Kishanganj is a Muslim majority district in Bihar. Lately, the district has been in focus after Hindutva leaders started comparing the region with ‘Kashmir with section 370.’ A TCN Ground Report looks at what is behind these controversial claims.
Sami Ahmad | TwoCircles.net
BIHAR – Kishanganj is one among the 250 most backward districts of India in the Nitish Kumar ruled Bihar. An official of radical Hindutva organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) recently mischievously compared the place with Kashmir saying that the district was becoming more like ‘Kashmir with section 370.’
Separated by around 2000 kilometres, this eastern part of India has probably just one thing in common with Kashmir; it is predominantly Muslim, an estimated 70 per cent of 1690948 people counted in the census of 2011. Kishanganj, the only Muslim majority district of Bihar alongside other district of Seemanchal area has come under target of Hindutva radicals. Seemanchal constitutes other districts like Araria, Katihar and Purnea where the Muslim population is considerably high.
What is the objection?
According to an official of VHP Ashok Kumar, the number of Hindus is decreasing in the district “as Rohingya and Bangladeshi ‘infiltrators’ are increasing.” This radical leader alleged that the local Muslims were providing land for the ‘infiltrators’. “The situation in Kishanganj is becoming like that of Kashmir with section 370. Hindus are feeling unsafe. If there is no security guarantee for the daughters of Hindus and ‘Gau-Mata’, then we would organize a Hindu Maha Panchayat (mega congregation of Hindus),” threatened Kumar.
This could have been dismissed as a one-off statement of a lesser-known person. But the matter is deep and delicate. Deep because the radicalized Hindutva forces have been manufacturing this propaganda of ‘infiltration of Bangladeshis’ for a long time. The only change in this discourse is the addition of alleged ‘Rohingya infiltrators.’ Delicate because a recent Patna High Court order has compelled the state government and consequently the district administration to issue such directives which can create huge problems for the Muslim community. The threat is that any radical element can target the Muslims and brand them as ‘illegal migrants.’
In a letter issued by the Kishanganj district administration the following part of the Patna High Court is mentioned: In fact, we are of the considered view that such process of sensitizing people, more so along with the border areas, must be carried vigorously both through electronic and print media as also associating the public-spirited persons/N.G.O.’s for the deportation of illegal migrants is of paramount importance and in the national interest. This order was passed on August 18, 2021, in the case Cr. WJC no 390/2020 of a Bangladeshi woman Vs. The State of Bihar & others.
Interestingly, while the two Bangladeshi women kept in Nari Niketan at Patna were deported and ideally, the case should have been closed. The two women were caught at Patna Railway Junction who had claimed that they were trafficked and being taken to Mumbai. The court did not close the case and asked the state government not only ‘sensitize’ the people to identify the ‘illegal migrants’ but also ordered them to make a detention centre.
Many legal minds argue that while there is no study on the number of ‘illegal migrants,’ an order for establishing a detention centre is beyond comprehension.
Nine days later, the home department of the Bihar government issued a letter that became the basis of local directives of at least two districts of Bihar regarding the so-called illegal migrants. It is not clear whether this letter has been sent to all the districts of Bihar, or, other districts that have issued a similar directive.
The district magistrate of Kishanganj, Aditya Prakash has asked in that letter addressed to the district public relations officer to treat it as extremely important and directed to ensure all necessary action through electronic and print medium to spread public awareness to inform the local administration after identifying the suspect or illegal migrants residing at different places, particularly the border areas. This letter refers to the letter sent by the home department on August 28.
Similarly, another viral letter of Siwan S.P. talks in a general notice that “if you know any foreigner, more so Bangladeshi, living illegally near you, then inform the local police station and help in legal action against them.” This is letter is signed on August 29, 2021. Noticeably, Siwan has no international border.
Many argue that the administrative directives are similar to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) by proxy which is bound to cause problems to the Muslim community. This is considerably more dangerous to the Assam NRC as the orders ask to ‘sensitize’ people and thus giving a right to anyone to allege that someone is an ‘illegal migrant’.
Seemanchal has five MLAs of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). AIMIM’s President Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted on September 7 that the Bihar government is implementing NRC through back door tagging the two government directives. He argues that similar misuse of legal provisions had been done in Assam too.
According to him, several renowned Indians were framed and they faced immense problems and the Sangh Pariwar is spreading the lie that the citizens of Seemanchal are infiltrators. He reminded the chief minister of Bihar Nitish Kumar that no one would be ousted from the country and that everyone is Indian. “Then, why this NRC is being implemented through the back door,” questioned Owaisi.
The recent diatribe, court’s order and administrative order have made the issue quite complex. But the Hindutva radicals have been at it for long.
Local journalist Tanzil Asif told TwoCircles.net that this is not a new thing for them to put forward such communally divisive propaganda. Senior BJP leader and a junior minister at the ministry of home affairs, Nityanand Rai had claimed during the by-poll for Araia parliamentary seat in 2018 that if the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad) won, Araia would become a den of ISI (Pakistani spy agency). A minister in current Nitish Kumar’s government Ram Surat Rai recently claimed that the ‘infiltrators’ are coming in big numbers to Seemanchal who are ‘buying land with the help of local brokers’.
AIMIM’s Bihar President and MLA from Amaur, Akhtarul Iman told TwoCircles.net that there is no problem if ‘illegal migrants’ are identified but suggests that the onus should be on the person who identifies someone as non-Indian. “Why Indians should prove that they are Indians in India, their homeland?” he asks.
Akhtarul Iman said that what the administrators need to do is to put those behind bars who are spreading the propaganda of ‘foreigners’ to divide the area into communal lines and hatred of the Muslim community.
He further said that since Kishanganj has a border with the neighbouring West Bengal, “some Bengalis do come here and also the local language Surajpuri has some similarities to Bangla but that is never proof of being a Bangladeshi.”
“There is no Bangladesh in the area,” he maintains.
He said that Seemanchal was a prosperous area at the time of independence but successive government’s apathy and neglect has made the area pitiable on the developmental front, including Kishanganj.
Incidentally, Kishanganj’s literacy rate was one of the lowest in Bihar at 57.04 in the 2011 census. The official website of the Kishanganj district mentions only one place as a tourist place that is Mahananda river, which is six kilometres away from the Kishanganj city railway station. The Mahananda river is a mixed bag of fortunes as it brings heavy miseries with its flood.
Kishanganj has a proposed centre of Aligarh Muslim University where around 20 thousand students can study but that too is mired in controversy. Its fate is hanging in balance as the National Green Tribunal has stopped the construction of the campus of the centre alongside Mahananda. Currently, it is being run in a few small buildings with just a couple of courses.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is yet to make any official statement on the situation of Seemanchal but one of his party Janta Dal United’s officials and former MLA Mujahid Alam argues that a proposal against NRC has been passed by the Bihar Legislative Assembly, adding, “Those should go to the Supreme Court to seek relief against the Patna High Court’s order.” Though he assures that if any genuine person is famed they would oppose.”