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The ‘Bangladesh’ Issue in India

We call them ‘Miyas’. The word ‘Miya’ could mean two different things according to my interpretation- a group of Muslim people or the word means ‘gentleman’ among Muslims and used in greeting one another. In whichever form the word ‘Miya’ is confined, we in Nagaland have used it for our own convenience. The name has stuck and we refer to these Bangladeshi migrants in Nagaland as ‘Miyas’. Miyas inhabiting rural villages of Nagaland, outskirts of Dimapur and in the commercial centers of both Kohima and Dimapur. With a rough estimation of 3.5 lakh ‘Miyas’ in Nagaland, we also have a fair share of them among us. They are found at construction places, ‘paan’ shops, grocery store and now owning big businesses too. Somewhere along their stay in the state they’ve also acquainted themselves to our ‘Freedom Struggle’, sometimes getting protection from Underground factions or rumoured to fund them whenever possible within their limits. Not forgetting that they are also our ‘vote bank’ for dysfunctional activities of politics and government in Nagaland.

So a little question lurks behind the enigmatic nature of these ‘new’ inhabitants in Nagaland: “Who are Miyas?
Bangladesh means ‘country of Bengal’. Their official language is Bengali and it was Rabindranath Tagore who also composed their National anthem. Perhaps Punjab and Bengal were the worst victims of ‘the Partition’ of India both pre- and post-Independence days. An unforgiving vindictive mirror based on religion and Colonization’s indirect influence reflects back sadly on these two states; marred into their history and formation. With a little help from her Indian friends in 1971, Bangladesh parted ways from Pakistan and called itself ‘Country of Bengal’. However, Independence came with some a lesson and bitter-sweet taste of freedom as the country saw a reign of corrupt administration, which tried to nationalize everything triggering famines, poverty and also widespread corruption in the land. By 1991, Bangladesh in the 90’s saw better days and had recovered some of its economy from those early hazy days of Independence. Bangladesh is the 9th most populated country and the one of the world’s most densely populated places in the world.

Madhya Masaldanga- No man’s land. They are a group of villages, or called ‘enclaves’ which belong to Bangladesh but covered on all sides by India- stuck on the wrong side of the border. Enclaves that neither India nor Bangladesh would claim as theirs. All in all about 50 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and people living in these enclaves.

Bangladesh is not only home to Bengalis but also to ethnic groups of people like the Choto Kumira Tripura people originally from Tripura who had migrated to Bangladesh a few centuries back, and adapted themselves to the Bengali culture, language and habits. Some Bangladeshi people have Burmese ancestry as well from Burmese migrants during The Burmese War.

Perhaps Assam, among North-eastern states of India was deeply affected by the influx of illegal immigrants into India. Their Student protests and agitations had began just nine years into the formation of Bangladesh. And it all led up to the infamous Neille massacre in Nagaon district of Assam in February 1983; recounted as perhaps one of Assam’s bloodiest history of ‘ethnic cleansing’.  After the elections of 1983, these immigrants had joined politics, and slowly and slowly inhabited the rural regions and districts of Assam. In unofficial records Assamese people are a minority in its own land and an Islamic majority now. In 1985 the Indian government had agreed to built a fence along the Assam-Bangladesh border but it was difficult to differentiate the Assamese Muslim and the Bangladeshi Muslim. So the government yet again made another mistake while jeopardizing the Muslim minority in India. A certain ‘fear’ psychosis embedded in the minds of Assamese people of being overpowered in their own lands, while incidents of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants procurring voter ID cards and Indian rations were reported. Tripura, here, is also another good example. Tripura has a lot of Bengali influence yet the reality also strikes us that its tribal population has disintegrated to a 23% in Tripura. These two above examples show how much influence and effect of influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have affected our demography too.

In Mizoram, resides a group of people who call themselves Chakma. However Chakmas are not considered as ‘natives’ of Mizoram, it is believed they have migrated from another place. They are ascribed as a scheduled tribe of India and called Chakma Autonomous District Council. The total population of Chakma and Tongchangya (another group in Mizoram) was estimated to be more than 100,000. The total population of CADC was 34,528 as per a 2001 census. Using the population census as a parameter, the growth in population of Chakmas in the state has not tallied with the natural growth rate which can suggest a huge influx of migration from another place. The interesting thing is Arunachal Pradesh also have Chakma people, whom they believe, have migrated up from Mizoram, and Mizos believe they migrated to Mizoram via Hailakandi District in Assam. Though Mizoram is strict in issuing ID cards to outsiders and other illegal immigrants from the Bangladeshi, they have found complex situation to addressed about the Chakma people in Mizoram.

Besides the North-eastern states, India have reported of immigration influx. Bangladesh migrants are the largest group of migrants in India. Constituting, on an official account, of 3,084,826 people according to 2001 census! However, media and unofficial sources have estimated even a round figure of 20 million! In West Bengal it is very difficult to differentiate one from the other as both can speak Bengali; and in trying to address the problem one also could, unfortunately, incriminate the real Indian Muslims who remained after the Partition of Pakistan and India. In West Bengal, reports and change in demography of rural places like Nandigram have been reported. Reports from Kerela State Intelligence Officials claim that the state had seen an influx of immigrants recently. Because of well paid wages for both skilled and semi-skilled workers in the state, workers claiming to be from West Bengal began streaming into the southern state. Big Indian cities, where one’s identity can be hidden, are known to be ideal places for illegal immigrants in India.  

But beyond this issue, human trafficking is a very thriving and threatening affect of the porous India-Bangladesh border. The Centre for Women and Children studies in 1998 recorded an estimated 27,000 Bangladeshi women were forced into prostitution in India. Some of them are further trafficked to the Middle-east, through India, for forced labour or sexual exploitation.

Under the Citizenship Act of 1955 citizenship can be acquired by:
- Birth- if one or both parents are Indian citizens and NOT illegal immigrants.
- By descent
- By registration:- But not if the person is an illegal immigrant.
- By naturalization:- If the person has lived 12 years in India over an aggregate of 14 years. How through legal means and NOT as an illegal immigrant (because there will no document about the said person).
- By incorporation of territories that India has claimed.
Under the Citizenship Act of India 1955, the interpretation of an illegal immigrant is one who has:
- Entered the country without proper documentation, authority or prescribed travel documents.
- Entered the country with proper documentation, authority or prescribed travel documents but has remained beyond the permitted time.

So our question should rather be “Who are the illegal Bangladesh immigrants in India?” “What are they doing here?” Post 15th August 1947, our history with Pakistan (Bangladesh then, East Pakistan) had become two countries. Whether on grounds of religion or other disagreements the boundaries became clear for these two countries. They are consigned themselves as two separate, individual country-members in the UN. So what we ought to understand, perhaps, is that we are dealing with an ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrant’ in India. The issue is not about whether the North-east states cannot hold themselves integrated, because of disunity among its people, states etc. But rather this important and pressing issue of illegal immigrants who are streaming into India and who are NOT Indian citizens. This is a country-country issue, this is a border issue. This is directing our concentration to the porous borders of India and Bangladesh. I am even apprehensive to ask, Does India want another border-issue on its lap? Pakistan was an inevitable conflict, China could perhaps have been prevented, or taken enough measures to protect the border areas, to reassure Indian citizens in the borders of China which it had not. And with Bangladesh then, are we waiting for it to happen?
Agono (Rugotsono) Iralu is a 24 year old native of Kohima, Nagaland. Since she was 17 years, Agono has lived and studied in Norway. Right now, she volunteers with people from slum areas in Delhi and in doing so she hopes to learn more about their lives too. Her column ‘Through a Young Mind’ will be featured regularly on the Wednesday issue of the Morung Express.

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