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Friday, September 22, 2006

Get used to Bangladeshi immigration

Over the last few months, the issue of immigration has been hotly debated in the US and Europe. Images of daring journeys to Canary Islands and immigration supporters carrying Mexican flags in the US have flooded Television sets worldwide. India has been facing its own immigration problem for the last 60 years. While till 80s, most immigrants would be non-Muslims from Bangladesh (like my family); since 80s millions of Bangladeshi Muslims have crossed the borders. Though there are a wide range of dubious estimates, commonly cited numbers indicate 2-4Mn Bangladeshis in West Bengal, 1-3Mn in North-Eastern states, and close to a million in Delhi and Mumbai put together.

This migration has changed the nature of the labor market in India. Most of the low paying jobs in towns and cities have been taken up by Bangladeshis. Repairmen, rickshaw pullers, construction workers, Porters; who earlier used to be Biharis are now predominantly Bangladeshis. There are obvious benefits of this immigration: labor costs have remained low thereby reducing inflation. And in a country like India which on one hand offers minimal social and public services and on the other hand is growing fast economically; there is little incremental strain on resources because of this influx. Bangladeshis, apart from their religion, have a very similar culture to those of Indians; and as a result there has been no case of cultural tensions (as evident in US/ Europe). Immigration has also made life easier for Indian minorities; for e.g. massive migration of Bangladeshis to Assam made Bengalis a potent political force and eliminated completely the anti-Bengali movement in Assam.

However, there is one area where they do differ with the majority: Religion. And much of the opposition to Bangladeshi immigration to India relates to fears about alteration of the demographic profile of India. But is there any solution? It seems almost inevitable that economic prospects in India will be better than Bangladesh for many years. Given India’s overall security situation, it is unlikely that we can strengthen border patrol the way US is trying. Also it will be difficult to morally justify a strong anti-immigration stance when Indians themselves mostly brag about the achievements of the Indian Diaspora. And finally, Indians better get used to large scale migration. Given the almost sure prospects of global warming, it is certain that most of Bangladesh will go under sea level pretty soon. We better get ourselves ready for that exodus.


Anonymous said...

You missed the most imporatant point, increase in terrorism in the north-east. It is a well established fact that the ISI and the ULFA are using bangladesh as a base. And the porous border is hardly making anything easier.

Shivaji said...

Immigrants have little to do with Bangladesh being a base for ULFA; Bangladesh, Burma and Bhutan would have been in the same place whether immagrants moved across border or not. And ULFA is not driven by immigrants; rather local money spinners. As for ISI using Bangladesh; there is little proof the Indian government has to support that; its mostly a part of their usual propaganda which also blames ISI for every ill of the country.

Anonymous said...

Immigration is a problem because of this post modern concept called nationalism. Before that where was the issue of immigration being a problem. I sincerely believe that the US has no moral right to prevent immigration when the country is formed out of late state immigrants only.
And as far as associating ills like terrorism and crime is concerned its vague to relate it to immigration. They happen because of inherent economic disparities in any society and the attendant opportunities of earning livelihood by doing this activities.
It is the fundamental human right to go across to any place in the world and settle there and livelihood.

Anonymous said...

Point taken on immigrants vs terrorism.However due to this major influx the demographic of the area is majorly changing. According to a recent report major portion of the Kaziranga National Park has been encroached by the bangladeshis. The political parties are using the immigrants as a vote bank and wouldn't dare to take any step against them.

As for terrorism, border of bangladesh has become major passage for millitants crossing over to India. It is also a known fact that that ULFA has its terror camps in bangladesh with or without the help of ISI.

Even though influx due to economic reasons are inevitable, the repercusions of it on the North-East is a worrysome scenario, alteast for the local residents.

Corporate Serf said...

I believe that the ISI issue is not really a bogey man. I have been to Dhaka. It has become a completely kleptocratic society. Much more so than India. In this scenario it is very easy for ISI to create trouble. And the current govt there does encourage this.

However, your original post is still valid. We do need free movement of people in the subcontinent, as well as free movement of goods. In fact, even if the other countries don't do it, it is in India's interest to do so unilaterally. Taking security into account, naturally.

If we manage to get the economic migrants to come in legally without too much hassle, it would be much more easy to spot the criminals and ISI plants and the like. Plus, this is going to affect the bad guy's revenue stream.

As you say, Bangladeshis particularly will have very little problem integrating in the Indian society.

confused said...


Indians diaspora in US is legal, atleast a major part of it.

And no, its not a religious issue. I object to anyone enteering my country unless he/she is legally allowed irrespective of religion.This is especially true for economic migrants.

Indian government can of course starts using work permits and that would fine.

Otherwise, why not with Pakistan?

confused said...

''As for ISI using Bangladesh; there is little proof the Indian government has to support that; its mostly a part of their usual propaganda which also blames ISI for every ill of the country''

Ok. On what basis this stupendous leap on knowledge has been made?

Er... for starters, almost half of Mumbai blast team has ran away to Bangladesh.

Paresh barua and almost whole of ULFA top leadership is in Bangladesh.

And due, there is no problem with legal immigiration, I am all for it. Bu illegal? Hell no, if that means Hindu Illegals, I dont want them too. If the government feels it neds them it has to come out with a work permit program and not keep open borders. Otherwise, why not have open borders with Pakistan too?

(or for that matter Singapore having open borders!)

Yes, immigration can be good for a country, but each country has to decide what kind of immigrants it needs, who shall serve needs natives are not able to fulfil. So when you talk of social costs, remember all those shanty towns....

Rezwan said...

Well I have seen the reverse side of it. Some parts of my wife's family migrated to Bangladesh as late as 1980. Thousands of Indian nationals are living in Bangladesh and have created papers here. They are working without work permit and only recently Bangladesh government had toughened the work permit rules. And I personally know some who still value their Indian passport (implicitely) and keep as a backup if they face difficulty in this country.

Most of the Bangladeshi immigrations (illegal) to India are economic as has some family links in both sides. And they have succeeded thanks to the loose border security (we should not blame the governments, because they have their limitations). And there are a lot of politics with the immigrants inside the big cities like Mumbai. Indian politicians try to legalize them before election as their vote can be purchased. And after winning the election they sought against the immigrants treating them like a chewed gum.

More over there are some over generalizations. Like some Bangla speaking people may have migrated 10-15 years ago. It is ineteresting to observe that while Hindu migrants are well abosorbed, the Muslim migrants after their 10-15 years of stay in a place are still treated alien because they have a different religion.

I think that these migrants are fluid in nature. As soon as they get opportunities in Bangladesh, they will come back. So it is of Indian interest that Bangladesh should remain functional and developing.

India has done little to stop the current coalition government's (between BNP and the Islamic parties alliance) anti-Indian propaganda. These days it does not give strong message in favor of the more secular Awami league too. It seems India has lost interest on Bangladesh and it is rather relaxed deeming the country as an ISI base. In fact it is ignoring the struggle within Bangladesh, which are trying to resist the religious politics and trying to break free the shackle of the miseries they put.

It would be wrong to ignore a friend. As India cannot afford to have more enemies.

Corporate Serf said...

More over there are some over generalizations. Like some Bangla speaking people may have migrated 10-15 years ago. It is ineteresting to observe that while Hindu migrants are well abosorbed, the Muslim migrants after their 10-15 years of stay in a place are still treated alien because they have a different religion.

I think this has more to do with the political dynamics within India. Parties here, particularly on the left, sees Muslim voters as a vote bank to exploit and nothing more. An illegal Muslim immgrant family is even more godsend to them. Wow, a permanent dependence. If you complain too much and/or not vote for cpm, back you go to Bangladesh, and pay the touts again to come back in. Of course, the touts give a cut to the local cpm dada. Nothing moves in bengal without cpm's support/connivance/knowledge.

And if this inconveniences some Bangla speaking Muslim citizen's (say a minor matter of being deported to an alien country where you know no-one and which does not accept you to boot) does the secular doyens care? Hah!

rajeev said...


Nice blog!

Why don’t you consider writing about some of the new “India 2.0” sites that are creating a little buzz as well?




Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

shivaji u certainly touched upon a very potent topic . but while exploring the topic u seem to have deviated to unchartered regions to justify views , which obviously r personal . but doin that u shud mak sur that ur homework is correct . odrswise u r endin up propagatin bad blood unnecessarily . point m driving at is ur mention of ANTI-BENGALI MOVEMENT IN ASSAM . for ur information i ud like to mention that Bengalis have always been there in North East since the propagation of the Raj to there . it started with defeat of Burmese Armies in 1826 who were occupying land there aftr defeating the original Assam rulers the "Ahoms" in early 1820s . to run the Raj administrative machinery British started to import Bengalis educated under custom-made Western education system ( which then was basically a clerck vending machine for British .also the fact the Bengal were subjugated by British nearly over a century gave them a head start over the local populace and subsequent fact of Calcutta being the capital of Raj also helped during that period ) . This way they propagated to whole of NE . this administrative educated-labourers proved to thir British masters that Assamese culture and its language is basically a derivative of Bengali . So besides many measures Bengali was declared official language for whole of Assam against the will of the local populace . The situation prevailed from 1836 to 1872 . the situation continued even after indipendence . the administrative machinery was mostly run by Bengalis . It was true not only for Assam , it was true for other states like Arunachal , Meghalaya , Mizoram , Manipur , Tripura etc . People didnot ever had anything against them in general as long as they didnot impose themselves upon the locales and as long as they decided to get assimilated with the locales which hardly was the case . only in late 1970s there happened in Assam " Bhaxha Andulon" .it was basically a popular outrage against use of Bengali language in various walks of official and public affairs . then there was "Bidekhi Andulon" which was basically against the illigel Bangladeshi migrants . thses events were not against Bengalis et all .

So its wrong on ur part to mention the ANTI BENGALI SENTIMENT IN ASSAM as a generic term .

Also wud like to bring fore to the point that TRIPURA wasnot originally a Bengali dominated state . migration has irreversably changed it to an Bengaly dominated state . a state govt. being run by Bengalis , political affiliation bein Marxist Communist ;if it gives any indication . now the aborigines of the states are fighting for recognistion of their culture and rights .

then the justifications you are giving to the need of accepting Bangladeshi migrants in the name of economic service they are performing is an issue i wud suggest you to look into again . i wud suggest you to go through the history of Balkan Conflicts . how the whole Yogoslavia got disintegrated ? why Serbs were against ethenic Albanians ? i guess you wont dispute the fact Albania happens to be Europe's Bangladesh . the migration from there destabilised the whole of Balkans . it caused a demographic change which ultimately led to the bloodshed of 1990s . examples like these are many . look into the migration patterns in Far East former Soviet regions . especially Tadzekistaan , Azerbaijaan , Turkmenistaan . and how unstable these region are till this date .dont make mistake this Bangladeshi migration post 1971 is a time bomb ticking to explode . the Congress(I) ruled Assam Govt. and even power centres all know the ground realities . But official stand is that there is not a single Bangladeshi in Assam . if you have read the 2002 census report you might get an Idea how classically this region is poised for a repeat of Balka affair . it says out of 27 districts in Assam 13 districts has muslim majority now . mind you these districts are mostly bordering Banglades . While 1991 census only 2 districts were in muslim majority . these are pretty conservative official figures you have no idea about the ground realities . go through the history of NE you will see before 20th century there was only a minuscle muslim populace over there . British brought sizeable no.s mostly farmers to the arid Barak and lower Brahmaputra valley for cultivation . it didnot contribute in any way to change anything . they were very much absorved to the mainstream but look what irreversable demographic changes the post 1971 migration has done to its demography . infact now there are many muslim organisations propagating to assimilate the border districts with Bangladesh or going for a muslim state .MULTA being one of the influential ones . you have not seen the mushrooming of madrassas in these areas preaching curriculam that were written more than 200 years back . you havenot seen Pakistani flags being hoisted in these areas on 14th August . you have no idea of acts like ILLEGAL MIGRANT DETERMINATION TRIBUNAL ACT ( and its new avataar after IMDT was scrapped last yr by SC). You dont know in its operation from 1985 till 2005 these IMDT tribunals discarded 14 Bangladeshis to the other side .

as for the ur utter opposition of ULFA . i wud lik to ask you the fact if u r so much against hanging Afzal due to the support of Kashmir Valley he espouges . why you dont look at ULFA problem ferom the same perspective . u wont believe me if i say every family in Assam had one member as ULFA cadre at one point of time . yeah i do agree lots of their demads and operational doctrines are irrational and meanigless with time , but dont just shrug off an organisation in existence since 1979 . thousands who laid down lives at such tender age definitely had issues in their mind for which they were even willing to trade their life for .

plz look into these reactions .