Census Data debunks claim of large-scale Bangladeshi immigration in Assam Migration data especially significant in light of CAA-NRC conundrum

13, Jan 2020 | Debasish Bhattacharjee

Recently, much awaited migration data has been released by Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. While demographers are presumably busy analysing the data, certain preliminary observations are noteworthy, especially in the context of Assam where strong allegation of large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh has assumed greater significance post NRC.

While data on foreign migrants do not distinguish between a legal migrant and an illegal migrant, but such data is important indicator of the volume and pattern of overall international migration in India and more specifically in the state of Assam.

Citizenship has been defined as the right to have rights. Over the past six years, there have been clear political moves to fundamentally assault and redefine this Constitutional basis of both Indian nationhood and citizenship. Especially now, with the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 being passed and a not thoroughly debated all India-level NPR-National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. CJP is urging people to understand, organise and fight back democratically. Let’s stand up for the Constitution of India. We must unequivocally reject CAB 2019 and at the same time in the same breath, NPR/NRC. For this we need your support.

Census of India releases two types of migration data – Migration by Birth place and Migration by place of last residence. When a person is enumerated in Census at a place which is different from her/his place of birth, she/he would be considered a migrant by place of birth. On the other hand, a person would be considered a migrant by place of last residence, if she/he had last resided at a place other than her/his place of enumeration. Migrant by place of last residence is generally considered to be a better way to understand international migration.

Influx from Bangladesh and Pakistan

Referring to the Census data on foreign migrants on the basis of their last place of residence outside India and duration of stay in India, one may at first observe that the total international migrants has increased by 7%, from 51.55 lakhs in 2001 to 54.91 lakhs in 2011. However, there is surprising change in the source country wise data for foreign migrants. If we compare foreign migrants who arrived in India during the two succeeding decades (1991-2001 and 2001-2011) then we find number of Bangladeshi migrants’ flow to India has declined from 2.79 lakhs during 1991-2001 to 1.72 lakhs during 2001-2011. Which means there is 50% decline in migrants’ flow to India from Bangladesh between the last two decades.

Accordingly, there is sharp decline (25%) in the total number of Bangladeshi migrants in India, from 30.84 lakhs in 2001 to 23.04 lakhs in 2011. The proportion of Bangladeshi migrants in 2001 was about 60% of total international migrants in India, which has sharply reduced to 42% in 2011.

Similarly, number of Pakistani migrants has also declined from 9.97 lakhs in 2001 to 7.07 lakhs, that is a decline of about 29%. Pakistani migrants are second largest international migrants after Bangladeshi migrants.

Influx from Nepal

While flow of migrants has considerably reduced from Bangladesh and Pakistan, there is huge increase (30%) of migrants from neighbouring country Nepal. Number of migrants from Nepal has made a quantum jump from 5.96 lakhs in 2001 to 7.78 lakhs in 2011. Nepal still hold its 3rd position in terms of number of international migrants in India.

African and American migrants

However, the biggest surprise is that India seems to have become a preferred destination of American and African migrants. Number of American migrants in India has increased from a meagre 0.26 lakhs in 2001 to 4.00 lakhs in 2011 that is an increase by 1452%. Similarly, African migrants has also increased by a whopping 491%, from 0.64 lakhs in 2001 to 3.81 lakhs in 2011. As a result, combined proportion of American and African migrants, in overall foreign migrants’ population in India, has increased seven folds, from 2% in 2001 to 14% in 2011.

The case of Assam

In Assam, amidst widespread allegation of large-scale migration from Bangladesh, the census data on foreign migrants assumes special significance. The 2011 census data on foreign migrants reflects that out of 54.91 lakh foreign migrants in India, only 1.10 lakh foreign migrants are being censused in Assam, the largest number of foreign migrants being enumerated in West Bengal (20.05 lakhs) followed by Bihar (3.98 lakhs), Uttar Pradesh (3.55 lakhs) and Maharashtra (3.24 lakhs). In fact, as per 2011 Census reports, there are 12 states in India where number of foreign migrants is higher than Assam.

Again, out of the total 11.12 lakh foreign migrants who arrived in India during the decade 2001-2011, the major destination is West Bengal (1.83 lakhs). Only 0.11 lac foreign migrants came to Assam during the same decade (2001-2011). Also, there are 17 states, other than West Bengal, which saw arrival of higher number of foreign migrants than Assam during the decade 2001-2011 like Maharashtra (1.83 lakhs), Bihar (1.20 lakhs), Kerala (1.03 lakhs) etc.

In the context of Assam, again, the biggest concern is about Bangladeshi migrants who came to Assam during the decade 2001-2011. The Census data of 2011 reveals that out of a total of 1.72 lakh Bangladeshi migrants who arrived in India during 2001-2011, only 1,916 migrants from Bangladesh were enumerated in Assam. The major destination for Bangladeshi migrants still continued to be West Bengal. About 1.51 lakh Bangladeshi migrants, which constitutes 88% of the total migrants from Bangladesh, arrived in West Bengal during 2001-2011. It is worthwhile to mention here that successive census since 1971 shows that the number of Bangladeshi migrants who arrived in Assam during 1971-2001 is only 31,151. Another interesting revelation from the 2011 census data is that American migrants (2,618) who came to Assam during the decade 2001-2011 is about 37% higher than the Bangladeshi migrants who arrived in this state during the same period. Bangladeshi migrants constitute only 16.6% of the total international migrants (11,508) who came to Assam during the period 2001-2011.

If Census data is to be believed, then there is no indication of large scale migration in Assam, illegal or otherwise, from foreign countries, especially from Bangladesh, after 1971, and more particularly during the last census decade (2001-2011). Question is how long the allegation of large-scale migration from Bangladesh will continue in Assam.

On the other hand, there are stronger reasons to justify and believe that demographic change in Assam is predominantly due to very high socio-economic inequalities in areas of female literacy, fertility behavior of women (TFR), multi-dimensional poverty, adolescent marriage, spatial distribution of population (rural-urban). Unless such inequalities are addressed, through socio-economic development, the unequal population growth pattern and, therefore, the demographic change would continue unabated.


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(Feature Image Courtesy – The New Republic)


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