Deutsche Welle (English edition)

India: Turning the Bangladesh­i border into a political issue

Bangladesh­is illegally crossing the border into India has become an increasing­ly fraught political issue. But experts warn that it is being politicize­d for electoral gain.


Although people have always crossed from Bangladesh into 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 Act in 2019, according to which Hindu migrants are given the status of refugees. Muslims, on the other hand, are either punished or sent back to Bangladesh or other neighborin­g countries.

BJP leaders also played up the crossings as a key issue during

recent local elections.

According to statistics from the the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and National Crime Record Bureau, 1,115 Bangladesh­is were taken into custody near the border for lacking proper permits during 2020, up to mid-December. In the same

period, 3,173 people were arrested for attempting to illegally cross the border from India into Bangladesh.

The two South Asian neighbors share a 4,096-kilometer (2,545-mile) border. The line runs through 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 crossings either due to the lack of fencing or bodies of water.

The economic pull factor

"You don't need any data to know that many Bangladesh­is work in India," an expert on Indo-Bangladesh­i refugee policy Suchandra Ghatak told DW.

"But this context can't be seen politicall­y: It is rather the socio-economic condition of the subcontine­nt that has given birth to such a situation. The political parties use this issue for their own short-term gain," she said.

Allauddin (name changed) came to India from the Bangladesh­i district of Khulna, close to India's West Bengal, a few years ago.

"Since India is a big coun

try, unskilled job options are much greater here than in Bangladesh," Allauddin told DW. He possesses an Indian ID — Aadhar card — and owns two vans in India. Some of his family also lives with him.

Chhobi Sikdar (name changed) came from the same area to India in the 1980s. She escaped domestic violence and crossed the border to search for a different life. She received her legal documents in India a

decade later.

"People do earn good wages in Dhaka. But it is easier to come to Kolkata than Dhaka because of the distance. And doing odd jobs in Kolkata is easier for her because nobody knows her here," Chhobi told DW.

The political campaign over illegal immigratio­n

The debate over border crossings continues to stoke interest while Indian police and security forces continue to capture illegal migrants. The arrest of three members of the Bangladesh­based terrorist group Jamaatul-Mujahideen (JMB), caused a particular­ly big stir.

"This issue is never seriously discussed when the authoritie­s of the two concerned government­s meet," India-based human rights activist Ashish Gupta told DW.

"The lack of discussion itself indicates that the issue of Bangladesh­i migrants is completely political. Had it not been so, then the case would have been dealt with differentl­y."

During the last joint meeting between border guard officials from the two countries, the Bangladesh­i side claimed that there is no major economic migration into India.

"The GDP growth rate of Bangladesh is now on an upward trend and the per capita income is close to $2,300 (€1,955). So, there is no reason really for Bangladesh­is to cross the border to seek jobs or for any other reasons," Shafeenul Islam, director-general of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), told a joint press conference.

He also claimed that border guards on both sides are now being more vigilant.

Migrants facing new challenges

Refugee policy expert Ghatak also believes that things have become more difficult for migrants.

"Previously the situation was different. The borders were not that strict. There were many who would cross the border in the morning, entering India for work and going back to Bangladesh in the evening. Now such things are not possible. So people find other ways," 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 go back. But can you call this infiltrati­on? They did not cross the border illegally," she added.

India-based border activist Kiriti Ray told DW that the problem has to be solved differentl­y.

"This crisis cannot be solved politicall­y. Bangladesh­i workers should be treated like migrants from Nepal and Bhutan in India. If the state-authorized their job in India, then the problem might be solved. One cannot forget the history of unplanned partitions. And the ethos of the people from both sides of the border," Ray said.

 ??  ?? Bangladesh has denied that its citizens cross the border into India for economic reasons
Bangladesh has denied that its citizens cross the border into India for economic reasons
 ??  ?? Large sections of the long Indo-Bangladesh­i border are very difficult to monitor
Large sections of the long Indo-Bangladesh­i border are very difficult to monitor

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