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Tag Archives | indo-bangladesh

Dynamics of Bangladeshi Migration into India

By Unmukta Sinha

Why we cannot disregard or oversimplify the Bangladeshi migrant issue into one of merely international border violation

In my previous post, we saw that migration from Bangladesh into India has been a continuous practice with the adjective “internal” before Partition in (1947) and “international” post Partition. For varied reasons, ranging from politically induced ones, to ecological issues such as the Farakka case, to loss of land and livelihood for the poor subsistence farmers; from religious persecution to the recent environmental degradation and climate change; and at times for quotidian reasons such as people visiting their relatives across the border, tending to their farmlands to simply getting tools from their warehouse situated in the borderlands, Bangladeshis have been consistently migrating into India.

Existing estimates suggest that Bangladeshi migration to India occurs mainly from eastern side of India particularly into three bordering states—West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The author of the referred link further suggests that these states serve as major “conduits of the flow”, meaning migrants who come into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura through the porous border migrate further into Bihar, Delhi and Rajasthan and even to Maharashtra. Thus, apart from being the recipients of Bangladeshi migrants West Bengal, Assam and Tripura also serve as transit destinations. The trigger being highly economic in nature, poor Bangladeshi migrants are driven in search of better avenues for jobs and livelihood. This extends the length of the vector of migration and reinforces the fact that India’s border security measures have to be tightened, however in a humane manner. The other major trigger for Bangladeshi migrants is environmental. Bangladesh being a low lying nation, prone to ravaging floods and cyclones that lead to land loss and induce a general insecurity from a lack of sustainable livelihood.

Those who migrate for economic reasons could be termed as ‘ecomigrants’ and those for environmental issues as ‘environmental migrants’. While the geographic impact of ecomigrants stems from merely crossing over international borders, environmental problems rarely follow political lines. What is being crossed by environmental migrants is the “environmental border” where land degradation stops or disaster doesn’t reach. This kind of logic may be extended unto all out-migrants. Political refugees must cross political borders, usually of a nation. Those fleeing ethnic violence must cross ethnic borders, which may not follow political boundaries. Migrants leaving due to economic decline must cross the economic bounds of the decline, which again may not follow the political border. Thus in the environmental context, Bangladeshi migrants suffering from the discomfort of climate change are forced to migrate to a more secure zone even if it requires entering into neighbouring states, particularly India, by simply crossing the “environmental borders” regardless of whether these borders coincide with international political borders or not. For these migrants it is hard to peg the responsibilities of migration on any one geopolitical, economic or social entity.

For instance, floods do not occur only because of heavy rain in Bangladesh, but rather because such precipitation outstrips water management systems in the upriver areas—heavy monsoonal rains in China, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam swell the Brahmaputra’s banks in Bangladesh causing untold damage. Likewise, salinity intrusion in southern Bangladesh follows not only from climactic reasons of sea-level rise or severe cyclones, but also from economic reasons of large-scale shrimp farming which requires acres of saline water ponds.

Further the impact of the illegal Bangladeshi migrant on the economy of the receiving state is significant, for he is willing to work long hours for a low wage, and is thus an invaluable asset. Thus it may be argued that if indeed there are about 12 to 20 million Bangladeshi migrants in India, there must millions of Indians employing them. This indicates that certain regions in India have employers who would accept illegal labour migrants which pulled the Bangladeshi migrants to choose these places over others to integrate into the black/underground economic sector—for example Assam and West Bengal as tea plantation workers or Delhi and Mumbai as domestic help.

Thus even a simple cursory look at the issue of Bangladeshi migration into India throws up a multitude of challenges, ones that the Indian nation, awake to this deluge of illegal entries, cannot disregard or oversimplify the issue into one of merely international border violation. The dynamics of this movement of people is deeply intertwined with not just the economics of the two nations and overlapping regions, but also environmental and climactic reasons. Thus India needs to introspect into what it can do to alleviate some of the triggers: diverting the excess waters of the Brahmaputra could reduce chances of flooding in downriver areas in Bangladesh, or issuing work permits to labour migrants would stop their persecution at the hands of their Indian employers and make them more accountable.

Unmukta Sinha has previously interned with the Takshashila Institution.

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The Plight of People Living in between Spaces—the Migrant Perspective

By Unmukta Sinha

Bilateral policies regarding Bangladeshi migrants must not forget the vicissitudes of the migrants

The border dividing the nations India and Bangladesh is not a straightforward geometric line drawn from point A to B. In some areas it snakes across villages, agricultural farmlands, temples, and even households. Some of the families who live literally on the borderland, the in-between spaces also known as “contact zones” straddling two nations, often have members technically cross borders on a daily basis.

This brings forward a whole new dynamic of what “triggers” the migrant to move/migrate and what “destination” he chooses. While in the domain of geopolitical discourse this quotidian movement of people across the fence would constitute cross border migration, for those residing in the “contact zones” it might not be as simple or straightforward. In many cases, the “trigger” could be as basic as fetching water from the well and the choice of “destination” as simple as his own backyard.

Cultural affinities, common language, co-mingling and a long shared colonial history in the regions of today’s West Bengal, north-eastern India and Bangladesh (before the post-Independence political borders were formed) provide shared identities and thus a relatively strong bond between these rather poor and powerless border residents, especially when they have relatives living across the river, or their children attending school which stands in the political territory of the other nation. To these so-called “migrants” the notion of borders as international, national or local barriers is merely a symbol of power deeply entrenched in geopolitical disputes, and one that hinders the dynamic of their day to day lives.

Therefore, the people living at the borders, more than often people living hand to mouth, are found constantly toying with their lives (even to the extent of risking their lives) in an attempt to dismantle this barrier both physically and psychologically. In order to combat their dire poverty, adults as well as children are often drawn into rackets of bootlegging and human trafficking. The smuggling of goods – usually fish, oil, mobile handsets, soaps, fake currency metals and small arms from the Bangladeshi side and cattle, fruits, fertilizers, pesticide, salt, spices, sugar and “bidi” (hand rolled local cheap cigars) from the Indian side is rampant.

Along the porous borders of India and Bangladesh there are numerous shanties where prostitution is a roaring business. Minor Bangladeshi girls moreover are coerced into contractual marriages with the Indian farmers or sold as slaves by the poor Bangladeshi families. Driven by the need of survival, families at large and women and children specifically are subjected to rapes, murders, extortion, slavery and sexual abuse on a daily basis.

Furthermore, daily wage labourers are treated inhumanely and are subject to the whims and fancies of the border security personnel. For residents of these borderlands whose households, family ties, livelihoods, or even daily chores were disrupted all of a sudden by the Radcliffe Line, these are valid questions. These narratives hint/point towards the continuous plight of the residents, the volatility of their lives and violation of their basic human rights—those whose physical villages, communities or households straddle two nations while their basic needs as well as psychological needs transcend these artificially constructed geopolitical barriers.

Thus, while coming up with bilateral policies regarding the Bangladeshi migrants the Indian government as well as its Bangladeshi counterpart must factor in these sensitive issues. The region although divided by an international border has been historically, culturally, linguistically, quintessentially one; thus the people residing officially on either sides of the border are one—extremely close-knit and hard to break. In an attempt to escape poverty or sustain themselves borderland quotidian “migrants” will find a way to cut corners by resorting to illegal means supported by their vast migrant network—the local gangs, political parties, border security personnel and friends and kinship across the borders. If the States must break this vicious cycle and sincerely address this issue, it is imperative to factor in the migrant perspective.

Unmukta Sinha has previously interned with the Takshashila Institution

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