Bangali Kangali immigrants in India

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India’s Ticking Immigrant Time Bomb

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By Ramtanu Maitra

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http://www.Atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/GA14Df05.html

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Jan 14, 2005

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There is little doubt among those in New Delhi who have even a cursory knowledge of India’s northeast that it is a time bomb that will explode sooner or later.

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The 4,096-kilometer-long and porous India-Bangladesh border makes for easy crossing. In Nagaland, the population of Muslims, mostly illegal migrants from Bangladesh, has more than trebled in the past decade – the figure 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 (in the northeastern districts of Katihar, Sahebganj, Kishanganj and Purnia), Tripura and even in Delhi.

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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.

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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. Yet to date it has proved impossible for New Delhi to get an action plan to deal with the problem off the ground. The late national security adviser, J N “Mani” Dixit, was reportedly aware and concerned about these developments. But he did not find eager ears in the Manmohan Singh cabinet to listen and attend to this real danger. It is also known that the US Embassy is aware of the danger, but will not say anything lest it be construed as interfering in another sovereign state’s affairs. Internal quibbling among the powers-that-be in Delhi over threat perception priorities has worsened the situation.

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Meanwhile, the 1983 legislation that stymied India’s historic immigration law, the Foreigners Act of 1946, and seriously tipped the scales in favor of the illegal immigrants – the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act (IMDT) – was recently reinforced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. For illegal immigrants, many of whom could be anti-India (or anti-Hindu, whatever fits the objective) extremists and Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) operatives, the playing field remains better than level.

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A  Loaded  Act

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One of the primary reasons the playing field is favorable to the illegal immigrants is the IMDT – put in place in 1983 by India under Congress Party rule. Widely known in Assam as the “Black Act”, the IMDT made the detection and deportation of illegal immigrants virtually impossible. The law placed the onus of proving nationality on the citizen who makes the complaint and not on the migrant, thus encouraging illegal migrants of other states to move to Assam because it would be most difficult to be deported from there.

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The IMDT is, in fact, probably the only immigration law in the world that puts the burden of proof on the complainant to prove that the individual in question is an illegal immigrant. The complainant will even have to put down money to make the complaint. The IMDT is also unique in the sense that the enforcing authority is not the executive, but retired members of the judiciary serving as judges in a tribunal.

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Under the provisions of this law, police can serve notice to a person declared an illegal migrant by the IMDT tribunals asking him to “remove himself from the country” within a period of 30 days. During the period, however, it is almost impossible to keep the individual in question under surveillance because of a lack of adequate manpower. As a result, the immigrant can simply shift to another location. There have, in fact, been instances in which persons declared foreigners by the IMDT tribunals even changed their names; under such circumstances, it is almost impossible to detect and apprehend them. Moreover, as per the provisions of the act, the police are not empowered to seize any documents or raid the premises of the suspected illegal migrants.

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Demographic   Change

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Whether the illegal migration of Bangladeshis in droves will collapse the 1.2 billion-strong Indian republic is not an issue. The actual threat manifests itself in a different, non-linear way. For instance, take the change in the state of Assam’s demography as a result of the thrust of illegal immigration. The Assamese who are losing land to these illegal migrants are becoming increasingly unhappy and disaffected with a New Delhi that apparently can do nothing to help them. These Assamese are turning in large numbers to secret support of the various anti-India secessionist and separatist movements that have spawned in the area. This is a serious danger to India.

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Rough estimates suggest that more than 16 million migrants, mostly Muslims but also some Hindus, have found shelter since 1972, mostly in Assam and West Bengal. The August 2000 report of the Task Force on Border Management placed the figure at 15 million, with 300,000 Bangladeshis entering India illegally every month. In a more recent report, published in the Asian Age on September 28, 2003, India’s defense minister told a seminar on “Integrated Management of Security” in Chandigarh that about 100,000 illegal Bangladeshi migrants are entering India every month.

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A month ago, on December 10, the Indian Supreme Court issued notices to the central government and the Election Commission of India seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the presence of nearly 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the country and striking their names off the electoral rolls in various states. The Supreme Court notice was the result of a public interest lawsuit filed by the Image India Foundation (IIF), a non-governmental organization. The IIF lawsuit stated that 85% of the total encroached forest land in Assam was found to be in the hands of illegal Bangladeshi migrants, and that they have a major say in 43 out of 126 of the state’s assembly constituencies.

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Two Immigration Laws & A Vote Bank

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The lawsuit asserted that Indian authorities believe there is a close nexus between the illegal migrants and the extremist groups operating in the northeastern states. The IIF lawyer explained that as a result of the population movement from Bangladesh, the indigenous people of Assam are being reduced to a minority in their home state and affected states, including Bihar, West Bengal, Delhi, Tripura, Nagaland and Maharashtra. The former governor of Assam, Lieutenant-General (retired) S K Sinha, warned explicitly in 1998 that if the demographic invasion of Assam was not tackled properly, the Assameses’ “cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined”.

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At the time the IMDT was passed, Sinha reported in the following manner to the president of India on the ground situation: “As a result of the population movement from Bangladesh, the specter looms large of the indigenous people of Assam being reduced to a minority in their home state. Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined. This silent and insidious demographic invasion of Assam may result in the loss of geostrategically vital district of Lower Assam [on the border of Bangladesh]. The influx of these illegal migrants is turning these districts into a Muslim-majority region. It will then only be a matter of time when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made. The rapid growth of international Islamic fundamentalism may provide the driving force for this demand … loss of lower Assam [the area close to Bangladesh] will sever the entire land mass of the northeast from the rest of India, and the rich natural resources of the region will be lost to the nation.”

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In hindsight, the governor’s assessment was right on the mark. But precious little has been done about it. In fact, the Manmohan Singh government explicitly endorsed the continuation of the IMDT. On December 14, addressing the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian parliament attended by members elected by the people), Home Minister Shivraj Patil said: “The [formerly ruling] NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government was in favor of repealing the IMDT Act. But the UPA government wants that it should remain in the statute books.” It almost sounds as if the current UPA government welcomes illegal migration in order to change Assam’s demography. Some suggest the policy is dictated not by national interest but by the compulsion of “vote banks” (the illegal migrants vote for the political party that protects them).

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Besides increasing the danger that a significant number of anti-India terrorists have been sent in to India’s northeast from Bangladesh by the Pakistani ISI and other terrorist outfits, the IMDT contradicts, and in fact violates, the Foreigners Act of 1946, the official, long-standing immigration law of India that is still in effect.

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The Foreigners Act states: “According to the Foreigners (Report to the police) Order, 1971, made under the Foreigners Act 1946, every householder or other person shall report to the officer in charge of the nearest police station the arrival or presence in his household or any other premises occupied by him or under his control of any foreigner, if he knows or has reasons to believe that he is a foreigner.” It also adds that non-compliance with this order will attract punitive action under the Foreigners Act of 1946 of up to five years of imprisonment, or a fine or both.

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Ramtanu Maitra writes for a number of international journals and is a regular contributor to the Washington-based EIR and the New Delhi-based Indian Defence Review. He also writes for Aakrosh, India’s defense-tied quarterly journal.

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