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Hindutva group in Bengal launches crowdfunding to help Bengalis excluded from Assam NRC

Formed weeks ago by former leaders of Hindu Samhati, the far-Right Bengali Hindu outfit based in Kolkata has started raising money through Milaap, a prominent crowdfunding website.

Updated: Aug 08, 2018 19:56:26

By Tanmay Chatterjee, Hindustan Times

People stand in a queue to check if their names are included in the National Register of Citizens at a draft centre in Bur Gaon village in Assam on July 30. (AP Photo)

While the future of more than four million people living in Assam hangs in balance because they don’t officially exist as Indians in the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last week, a Bengali Hindutva group based in Kolkata has launched a crowdfunding exercise to work out relief plans for Bengalis in Assam who may end up as ‘foreigners’ in the final list.

Formed weeks ago by a breakaway fraction of Hindu Samhati, a far-right outfit based in Bengal, the group has started raising money through Milaap, which claims to be India’s biggest online crowdfunding platform.

The online campaign, titled “Help Hindu Bengalis in Assam to save them from becoming refugee again,” started on July 25, five days before the draft list was published.

Read: ‘Should have sent you to jail,’ Supreme Court pulls up 2 top NRC officials for speaking to media

Till Wednesday afternoon, around Rs 2.5 lakh, out of a target of Rs 25 lakh, was raised. Many donors left pro-Hindu messages on Milaap’s website. Contributions are being made in foreign currency as well.

The money, the campaigners say, will be utilised for setting up relief camps, providing legal aid and organising movements in Bengal and Assam.

“We need support from across India. Many Bengalis Hindus who have documents are being confined to detention camps. Even Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are not facing such plight,” Dr Shantanu Sanyal, president, All Assam Bengali Parishad (ASBP), said from Guwahati. Sanyal said he has submitted memoranda to Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Union MoS for home affairs, Kiren Rijiju. ASBP is organising demonstrations almost every day.

Read: Assam’s NRC has echoes of Europe’s refugee crisis

“Hindu Bengalis in Bangladesh are facing regular persecution. Drawing a line on the map sealed their fate in 1947 and they were left in a hostile state born on the basis of Two Nation Theory. They have nowhere to go except Bharat which has been their motherland. Forcing them to leave India, in the excuse of NRC, will be adharma (sacrilege),” reads the appeal (on Milaap’s website) from former Hindu Samhati leader Prasun Maitra.

“We have to raise funds but what matters more is people’s response to the cause,” said Maitra.

Read: What we know, and don’t, about the National Register of Citizens

Eight former leaders of Hindu Samhati, which defended the two teenagers whose social media post triggered communal riots in the North 24 Parganas district in 2017, are spearheading the Assam campaign. These people, along with Tapan Ghosh, the Hindu Samhati founder, who often challenged Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), left the organisation in early July.

Though official records do not offer any break-up of the ethnic or religious background of the people left out of the NRC, Bengali rights groups in Assam claim that anything between 1.2 and 1.5 million Bengalis have not made it to the final draft.

Though the draft list will be revised, there is widespread tension among Bengali Hindus because many do not have documents to establish Indian citizenship.

Read: How the 2008 Assam bombings and a meeting set the NRC ball rolling

“Contrary to popular belief, official census figures show that the number of Hindus in Assam has gone down by around 10% between 1971 and 2010. This contradicts allegations of migration by Hindus from Bangladesh. Also, among the Bengalis in Assam, the worst affected are those from namasudras (lower castes) who comprise almost 80% of the Bengali population,” claimed Sanyal.

“Two million Bengalis fled Assam in the wake of anti-Bengali movements before and during the Asom Gana Parishad regime and ethnic violence by United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) in the 1980s,” said a Bengali rights group leader from Assam but did not want to be named.

Read: NRC is India’s ‘local internal matter’ with ‘ethnic undertones’: Bangladesh

In Kolkata, the group raising funds is yet to have an official name. It has sent a list of six choices to the registrar of societies. The name Singha Bahini (army of lions), which appears as “beneficiary” of the funds on Milaap’s website, tops that list.

“We could not visit Assam because of the temporary embargo on entry of non-residents. But our members are working on the field. On August 4, we set up a helpline number on which people left out of the draft NRC can submit their petitions and documents,” said Devdutta Maji, a former Hindu Samhati leader and social worker.

BJP national secretary and the party’s former Bengal unit president Rahul Sinha refused to comment on the development.

Read: The NRC exercise will lead to an upsurge in identity politics in the Northeast

Formed in 2010 and based in Bengaluru, Milaap claims to have raised around Rs 330 crore (till April 2018) for 100,000 beneficiaries in eight years.

Online fundraising for an anticipated refugee crisis is a first in India, claimed members of the Hindutva group.


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