India and strategic threats. India has to develop
India has seen migration from most of the Southeast Asian countries since Independence but migration from one particular country called Bangladesh is very interesting because it represents a unique phenomenon where migrants have reduced the local people to minority and outnumbered the indigenous populations of neighbouring states of another country. The 2001 Indian Census marks Bangladesh as the country that has the highest number of migrants living in India but does not give out any information about illegal immigration. The estimated number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is about 10 million as per various official studies as of 2001. Pakistan has had the same history that Bangladesh has had with India since these three made up India before the India-Pakistan partition in 1947 and the Bangladesh-Pakistan partition in 1971. Despite all the strategic, historical and economical problems with Pakistan, there has never been any major problem posed by Pakistani immigration. In fact, the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014 encouraged the Hindus living in Pakistan to return to their ‘original abode.’ India has also offered refuge to those who fled Afghanistan during the Cold War in 1979; there are about 10000 immigrants living in the States Jammu, Kashmir, Kolkata and Delhi. Burmese immigrants have generally been accepted, about 100000 are estimated to be living mostly in the Northeastern State of Mizoram. Although India has drawn a lot of flak for deporting 40000 Rohingya Muslims recently, the fact that it was able to identify them means that they never posed any serious threat. Bangladesh is the only country whose immigrants pose economic, cultural, political and strategic threats. India has to develop a multifaceted policy to deal with these threats while compelling Bangladesh to take responsibility of the situation. There isn’t a lot of literature apropos of this issue and whatever is there strongly agrees that Bangladesh does indeed pose a threat. I present different aspects of the illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India.HistoryThe influx of immigration from Bangladesh has been mainly to West Bengal and Assam because these are the closest, biggest amongst east india and culturally similar.(see figure 1). Immigration of Bengali Muslims to East India started in the 17th century itself during the Mughal rule.In 1937, the government in Assam was headed by a member of the muslim party that called for the formation of the Pakistan. His name was Mohammed Sadullah and he formulated a policy of encouraging Bengali Muslims from East Bengal to settle in Assam so that it could be included in Pakistan after independence but this was thwarted by the then Home Minister of India.Officially, all migrants to India from 1951 onwards are illegal but migration has continued. During 1951-71, it was mostly the Bengali Hindus who fled to India due to communal riots in Bangladesh which was then a part of Pakistan and hence a wholly Islamic country. Bangladesh was similar to Pakistan in terms of religion but they spoke Bengali, a language spoken in the Northeastern states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura while Pakistan’s official language was Urdu. A genocide ensued because of this conflict of identity and as many as 10,000 Bangladeshis came to India, mainly West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. This was followed by the 1971 war between Pakistan and Bangladesh, and India supporting the latter strategically also offered protection to those who fled the country . While it was expected that most of these refugees would head back, both Hindu and mostly Muslim migrants stayed back in search of land and employment. While migration of Bangladeshis into West Bengal was relatively well tolerated on account of cultural and linguistic similarities, in Assam it became an explosive issue leading to 7 year long agitation against “foreign migrants”.Following this agitation, an accord popularly called “The Assam Accord” was signed in 1985 which laid down that migrants who came to the State before 1st January 1966 were to be treated as citizens. Migrants coming after 25th March 1971 were to be treated as foreigner whose name would be deleted from electoral rolls and who would also be deported according to laid down procedure. If you look at tables 1, you will observe how the different the rate of growth of Muslim populations is between West Bengal & Assam and India. Table 2 shows you how the population rate in Assam is much greater compared to India on an average throughout the years.REASONSEconomic:The per capita income of Bangladesh is less than 170 US $ per annum as against $ 350 in India. Literacy in Bangladesh was 35.3% in 1991. The same census reports that only 4.3% of the population had access to tap water and 8.2% of the rural homes to electricity. Since Bangladesh has a very high population density (964 per sq. Km., according to 2011 estimates) due to uncontrolled growth of population, it has given rise to a serious crisis of living space in the neighbouring country. Natural Calamities: More than a million people are displaced annually in Bangladesh on account of natural disasters like floods, cyclones, river bank erosion and drought. Situated on the deltaic region of Ganga, Brahmaputra & Meghna, at least 20% of Bangladesh is inundated in a ‘normal’ flood. During severe flood, nearly 36% of the country and 60% of arable land is affected.Environmental:Climate change led problems compound Bangladesh’s problems. These include salinization of soil, loss of fertility, pollution and deforestation. Population pressure has caused degradation of land. Shifting cultivation without adequate fallow period, absence of soil conservation measures, unbalanced fertilizer use have damaged land productivity in large areas.Socio-political: Bangladesh started in 1971 as a secular country but changes brought about in the Constitution by Gen. H.M. Ershad ensured that Bangladesh became an Islamic country in substance. There is widespread violence against Hindus and Buddhists in rural areas especially in the form of Destruction of Hindu temples, forcible capture of land and property, while the administration looks the other way. Cultural familiarity- They look the same, speak the same language and share similar culture with a majority of West Bengal and a good proportion of Tripura, Assam and Agartala.Security concerns for indiaSocio-economic:The economy of the North-East is basically rooted in products like tea, petroleum and forest produce. Agriculture is the predominant means of livelihood for bulk of the population and land is limited. Immigration means greater competition especially when immigrants are willing to work for cheaper wages.There is also the fear of being outnumbered by immigrants as has happened in Tripura. There is already hostility between different states of the Northeast with Nagaland already having called for a separate country. Immigration only means a greater dilution of indigenous culture.Political: According to a study, out of the 292 Assembly Constituencies in West Bengal, Bangladeshi immigrants can determine the outcome of ,polls in as many as 52 Constituencies. Besides, in another 100 Assembly Constituencies they can influence the poll outcome.Since the political clout enjoyed by the Bangladeshi migrant community is so significant in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and Bihar, even the mainstream political parties do not have the courage to even acknowledge the problem, much less tackle it effectively. Most of the political parties play what is often termed as “Vote Bank” politics with an eye towards Bangladeshi Muslim vote. Law and order implications: Influx of Bangladeshi migrants resulting in alienation of tribal lands, unemployment, ‘vote bank’ politics, fears of being reduced to a political minority in one’s own state gradually plays upon the minds of the native population which in turn can lead to severe social strain and consequent law and order problems. Fear of inundation by an alien population led to a 7 year long agitation to press for identification and deportation of Bangladeshi aliens. The agitation burst into extreme violence in 1983 when tribals massacred over 1700 Bangladeshi Muslims at Nellie village where the former had been alienated in large numbers from their lands. Besides, this agitation against ‘foreigners’ was the prime motivating factors for the establishment of United Liberation Front of Assam which has been carrying a violent secessionist campaign for last 20 years. Assam has witnessed a string of incidents of communal tension in last 20 years which had relatively been unknown before. There is similar tension in WB and Tripura too.Black market- Apart from immigrants a large numbers smugglers regularly cross the porous border along West Bengal into India engaging in smuggling goods and livestock from India into Bangladesh to avoid high tariff imposed on some Indian goods by Bangladesh government. Bangladeshi women and girls are also trafficked to India through Middle East for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. It is estimated that 27,000 Bangladeshis have been forced into prostitution in India according to The Centre for Women and Children Studies estimated. According to CEDAW report, 1% of foreign prostitutes in India and 2.7% of prostitutes in Kolkata are from Bangladesh. Import of islamic terrorism- The cadres of Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative islamic party of Bangladesh have been active in Manipur and the increase in the numbers of Islamic groups and organizations in Assam is directly linked to the illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The mushroom growth of madrasas in West Bengal and some of the north-eastern states is partially attributable to major population changes brought about by illegal immigration from Bangladesh. There are suggestions that the Pakistani outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad al-lslami (HUJAI) has a branch in Bangladesh and these fundamentalists are believed to be active in support of various Islamic causes including Kashmir and in the attack on the American Cultural Center in Kolkata on January 22, 2002. RESPONSE OF INDIAN GOVERNMENTKnee jerk-No comprehensive policy was ever formulated and the Indian State’s response to migrants after independence has mostly been knee- jerk. While Pakistan closed the door to immigrants in 1947, India continued to take in migrants from East Pakistan. The constitution of India prescribed July 19, 1948 as the cut-off date which was changed to 1950 under the Nehru- Liaqat Pact. After 1965, the Border Security Force (BSF) was given the responsibility for guarding the border and they were also entrusted with the task of identification and deportation of illegal migrants. However, the Indian state has failed to stop the influx after 1971 and people still continue to cross over. Inefficient policing of borders- Several factors are responsible for the ineffective border management. Some of them are:(a) The erection of the fence along the lndo-Bangladesh border is not complete and continuous and hence has not helped in checking infiltration and other negative activities on the border. (b) The border does not have adequate border roads for patrolling. Terrain, in any case,makes it difficult to have continuous roads all along the border. (c) There are habitations on the border which come in the way of effective policing. in addition, the existence of Enclaves, Indian Enclaves inside Bangladesh and Bangladeshi inside Indian territory, make it an extremely porous and complex border. (d) The riverine stretches of the border is not adequately patrolled due to lack of mobility. Diplomatic arrangements- Through regular meetings with the Home Ministry and Border Security heads India has communicated her serious concerns to Bangladesh Government regarding the problems caused by the continuing illegal migration. The deportation of these illegal migrants has been taken up with the Bangladesh side.There has been criticism that the Central Government’s ad-hoc policies have failed to address the problems caused by economic migrants. It has been felt that in the context of ‘pan- Indian politics’ and the international politics of the subcontinent, Assam’s illegal immigration problem has become embroiled in two sensitive issues: first, the treatment of India’s Muslim minority population; and second, India’s obligation to allow Hindu refugees from Pakistan to settle in India. However, Bangladesh has always denied the fact that its citizens have illegally migrated to India, but according to the census reports of Bangladesh, nearly 3.5 million people disappeared from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) between 1951 and 1961 probably as a result of partition. CONCLUDING REMARKSThe Indian government. must formulate a comprehensive policy to deal with the problem of illegal migration. This policy should consult all concerned groups from the indigenous populations to the illegal immigrants through NGOs, political leaders and even rebel groups. It has to recognise that these illegal immigrants cannot be simply deported as they’ve made their livelihoods in India. India should prepare a legal regime concerning status of migrants, their detection and deportation. It is essential that uniform laws be made to cover the whole country while ensuring that there is no differentiation between hindu and muslim immigrants. India is not bound by the UN Refugee Act or any other formal act addressing refugees so it has design one with consultation with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries and the United Nations Refugee Agency so as to pressurise Bangladesh to own up to its share of responsibility..Introduction of work-permit system that guarantees economic migrants but not political rights such as the right to acquire property will not threaten the identity of the local populations as much, and especially ameliorate the political clout that these immigrants may enjoy. Additional BSF battalions should be provided in the East with each battalion having a frontage of 30 kms. The work of border fencing must be completed on Bangladesh frontier on war footing. In addition to fencing, there must be a provision for watchtowers and lighting along the fence as has been done in Punjab and Rajasthan. A comprehensive scheme must be undertaken to develop road network along the border.