Mainstream, VOL LIV No 22 New Delhi May 21, 2016
Spectre of Influx
Monday 23 May 2016
by Samit Kar
India is now witnessing Assembly elections in five States covering the vast expanse of the country. Of the five States where new governments are to be formed subsequent to the poll, West Bengal is now under a very long election process having seven parts. This shows how the State is now reeling under a depressing law and order condition. Never in the history of electioneering in a State of our country had this experience of the conduct of election segregated in so many parts for security reason. The major cause of the worrying law and order situation in West Bengal seems to be a fallout of the incessant influx from neighbouring countries, especially Bangladesh, leading to tremendous overcrowding of urban and rural locale, especially in the bordering districts.
The problem of influx from the other part of Bengal is ageold—having a legacy of over 100 years. The partition of Bengal happened in 1905 and the Congress Party, led by rich landlords, money-lenders and beneficiaries of colonial rule, was formed in 1886. The Permanent Settlement Act was enacted by then Governor General of Bengal, Lord Cornwallis, in 1793 covering Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and parts of north Madras. Though the colonial historians, both of European and native origin, had relentlessly subscribed to the thesis of the partiton of Bengal as the handiwork of the infamous British policy of ‘divide and rule‘, the introduction of the Zamindari System as the byproduct of the Act of 1793 had butchered the communal amity of Bengal to a very significant extent.
The severe casualty of the relationship between the Hindus and Muslims was largely due to the burgeoning huge divide, which, became ostensible between these two communities in terms of the emerging pattern of agricultural land ownership. Many of the big landowners and rich countrymen were seen to be belonging to the Hindu community whereas the Muslims occupied the lower strata of society indulging in derogotary occupations to earn their living. This emerging economic divide between the Hindus and Muslims since the beginning of the 19th century had led to the gradual growth of mistrust between them, which eventually took the ugly form of severe animosity and hatred.
There can be hardly any denial that the unscrupulous alien rulers did extract this growing dissension between the Hindus and Muslims to the fullest extent in order to reap the highest possible dividend. Thus, there is hardly any scope to say that the British rule was anything but pious and certainly not ‘a beacon of modern civilisation’ as it was claimed by some colonial history-writers. However, it may appear unfair if one fails to remember the glorious contribution of some foreigners of British and European origin like Henry Derozio, David Hare, William Jones, William Cearey, J.D. Bethune, Rev. James Long, Sister Nivedita in the annals of Bengal. The demand to partition Bengal was originally raised by the rich Muslim landlords, mostly settled in Dhaka and adjoining areas, and this was known to be wholeheartedly supported by the Muslim community as they began to smell a rat in the wake of the formation of the rich Hindu-led Congress Party in 1886. The beginning of the British era had significantly impacted to make a section of the Bengali Hindus own large landed estates at their expense. The Muslims began to earn their living by selling their labour by working as landless agricultural labourers or at best small peasants. After the formation of the Congress Party, the Muslims began to apprehend that henceforth the unquestionable economic dominance of the Bengali Hindus may be well extended to the political realm in league with the dishonest British administrators.
The relationship of estrangement between the Hindus and Muslims began to slowly yet steadily increase since 1886, which took a near complete turn by way of the declaration of the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon. Since then, the Bengali Hindus in East Bengal (later East Pakistan and Bangladesh) continued to remain second-grade citizens. But the most notable beginning of the abysmal form of influx to West Bengal happened in the aftermath of the Noakhali riots in 1946. The influx gained a huge momentum during the partition of India in 1947 and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Not only due to the sustained fear in the minds of the Bengali Hindus that the influx is continuously happening in the last 130 years, the economic problem of the other part of Bengal had proved to be the major cause of influx containing both the Hindu and Muslim populations. The misery of West Bengal got escalated as all the countries surrounding the State are found to be terribly impoverished. According to Archimidis’ principle, water seeks its own level. In economy also, the movement of human capital is largely directed by the question of the survival of the individual beings or to access higher aspirations in life.
The misery of Bengal is a byproduct of the socio-historical realities, which one may describe as the legacy of misfortune of Bengal. We are carrying forward this legacy turning the State into India’s most critically populated State. The issues regarding employment and employability, law and order, poverty reduction etc. are now in shambles. Bengal was well known as the icon in the entire country. Now it has become a backbencher. The culprit is the yawning population density. Every citizen of Bengal should have a consensus to raise a moral opposition of the majority against this worrisome, unabated influx across the border in right earnest. The vital statistics of Bengal with regard to crude birthrate (CBR), crude deathrate (CDR), infant mortality rate (IMR) etc. are no way abnormal. But the population size is rising alarmingly. The answer seems to be the worrying trans-border influx, especially from Bangladesh. Social experts believe that a nation or a region is bound to be in utter jeopardy if the locale is beseiged with abnormal population size coupled with a critical form of population density. The breakdown of law and order and the abysmal rise of unemployment in West Bengal is inherently rooted in the socio-historical legacy of Bengal surrounded by impoverished nations having very low quality of human capital. Thus, the large army of men and women who are crowding in Bengal while infiltrating our porous borders are not only causing a havoc by increasing population density, the overall quality and productivity of human capital in Bengal in general is proving to be very disappointing, along with a remarkably poor work culture. The spectre of influx looms large so abjectly that this needs to be done away with as the top priority.
The author is a former Sociology Faculty in the Presidency University, Kolkata.