Jharkhand’s Santhal tribe settled in the ancient Rajmahal Hills in the 18th century. The brave tribespeople rebelled against the British in 1855, two years before the Revolt of 1857. The community has since stuck to its rule of not selling their land to non-tribals. But today, they remain neglected and their existence could be under threat from a possible demographic change in the region.
The Santhal Pargana region comprises Pakur, Sahibganj, Godda, Jamtara, Dumka and Deoghar. CNN-News18 accessed a letter of the special branch of the Jharkhand government, which accepts the influx of Bangladeshi nationals into the Santhal Pargana region and other districts of the state.
The letter states that Bangladeshis are given shelter in madrasas and, after their name is put on the voter list, they are settled in the region; they mingle with the local population and marry tribal girls, following which the land is then indirectly owned or grabbed by the sons-in-law, it states.
CNN-News18 travelled across the Santhal Pargana region to do a reality check. At a dhaba in Godda, some Bengali-speaking truck drivers had gathered in the middle of the night. Asked about their different accents, the dhaba owner said they were Bangladeshis living in Pakur district and were regular customers. He added that he did not know how they became truck drivers.
Asked about the letter by the special branch, Pakur superintendent of police Hrudeep P Janardhanan said, “We got a letter regarding the influx of Bangladeshis. This is actually a problem that has been come up every now and then. We, as a district police, are focusing on maintaining law and order. We have limitations but we are collecting old information and are also in touch with the Intelligence Bureau (IB). We are taking inputs from them and taking strict action where we can. As far as Bangladeshis are concerned, we are in touch with the special branch, IB and FRRO (Foreigners Registration Office).”
Pakur, which shares its border with West Bengal’s Murshidabad, has a sizeable Muslim population. There are several madrasas and mosques in the city as well as on the outskirts. The number of madrasas and mosques have increased in recent years. According to an RTI, there are 43 state-funded madrasas in Sahibganj alone.
Population growth in numbers
According to the 2001 and 2011 Census, there has been a 14 percent increase in the overall Muslim population in the state as compared to 14.2 percent increase in Santhal population.
Pakur has witnessed a 42 percent increase in Muslim population against 19.51 percent increase in Santhal population, when figures of the 2001 and 2011 Census are compared. Sahibganj, meanwhile, has registered a 37 percent increase in Muslims against 10.8 percent increase in Santhals.
Although social researchers and government data said adivasis were the largest migrant population – moving out due to no jobs and poverty – BJP MP Nishikant Dubey told CNN-News18“I have raised this issue in every session in parliament. The reason behind this is Bangladeshi infiltrators are grabbing land, marrying tribal girls and converting them. And due to this, the tribal population has declined and there is a rise in Muslim population. Bangladesh is just across the river due to which Bangladeshis enter the country illegally, leading to a change in demography. This is a conspiracy… All border areas of Bengal and Bihar have become Muslim dominated and there is a threat to tribal populations.”
If a Bangladeshi manages to enter the Indian side through the porous land and water border, there are three ways they can move to different states from Bengal. They can enter Jharkhand from Pakur via road by crossing Murshidabad. After they enter Pakur, they can take a train from Pakur or Sahibganj. Another easy route is crossing Ganga from Sahibganj on a boat and entering Katihar in Bihar.
Anant Ojha of the BJP, who is the Sahibganj MLA, told CNN-News18“There has been a demographic change from the early 90s to date as Bangladeshis have illegally entered this region, which shares the border with Bengal. If you take a look at the panchayats near the border areas, you will find that there has been an increase in Muslim population. In Udhwa block, eight new panchayats have been created and they are all Muslim panchayats.”
The BJP MLA, who has raised the issue in the Jharkhand legislative assembly several times, said: “I directly accuse the (Hemant) Soren-led government and Congress leaders of this when I ask a question about internal security. I have asked for a task force to check Bangladeshi infiltration, but the government is ignoring this. I had also demanded that on the basis of 1951 Census and 1952 voter list, there should be an NRC (National Register of Citizens) to identify Bangladeshis but the government has remained silent on this.”
Pakur’s JMM MP Vijay Hansdak, being a tribal leader of the region, refused to comment on whether there has been a demographic change. “Today, every channel is doing this; it’s not your fault, your channel asked you to do so. You can’t ignore reality. I don’t think giving any statement will do well. Today, special branch, ED, CBI, income tax – all are working on the Centre’s agenda…” he said.
Asked that the letter is by the state’s special branch, he said, “You send me your report; after analysing it, I will comment on it.”
The Congress cabinet minister of Jharkhand, Alamgir Alam blamed the Centre and the ruling BJP for the illegal entry of Bangladeshis. “This allegation is old and there should be an investigation. I have taken a stand as this issue has been raised several times but one thing should be noted – who is responsible for guarding the borders? Border Security Force; and who are they under? If the Centre is failing to protect the country’s borders, then why blame the state? We are looking into this matter,” he said.
Dubey, meanwhile, called out the JMM government for “appeasement politics” and demanded the NRC in the Santhal Pargana region. “Border fencing is strong and our home minister and prime minister are strict about this. How will you put fencing across a river? The opposition doesn’t know about the demography. It’s not possible for the BSF to keep an eye on the river. Until you punish the local residents, who give shelter or facilitate illegals, this will continue; hence, the NRC is necessary. Otherwise, the situation will be out of our hands. The JMM is doing all this because of the Congress, which has been doing appeasement politics since before independence,” he added.
Santhal activist Neeraj Hembrom said: “The only way to catch hold of illegals is to check their documents. They won’t have any proof of residence, which goes back 30 to 40 years. There are inputs but unless the administration checks it properly, it can’t be proved since they have identification cards. In 2008, Rajmahal constituency had 19% Muslim population and 61% tribal population but now we have around 40% muslims and 40% tribals. High fertility rate and influx of Bangladeshis to this side of Jharkhand is the main reason behind this. Population control measures are practised only on tribals. So, we see a negative growth rate of the tribal population.”
PIL in Ranchi High Court
A PIL was filed before the Ranchi High Court last year by activist Danyaal Danish, asking the state to save the tribals from the demographic dominance of Bangladeshis as well as conversions. The PIL also sought a report on the illegal construction of madrasas and other such institutions. The court has admitted the PIL and asked the state to submit a report on July 19.