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Problem persist

Problem persist

Publication: The Day After
Date: July 2009
URL: http://www.dayafterindia.com/july109/international2.html

The number of illegal migrants in India is on a rise and unless and until the Indian Government takes a strong step to tackle the situation, it would lead to more complications for both India and Bangladesh, says Shib Shankar Chatterjee

India has well-protected international boundaries. The Northern boundary is totally surrounded by the invincible Himalayas. More than 50% of the western boundary is protected by the Arabian Sea, while another 50% of the eastern border is covered by the Bay of Bengal and the Southern side is fully besieged by the Indian Ocean. Likewise the blue-hills of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the Patkai range protect about 50% of the eastern boundary. The erstwhile East Pakistan, called Purba Bangla is now Bangladesh, which has a new international border with India.

Bangladesh is the fourth largest peasant society in the world, but its landlessness is gradually rising day by day at a faster rate than its population growth, forcing migration that will spill over into India, especially, states like Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Sikkim and Bihar.

Right up to 1989, the Indo-Bangladesh international border was quite open. As per the 1991 Census Report of Bangladesh (CRB), her population was 10,79,92,140 and in 1996, the population was 11,99,57,313. There was no exaggeration in the figures, but if anyone takes into confidence the statistics of the Electoral Roll (which is locally called Voter Talika or Voter List) of Bangladesh as published on October 7, 1995, Bangladesh has 5,60,16,178 voters, which is 61,65,567 less than that of the 1991 Roll. In 1991, she had 6,21,81,745 voters. Bangladesh is the world's mostly densely populated country, with a density of 969 per square km. The Bangladeshi figure has soared from 624 (in 1981) to 969 (in 1991) within a single decade. Moreover, the Election Commission of Bangladesh (ECB) has de-franchised 20,00,000 voters on the ground of their long absence in the country and their names were deleted from the electoral roll of 1995. This action is against the Constitution of Bangladesh under the Articles 119 and 122 respectively.

On the other hand, as per the news given by Rahaman Jahangir, a news correspondent of the Kolkata based Bengali daily, Ananda Bazar Patrika, the ECB, in its pre-election time of 1996 deleted as many as 12,00,000 voters who are working in foreign countries from the voter-list, on the ground that the illegal infiltrators in India may claim to enlist their names in it, if this is done. This decision was taken by ECB before the Bangladesh Parliamentary Election in 1996.

According to an official of the Bangladesh Commission, they will have to face political criticism if they enlisted the above noted voters in their present voter list. So, to avoid criticism and opposition from political parties, the ECB turned down the proposal of enlisting the names of the Bangladeshis in the voter list.

In 1997, Indian Home Minister, Indrajit Gupta had disclosed to the Indian Parliament that there were upwards of 1 crore illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, who have made India their quintessential home. But, when Budhhadeb Bhattacharjee , CM of West Bengal, agreed to the proposal or plan of pushing back the illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, other leaders of the Left Front (the ruling coalition) started an uproar against the same because, the Front members were scared of losing the 'support' of illegal Bangladeshi nationals. The percentage of Hindu population came down, while the Muslim population grew in the same period, which are known facts, but Mannan Hossaain, MP from the Murshidabad District says that they are not aware of such illegal migration or prefer 'silence' on the said burning issue. But, it is true that the demographic composition has been changed in West Bengal.

It is irrefutable that a Muslim tidal wave is sweeping through the International Border districts of Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and also inundating a few districts of Bihar (eastern part), where the growth rate of the Muslims is more than double and triple in some particular areas. It can't be explained as a generational escalation. On the other hand, former Indian Chief Election Commissioner, T N Seshan was quoted in The New York Times as saying, "There are still more than 1 million migrants on the electoral-rolls of Assam".

In a review made by the United Nations Organization (UNO), Bangladesh should have had a population of 118 million in 1991, but CRB showed about 108 million in that year. Where did these 10 million Bangladeshi go? Moreover, in 1951, Bangladesh had 22% of minority population, which by now has become almost half. In fact, it has come down to 10% in 1995. Either they crossed the international border and entered India or they were annihilated surreptitiously.

Reports received across the border indicate that there is no trace of about 5 lakh Bihari-Muslims of Bangladesh. This apart, thousands of Hindu minorities were simply annihilated in a 1992 upsurge.

"We have definite information (of the Indian Intelligence Bureau-IIB) that there are 7 to 9 million Bangladeshi foreign nationals who have illegally migrated and have also been registered in India", claims, former foreign secretary of India, J N Dixit. "There are as many as 15 to 20 lakh Bangladeshi illegal infiltrators who have entered India during the period 1971-1999. About 3 lakh illegal Bangladeshi nationals crossed the Indo-Bangla international boundary and reached the Indian territory for a permanent settlement in the North-Eastern States like Assam, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, West-Bengal and adjoining areas", states Joint Secretary in the Indian Home Ministry, G K Pillai, who visited the Indo-Bangladesh international border in August, 1999 at Southern Assam's Karimganj and Hailakandi districts respectively. In 2001, the Indian Home Ministry estimate stated, "Approximately, 150 lakh to 170 lakh Bangladeshi infiltrators have crossed into India illegally since 1971".

However, in July, 2004, in a written reply to a question in the Indian Parliament, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Sriprakash Jaiswal had stated that out of 1,20,53,950 illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators in India. 50,00,000 Bangladeshi nationals are present in Assam as on December 31, 2001, while West Bengal tops the list with 57,00,000 Bangladeshi immigrants. Not only that, Arunachal Pradesh has 800, Meghalaya has 30,000 and Nagaland has 59,500 while Tripura has 3,25,400.

"More than 4 lakh illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators exist in Guwahati, Assam", say officials of the International Border Police Force of India (Assam State Division). In this context, the Border Security Force (BSF) of India has suggested to the Government of India that the Government of Assam should undertake special census operation in the sensitive areas in this matter. Therefore, all these clearly show that the position of indigenous people of North-East India has been gradually decreasing. At present, North-East India is known as the land of the 'Eight-Sisters' (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim). In this case, these Bangladeshis are dispersed in these eight states including West Bengal and Bihar.

At present, in India, the trump card for wining any election in 20 to 25 Parliamentary seats and 120 to 125 Assembly Constituencies in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra and even, Delhi lies in the hands of the illegal Muslim Bangladeshi foreigners. If this situation continues for another 10 years, at least, the candidates in 50 and 250 Lok Sabha and Assembly seats respectively will have to depend on the blessings of these so-called illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators.

Even, the number of Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) seats in West Bengal has increased (like Murshidabad District, who had earlier 19 MLA seats, has 22 MLAs) in the constituency delimitation exercise because the illegal movement of Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators into West Bengal has already created a socio-political dimension.

These unabated Bangladeshi illegal infiltrators have mostly entered India during the regime of Khaleda Zia, when she was the Bangladesh prime Minister and Major General Fazlur Rahman, who was the Director General of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), BDR. Both pushed the Bangladeshi infiltrators into India. Both Bangladesh and India have their population from a common stock. There is indeed infiltration from other neighbouring countries too. From Nepal and Bhutan in the north and from Mayanmar in the east sporadic infiltration are evident, but with the exception of Nepal, infiltration from the other two countries are negligible.

According to the Indian Census Report, most of the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants hail from the poor lot in Bangladesh. Therefore, they often enter India and settle either temporarily or permanently in the Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Morigaon, Nagaon, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Cachar, Sonitpur, Jorhat districts of Assam and Cooch Behar, North Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad districts of West Bengal with a view to earning something to keep themselves alive.

Bangladeshi settlers come to settle without any fear. To observe and tackle situations like migration, smuggling and anti-Indian activities, the Border Security Force (BSF) and International Border River Police Force of India (IBRPFI) have established a few International Border Observing Out Post (IBOOP) in the borderline char areas and for this region, the Bangladeshi migrants don't cross the border line easily.

According to experts, the infiltrators are of three types. Hindus, Bihari-Muslims, and the Bengali-Muslim community. Although, nowadays, most of the Muslim Bangladeshis have adopted a new 'strategy' or 'policy' to hide themselves from the eyes of the cops. They take professions either in cafeterias, hotels, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops or in small factories and others business establishments that have been situated out of the cities.

Not only that, for a long time, Bangladeshi Muslims have had a tendency of immigrating out of their own country - Bangladesh, which they do both due to poverty and the population boom. But, the problems of the Bangladeshi Hindus are quite different and it should be solved by the Bangladesh Government because, it is its moral duty. On the other hand, the Bihari-Muslims have their argument too. The 5 lakh Bihari-Muslims in Bangladesh should be helped by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Whatever the reasons behind the huge number of Bangladeshi national's presence in India are, observers feel that the overall affect of their presence in India and in North-East India in particular is shattering the socio-economic balance in the region. Observers further said that the infiltrators not only occupied char areas in the 'riverine-belt', but they are the reason behind unauthorized settlements in Government lands, agricultural lands, grazing reserves and forest areas by illegally felling forest products indiscriminately. This indiscriminate felling of trees ultimately resulted in environmental problems and destruction of the 'ecological-balance'.

It is fact that the situation in Assam is getting from bad to worse. The existence of a huge number of illegal migrants and the continued influx of aliens have already generated a sense of insecurity in the minds of the indigenous people. So, if the Government of India and the state Governments of Assam and West Bengal do not stop pretending that there is no foreigner in Eastern India and also at the same time, if the issues of detection and deportation of foreigners are not taken up speedily and seriously, the issue of foreign nationals would pose a major threat to the security of eastern and north-eastern states as well as the entire North-East Indian region

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