Sunday, 29 April 2018

Immigration and demographic transformation of Assam

Susanta Krishna Dass studied the problem of immigration and demographic transformation of Assam and published a paper with the findings that:

(1) Since 1951, the rate of increase of Assam's population has been much higher than that of the country as a whole or of any state or province. But unlike in other states, this heavy increase has been due to (a) an acceleration of the natural rate of increase; (b) influx of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan; and (c) heavier migration of Indians from the rest of the country.

(2) The tremendous swelling in the number of the, Assamese speaking population during 1911-31 as a consequence of people belonging to other language groups adopting Assamese language is a unique instance of its kind.

(3) Apprehensions about the infiltration of Bangladeshi or East Pakistani Muslims into Assam appear not to be supported by facts. The fact is that while it was mainly the Bengali Muslims, motivated by economic as well as political factors, who migrated to Assam between 1891 and 1947, such migration as has taken place' since 1947, almost entirely due to political reasons, has been of Bengali Hindus.

On the specific problem of Muslim infiltration he had to say:

There is a general and widely held apprehension, both in Assam and in the rest of the country, about 'Muslim infiltration' in the state. "The frustration is further fueled by fears that in the not too distant future, they may be swamped by 'foreign nationals', mostly Muslims from Bangladesh". It is presumed that such Muslim 'infiltrators' into Assam got assimilated with the Assamese speaking population following the practice of their predecessors.

If this presumption is correct, two things must follow. First, being an addition to the bonafide Muslim, nationals living in Assam, and given their natural rate of increase which is generally higher than that of the Hindus, there should have been a steep rise in the Muslim population of Assam, at least at a rate higher than that of the Muslim population in the rest of the country. Secondly, since these are supposed to have adopted Assamese, there should have been an equally steep hike in the Assamese speaking population. It has been found above that between 1951-71, there was no hike in the Assamese speaking population and the rate of increase was quite normal in the decade 1961-71. This part of the presumption is thus not tenable.

Table 9 presents the distribution of Assam's population by religion, all other conditions remaining same as those of Table 7. The Table shows that between 1951-71, Muslim population of Assam varied almost at par with its Hindu counterpart. There was no hike. This is further confirmed by the fact that during the decade 1961-71, the Muslim population declined by --0.74 per cent of the total population of the state, the link relative rate of variation also being lower than that for the Hindus and the Christians. This, along with the slow natural rate of increase of the Assamese speaking population, shows that the apprehension of 'infiltration' of 'Bengali Muslims' between 1951-71 is not statistically
valid. An interesting corroborating factor that emerges out of Table 9 is that other than between 1911-31, the increase of the Muslim population was never higher than that of its Hindu counterpart. This tallies with the huge immigration of Bengali Muslim cultivators
that took place between 1911-31.

When the distribution of population by religion of Assam for the decade 1961-71 is compared with that of India, it is found that (i) the Hindu population of India as percentage of total population declined during this period by --0.78 per cent while that of Assam increased by 1.18 per cent; (ii) the Muslim population of India went up by 0.50 per cent while that of Assam declined by --0.74 per cent; (iii) the Christian population of Assam increased at a faster rate than that of India and (iv) rate of increase was lowest for the Muslims of Assam compared to the Hindus and the Christians. All these are evident from Table 10.

These lower figures for the Muslim population of Assam in all respects compared to those for the Indian Muslims also confirms that apprehensions about 'infiltration' of 'Bangladeshi Muslims' are not factually tenable. This also reveals that since the people opting for adoption, namely, the Bengali Muslims, have become scarce, the Assamese language has failed to swell since 1951.

Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 15, No. 19 (May 10, 1980), pp. 850-859

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