India's 'Mexican' Problem: Illegal Immigration from Bangladesh

ANALYSIS

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Bangladeshi women and children sit inside a crowded police van before appearing in court in Howrah, some 20 km (12 miles) west of the eastern Indian city of Calcutta
Bangladeshi women and children sit inside a crowded police van before appearing in court in Howrah, some 20 km (12 miles) west of the eastern Indian city of Calcutta

Illegal immigration is not only a huge problem in western, advanced countries, but also in some parts of the developing world.

Consider what has been happening in India.

Since the 1971 war of independence that created the state of Bangladesh, millions of Bangladeshi immigrants (the vast majority of them illegal) have poured into neighboring India.

While the Indian government has tried to deport some of these immigrants, the sheer number of them, as well as the porous border between the two countries, has made such an enterprise impossible.

It is difficult to assess how many illegal immigrants are currently residing in India. Consider that in 1971, during the civil war in neighboring East Pakistan (the former name of Bangladesh), at least 10-million Bangladeshis poured into West Bengal in India. The majority of those migrants were Hindus fleeing persecution (rape, murder, forced conversion, etc.) from Muslims.

In subsequent years, the bulk of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh were Muslims seeking to escape poverty.

India's Minister of State for Home Mullappally Ramachandran said last summer that almost 1.4-million illegal Bangladeshis have migrated to India over the past decade alone.

Ramachandran described the illegal immigration from Bangladesh as a big problem and that the government is dealing with it.

The rhetoric against illegal Bangladeshi immigration in India is strikingly similar to what right-wing American politicians say about illegal Mexican immigrants –claiming they pose a threat to the economy and very identity of the U.S.

Moreover, some Indian lawmakers allege that many Bangladeshi immigrants also pose a dire threat to India through criminal activity and terrorism.

Ravishankar Prasad, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has warned that illegal immigration from Bangladesh should be halted immediately. Prasad’s words are virtually a mirror image of the anti-immigrant sentiments of many Republican politicians in the western U.S.

The bulk of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have migrated to West Bengal, although many others have settled in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Delhi and Mumbai and even as far-away as Pakistan and the Middle East.

One long-time Bangladeshi immigrant told Indian media: I miss my birthplace and my brother, but this is the sacrifice we have to make so that our next generation has a better future. My son is studying to be a doctor. Do you think this would have been possible in Bangladesh?

Concern Universal, an international NGO, estimates that 50 Bangladeshis cross illegally into India every day.

Indians scholars have also expressed their outrage over unrestricted immigration from Bangladesh.

Indian historian Amalendu De noted: There is a virtual East Bengal in West Bengal. Immigrants, both Hindus and Muslims, have come from across the border and settled in districts which share borders with Bangladesh and have slowly penetrated into other districts.”

Immigration from Bangladesh has reportedly increased the Muslim population in West Bengal, although Hindus remain the majority.

An Indian official complained to Indian reporters: A spurt of new mosques and the restoration of older ones implies an increase in the Muslim population. So does the growth in madrassas and the various [advantages] given by the state government. This rise can't only be a result of a population boom. Bangladeshi Muslims have been settling in the state.”

By 2006, illegal immigration from Bangladesh became a dominant theme of West Bengal elections.

West Bengal has long been ruled by a leftist, Communist government, which sympathized with illegal immigration and reportedly even encouraged it.

The influx of illegal immigrants has prompted opposition from certain West Bengali groups, including the 'Amra Bangali' organization, among others.

The opposition to illegal immigration has taken on a distinctly anti-Muslim tinge.

An Indian Hindu nationalist website boldly states: “[The] only option for Bengali Hindus of Islamic Bangladesh and India now is to have a united homeland free from Muslims or soon like Bangladesh, east India is going to be ‘Hindu minority’ and a colony of Bangladesh! Due to social and religious development, Hindu Bengalis have [fewer] children than Muslims... [The] growing illegal [population of] Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators along with local Muslims have almost turned eastern India into 40 percent Muslim. So all Bengali Hindus need to be settled in West Bengal of secular India, along with [the] expulsion of at least all Bangladeshi Muslim migrants from here. This can be achieved soon or Bengali Hindu as a race will die.”

The blog continues: “In Islamic Bangladesh, Hindus have no real future and may all be eliminated if [the] fanatic Islamist [government].”

The West Bengal political organization Amra Bangali (meaning We are Bengalis) said it calls for the “re-organization of the territory of Bengal with all like-minded people having respect for [the] Bengali language and culture, and name this new geographical area as Bangalistan.

Part of Amra Bangali's premise is that non-Bengalis (as well as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh) are exploiting West Bengal economically at the expense of the native peoples.

The group complains that, among other things, “refugees occupy 200,000 jobs in the jute mills, leaving thousands of local Bengalis without jobs or means of survival. Millions of rupees leave Bengal annually. Nearly 70 percent of the land and homes of Kolkata are owned by non-Bengalis. Bengal's precious minerals such as iron and coal are sold to other states, and [West] Bengal is forced to purchase such basic staples as oil and sugar from outside the state.”

In 2007, a blogger on the WhatisIndia.com site put the problem in starker terms:

“The illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India's northeast... is a time-bomb that will explode sooner or later. The 4,096-kilometer-long and porous India-Bangladesh border makes for easy crossing.”

The blogger also said: “In Nagaland [a state in far north-eastern India], the population of Muslims, mostly illegal migrants from Bangladesh, has more than trebled in the past decade -- rising from 20,000 in 1991 to more than 75,000 in 2001. Illegal migrants have settled in various Indian states, including West Bengal, Assam, Bihar... Tripura and even in Delhi.”

The blog added: “The steady flow of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has significantly altered the region's demographic complexion, particularly in the border districts of West Bengal and Assam, and with important political implications. In Assam, illegal migrants affect state politics in a major way, having acquired a critical say in an estimated 50 of the state's 126 assembly constituencies. At the same time, the steady growth of radical and militant extremists spewing Islamic jargon in Bangladesh since September 11, 2001, and Dhaka's inability, or unwillingness, to tackle the same has raised the stakes further for India.”

An Indian blogger named Kanchan Gupta described the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis as a “silent invasion of India” and a “grim reality.”

Gupta alleged that Indian politicians and media are ignoring the issue of illegal immigration.

“Those who stand to gain from the votes of India’s bogus citizens as well as those who believe that there is nothing sacred about nationality, leave alone the nation; have successfully struck the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh off the agenda of public discourse.” Gupta wrote.

“Any effort, no matter how feeble, to raise the issue is met not only with fierce resistance but slander and worse. Yet, the indisputable fact is that Assam and the other states in India’s northeast, as also West Bengal and Bihar, continue to face a relentless tide of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. This ‘silent invasion’ by millions of people over the years has been encouraged by the Congress [party] and the [Communist Party of India]... Illegal immigrants are not only encouraged by these parties to enter India they are also provided with ‘documents’ to help them settle on land that belongs to others.”

Gupta specifically accuses left-wing politicians in West Bengal of encouraging illegal immigration in order to provide more (illegal) support for them during elections.

“Their names are entered on voters’ lists, thus creating a vast vote-bank of aliens who legally have no right to vote in India.” he wrote.

“This fraud has been perpetrated over the decades and the Congress [party] has been its beneficiary in Assam, while in West Bengal the Left has used Bangladeshis to inflate its vote-share significantly.”

Gupta focuses on Assam, in India's extreme northeast as a particular battleground.

“Assam is facing external aggression and internal disturbance on account of large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals and it becomes the duty of the Union of India to take all measures for protection of the State of Assam because it poses a threat to the integrity and security of the North-Eastern region, he declared.

Gupta directly links increased illegal immigration to the ambition of corrupt Indian politicians.

“There may not be sufficient political will to detect and deport foreigners from Indian soil, but there’s tremendous will to protect illegal immigrants,” he said.

Gupta even accused the Communist Party in West Bengal of “disguising” illegal Bangladeshi immigrants as Indian nationals, at the expense of the latter.

“[The Communist Party in West Bengal] has... instructed its cadre to facilitate [the settlement of Bangladeshis] as ‘Indian nationals’, often at the expense of genuine citizens,” he wrote.

“[Indian] Bengali farmers have woken up in the morning to find Bangladeshis squatting on their land; shops and small businesses have changed hands through distress sale engineered by the party faithful; homesteads left vacant for a day have been grabbed.”

Gupta also alleged that the growth rate of the Muslim population in West Bengal and Assam has exceeded that of Hindus since 1971 – largely due to illegal immigration from Bangladesh.

“The demographic change caused by illegal immigration is irrefutable,” he wrote.

“This abnormal trend [in respective growth rates] confirms that illegal immigration is both unrestricted and unabated. The demographic change caused by illegal immigration has had serious security, political, social and economic consequences.”

Due to their poverty and Islamic faith, Gupta contends, the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants pose a grave security risk to India.

“[They] live in ghettos and are prone to religious extremism, and are thus easy recruits for terrorist organizations aided and abetted by Pakistan,” he stated.

“Those immigrants who move on to other States across India carry with them radical views and many serve as scouts and foot soldiers for… [terrorist outfits].”

Most startlingly of all, perhaps, Gupta made an explicit connection between Bangladeshi immigrants in India to illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Regarding the economic impact of illegal immigration, Gupta charged: “Local wages, especially in the unskilled sector, are being undercut; farmland is being encroached upon; and urban slums are coming up at an alarming rate. In many ways, Bangladesh is turning into India’s Mexico. Tragically, the Government chooses to ignore the reality; the media pretends the reality does not exist.”

Tapan Ghosh is a Bengali Hindu who formed “Hindu Samhati” (Hindu Solidarity Movement) in 2008 in order to protect Hindus from what he describes as “persecution” by Muslim Bangladeshi immigrants.

He told Fox News in the U.S.: “The [1971] liberation movement for Bangladesh was characterized by an escalation of atrocities against the Hindus and pro-liberation Muslims. Hindus were specifically singled out because they were considered a hindrance to the Islamization of East Pakistan. In March 1971, the government of Pakistan and its supporters in Bangladesh launched a violent operation... to crush all pro-liberation activities. Bangladeshi government figures put the death toll at 300,000, though nearly 3 million Hindus were never accounted for and are presumed dead.”

Ghosh claimed Muslim immigrants in India are now attacking Hindus and forcibly seeking to convert Hindu girls to Islam. He has demanded that the Indian government halt illegal immigration from Bangladesh and deport undocumented Muslims back to Bangladesh.

“The establishment of massive Saudi-funded Madrasas across rural Bengal is only contributing to the growing religious extremism among Muslims, [and] implementation of Sharia laws by [Islamic] courts is quite prevalent in many villages,” he said.

Thus, while Indians are often the target of anti-immigrant rhetoric in many western countries, particularly Britain and the United States, Indians themselves are using the same inflammatory language against unwanted immigrants in their own country.

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