Dimapur (Nagaland): The issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants aka IBIs in the NorthEast is a ticking bomb. And after Assam, Nagaland is on the boil over the issue. The unseemly facet of the anti-illegal immigrants sentiments brewing in the state came to the fore last week when a 10,000-strong mob lynched a Bengali Muslim from Assam, accused of raping a Naga girl. The irony, of course, was that the mob had mistaken him for a Bangladeshi immigrant.
On March 5, the mob strormed the Central Jail in Dimapur and dragged out Syed Sharif Khan. He was paraded naked to the town tower and then bludgeoned to death as many in the mob took pictures and made videos of the barbaric killing.
In a fresh twist to the incident, the Nagaland government on March 12 told the Centre that Khan did not actually rape the girl as accused by her. Instead, they had consensual sex twice and Khan had paid for it. According to the report, Khan had also told the police that the girl, who is seen in a CCTV footage as entering a hotel with him, demanded more money after having sex which he had refused. Subsequently, a rape case was filed against him.
There is a growing perception in the NorthEast that all Muslims,who speak Bengali, are Bangladeshis. When Khan was arrested after the girl’s family filed a complaint, even the cops had dubbed him an IBI, a recently-coined term increasingly used by all and sundry in the state to refer to Bengali Muslims.
The fact that Khan, a long-time resident of Dimapur, was married to a Sumi Naga woman and has a three-year-old daughter, and belonged to a family of Army men has become a talking point only now. One of his brothers was killed during the 1999 Kargil War. His late father had served in the IAF. In the aftermath of the lynching, some 1,000 Bengali Muslim families are said to have fled the town.
“The traders here are already suffering the scourge of extortions by extremist groups. Now they (the Nagas) call us IBIs. Most of us are from Assam. Isn’t Assam part of India?” asked one Bengali Muslim trader.
The Muslim Council of Dimapur has appealed to the state government to solve the problem once and for all. “In 2012, we had appealed to the government to formulate laws for the regulation of migrants from all communities but nothing happened,” rued the Council’s working president A Rahman.
Dimapur is state’s largest town and commercial hub. The Nagas say the Bengali-speaking Muslims constitute at least 10 to 15 per cent of the town’s five lakh-strong population.
This excludes the floating population of Bengali-speaking Muslims. The retail trade here is controlled by Bengali Muslims, who also have a sizeable presence across the state.
Nagaland is one of the “protected” states in India and it is mandatory for any Indian citizen to obtain an official document called Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter the state. But the ILP is not needed to visit or stay in Dimapur. Nagas say this has largely contributed to the influx of immigrants.
In 2008, hundreds of Bengali Muslims, especially traders, were driven out of the state’s Mokokchung town following an anti-IBI campaign. Nowadays, such campaigns are carried out via the social media.
Anti-IBI Naga organisations feel the problem of illegal immigration should have been nipped in the bud. An organisation named Survival Nagaland, formed a year ago by a group of educated Nagas, has been carrying out a systematic campaign to create awareness on the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
“IBI is a Naga issue. The success in curbing the menace will depend much on the cooperation of all sections of the society and the government. The Survival Nagaland has been creating awareness on the imminent threat posed by the IBI population,” a spokesman of the organisation told Express. “But we are not against any community or religion,” he added.
The influential Naga Council of Dimapur believes Khan’s lynching had nothing to do with the issue of IBIs. “He was killed because he was a rapist,” the Council president T Bangerloba asserted.
The state’s apex social organisation, Naga Hoho, said the lynching was not to scare away the Muslims. “The youth in the state are very serious about the problem of IBIs. A strong sentiment is building against them,” said Naga Hoho president Chuba Ozukum.
The police attribute the people’s anger to the rising numbers of the IBIs. “The people are angry to see their numbers growing, their involvement in criminal activities and collection of (illegal) taxes on behalf of the extremists,” a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.
The social media had played a key role in uniting the Naga youths against the rape accused before and after the lynching incident. As gory photos and videos of the incident went viral on social media, the state government had temporarily blocked Internet, SMS and MMS. But given the mood on the ground, the anti-IBI hatred is only going to intensify in the coming days.
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