a form costing 10 paise and another voter from the same booth must second the complaint. Bhattacharyya and Mahanta figured that mobilising public opinion was the only way to achieve their goal, and they launched a publicity blitz. The media began tracking the identification process.
Next, Mahanta suggested that they should rope in leaders who could sway public opinion on the matter. So, Bhattacharyya hosted Purbanchaliya Loka Parishad’s Nibaran Bora and Asam Jatiyatabadi Dal’s Nagen Hazirka for dinner. Both were known to Mahanta from school. The memoir does not disclose what they discussed over dinner other than that they decided to focus on the students union leaders.
“Almost about the same time in March, the news of Sri Prafulla Kumar Mahanta being elected as president and Shri Bhrigu Phukan being elected as general secretary of the All Assam Students Union…was published,” Mahanta writes. “The 21-Point Charter of the AASU carried in it a significant point of the alarming proportion of the unbridled influx of outsiders into Assam. At our suggestion, the two student leaders were brought from their University hostels in order to drive home to them the problem caused by foreign nationals…We provided them with adequate data and information. Thenceforth, they agreed to give priority to the issue of foreign nationals and deletion of their names from voters’ list.”
Mahanta does not identify who organised his and Bhattacharyya’s meeting with the student leaders.
The two officers were successful in achieving their objective: at its executive meeting on May 23, 1979, the students union adopted a resolution calling for a 12-hour state-wide bandh the next month to press for the expulsion of “Bangladeshi infiltrators”.
In the meantime, as names started being struck off voter lists in Mangaldoi, Congress leaders complained to the Election Commission that “police had been hatching a conspiracy by indicting genuine Indian citizens as foreigners”, Mahanta recalls. The commission ordered a halt to the deportation of allegedly illegal migrants and deletion of their names from the electoral rolls. By then, however, complaints had been received about 47,658 voters and 36,780 of them had been identified as foreigners, Mahanta notes.
Mahanta, despite his candour, does not mention what became of these thousands of people identified as foreigners, Manan points out. “Were they driven out of Assam?” he asks. “Or is it that they are still in Assam? What is the status of their citizenship?”
All Assam Students Union leaders meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Photo via archive.is/txIiq
All Assam Students Union leaders meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Photo via archive.is/txIiq

A cause transformed

The controversy over Mangaldoi’s electoral rolls became a lightning rod for the Assam agitation. Successive governments fell, and the students union’s war cry was now “three Ds” – detection of Bangladeshi immigrants, deletion of their names from voter lists, and their deportation. Assam went into shutdown for nearly a year.
In April 1980, Union Home Minister Giani Singh visited Assam to try and break the impasse. This was followed by a midnight call from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Governor LP Singh, asking whether December 31, 1965 as the cutoff date for identifying foreigners – anyone who could not prove they had lived in Assam before that date would be deemed a foreigner and expelled – would be acceptable to the people. It was not to the political leadership the governor turned to.
“The governor called Bhattacharyya and wanted to know if the student leaders would accept the proposal,” Mahanta writes in his memoir. “Bhattacharyya with certainty assured the governor that it would be accepted.” Clearly, the governor was well aware of Bhattacharyya’s relationship with the student leaders.
Bhattacharyya immediately went to Mahanta’s residence. “We were overjoyed, sensing the possibility of such a great success,” Mahanta recalls. “With rapture and passion we awaited the sun to rise. That night we imagined a bunch of thoughts and ambitious plans. Rented buildings of the Maruwari, where the office of the Border Police Division was housed whence the foreigners expulsion movement originated, we will purchase that and construct a memorial there.”
Of their own role in the movement, Mahanta declares, “If we two had not come together, the movement called ‘Assam movement’ would not have happened. I repeat it would not have happened.”
In 1981, Bhattacharyya was dismissed from service and imprisoned for a year under the National Security Act for his involvement in the Assam agitation. Subsequently, the Supreme Court set aside his dismissal and granted him post-retirement benefits.
But did the two police officers act out of their own conviction? Or were they merely puppets whose strings someone else pulled?

In the shadows

In those days, Bhattacharyya came across as an enigmatic personality. When the journalist Chaitanya Kalbag, then at India Today magazine, met Bhattacharyya in 1983, he lived in a luxurious house bizarrely called Wilderness. To Kalbag, Bhattacharyya cavilled against people who believed the Assam agitation against foreigners was communal. After Mangaldoi, Bhattacharyya claimed, 55% of the 5.8 lakh foreigners he had helped detect were Hindu.
Bhattacharyya was also vehemently opposed to communists. “Every Hindu [Bangladeshi] means a vote for the communists,” he told Kalbag. “The entire Brahmaputra valley, once an oasis of nationalism in this desert of insurgency, is surrounded by Marxist expansionists and Bengali cultural expansionists.”
Mannan believes Bhattacharyya and Mahanta were deeply influenced by the ideology of the RSS, which, alarmed at the Left’s growing clout in Assam, was willing to raise the spectre of “global multinational neo-imperialist forces”. Not only had the Left won 24 seats in the 1978 Assembly election, it was “ruling the roost” in the universities. The RSS wanted to smother its ideological rival in Assam, says Mannan.
In his book, Mannan quotes leaders of the RSS, the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad, the name the All Assam Students Union adopted to fight elections, to establish that the Hindutva forces were deeply involved in the Assam movement. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked there during those stormy years. “A well-known [former] BJP state president also revealed in one of his private conversations [to him] that during the Assam agitation, Narendra Modi used to move about as a pillion rider behind him on his scooter in many places in Guwahati,” Mannan writes.
But was it really the RSS that shifted the focus of the Assam agitation from Indian outsiders to illegal Bangladeshis? Yes, declares The Last Battle of Saraighat: The story of the BJP’s rise in the North-east by Rajat Sethi and Shubhrastha. The book’s foreword is by RSS leader and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. The book identifies Shubhrastha to be working with Madhav’s office and Sethi as the political adviser of Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who left the Congress for the BJP in 2016. Considering such credentials of its authors, the Last Battle of Saraighat should be treated as an authoritative voice from the Sangh Parivar.
“RSS first transformed the agitation from being anti-bahirgat to being an anti-videshi movement,” Sethi and Shubhrastha write, using the Assamese expressions for outsider and foreigner. “In gradual course of time, the sentiments were further directed against the immigrant Bangladeshis and later against the Bangladeshi Muslims.”
It was precisely the trajectory the Assam movement took.
The transformation of the Assam movement into a communal enterprise happened in 1980, as Mahanta’s memoir and Mannan’s book show. The timeline provided in The Last Battle of Saraighat confirms this. “After a series of meetings, in 1980, the RSS stated its opinion that Hindus were sharanarthis (asylum seekers) and Muslims were anupraveshkaaris (infiltrators),” Sethi and Shubhrastha write. In this view, the Hindus had fled Bangladesh to escape religious persecution while the Muslims had slipped into Assam in search of better economic opportunities.
“Therefore, RSS cleverly delineated its position on the Bangladeshi migration issue,” Sethi and Shubhrastha write. “It took a severe position against the Muslim migrants, articulating its idea of selective protection to Hindu migrants in Assam.” In doing so, the RSS preyed upon the fear of Bangladeshi Muslims demographically colonising Assam. The fear was insidiously exaggerated, as the first part of this series shows.
The popular TV anchor and author of Assam After Independence Mrinal Talukdar was a foot soldier of the Assam agitation. “It has always been an article of faith in Left circles that the Assam movement was a CIA project called Brahmaputra,” he said. “The theory is that the Left had gained West Bengal and Tripura and Assam was in its crosshairs. The Left had to be checked. Obviously, it is just a theory, but there is no doubt that subnationalism killed the Left in Assam. In hindsight, there is a case for saying that the Assam movement was hijacked.”
The Left was indeed killed in Assam, but so were many people for a cause that was framed differently from how it had been conceived.
This is the second part of a two-part series.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi.