India: making the Bangladeshi border a political issue | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW
Although people have always crossed from Bangladesh to India, the issue has become a much more central topic since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
It was the BJP that initiated a new Indian citizenship amendment law in 2019, under which Hindu migrants are granted refugee status. Muslims, on the other hand, are either punished or sent back to Bangladesh or other neighboring countries.
BJP leaders also presented the crossings as a key issue in recent local elections.
According to statistics from the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and the National Crime Record Bureau, 1,115 Bangladeshis were arrested near the border for lack of proper permits in 2020, up to mid-December. During the same period, 3,173 people were arrested for attempting to illegally cross the border between India and Bangladesh.
The two South Asian neighbors share a border of 4,096 kilometers (2,545 miles). The line crosses five Indian states: West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram. According to local media, the BSF has identified half of the border as vulnerable to level crossings either due to lack of fences or lack of water bodies.
The economic pull factor
“You don’t need any data to know that there are many Bangladeshis working in India,” Indo-Bangladeshi refugee policy expert Suchandra Ghatak told DW.
“But this context cannot be seen politically: it is rather the socio-economic condition of the subcontinent that gave birth to such a situation. Political parties use this question for their own short-term gain”, a- she declared.
Allauddin (name changed) came to India from the Khulna district of Bangladesh near Indian West Bengal a few years ago.
“As India is a big country, there are many more unskilled employment opportunities here than in Bangladesh,” Allauddin told DW. He has an Indian identity card – the Aadhar card – and owns two vans in India. Some members of his family also live with him.
Chhobi Sikdar (name changed) came from the same region to India in the 1980s. She escaped domestic violence and crossed the border to seek a different life. She received her legal documents in India a decade later.
“People earn good wages in Dhaka. But it is easier to come to Calcutta than to Dhaka because of the distance. And doing odd jobs in Calcutta is easier for her because no one knows her here,” Chhobi told DW.
The political campaign against illegal immigration
The border crossing debate continues to generate interest as Indian police and security forces continue to capture illegal migrants. The arrest of three members of the Bangladesh-based terrorist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) has sparked a stir.
Large sections of the long Indo-Bangladesh border are very difficult to monitor
“This issue is never seriously discussed when the authorities of the two governments concerned meet,” India-based human rights activist Ashish Gupta told DW.
“The lack of discussion itself indicates that the Bangladeshi migrant issue is completely political. If it had not been so, the matter would have been treated differently.”
At the last joint meeting between the border guards of the two countries, the Bangladeshi side claimed that there was no major economic migration to India.
“Bangladesh’s GDP growth rate is now trending upward and per capita income is around $ 2,300 (€ 1,955). So there is no reason for Bangladeshis to cross the border to look for work or for any other reason. Shafeenul Islam, managing director of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), said at a joint press conference.
He also claimed that border guards on both sides are now more vigilant.
Migrants facing new challenges
Refugee policy expert Ghatak also believes things have become more difficult for migrants.
“Before, the situation was different. The borders weren’t that strict. Many people crossed the border in the morning, entered India for work, and returned to Bangladesh in the evening. manners, ”Ghatak said.
“Now there is evidence that Bangladeshis enter with a visa valid for one year. Then they start working in the unorganized sector and never come back. But can you call it infiltration? border illegally, ”she added.
India-based border activist Kiriti Ray told DW the issue needs to be addressed differently.
“This crisis cannot be solved politically. Bangladeshi workers should be treated like migrants from Nepal and Bhutan in India. If the state allowed their work in India, then the problem could be solved. “history of unplanned partitions. And the ethics of people on both sides of the border,” Ray said.