Fence, Phensidyl and border tensions with Bangladesh

It began with smuggled cough syrup

If you read the Dhaka dailies…
It all began when troops from the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) caught hold of 50-year old Ramdhan Pal on the grounds that he was smuggling 20 bottles of Phensidyl, a cough syrup that is legal in India, but is illegal in Bangladesh (because it is addictive and responsible for ‘destroying the morale of the younger generation along the frontier districts of northern Bangladesh’).

Following this a contingent of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) entered Bangladesh and launched ‘violent attacks on six houses of civilians’. BDR personnel reached the scene and were fired upon by the Indian BSF who was now helping looters. The Bangladeshi forces were compelled to fire in self-defence, killing Assistant Commandant Jeevan Kumar and severely injuring Constable KK Surendran. Three Bangladeshi civilians, including a girl who was 1.5 km away from the ‘zero-line’, were killed in the cross-fire.

…and if you read the Indian ones
The Indian version of events has it that Ramdhan Pal was being kidnapped by armed villagers when the BSF entered the fray. The BSF chief alleged that the BDR had dragged the Indian contingent into Bangladesh and before attacking them. The Indian High Commission in Dhaka alleged that this attack was pre-planned as the BDR had resorted to unprovoked firing, even as top-officials were engaged in bilateral discussions on border-security in Dhaka. As a direct result of this incident, tensions have increased all along the India-Bangladesh border.

It’s about the fence
The roots of this latest border clash can be traced back to India’s concerns over illegal immigration and terrorist camps in Bangladeshi territory. In response to Bangladesh’s refusal to conduct joint patrols, India began to build a fence along the border. This led to a disagreement on how far away from the ‘zero-line’ could that fence be built. Under the Indira-Mujib accord of 1974 no ‘defensive structures’ could be built within 150 yards of the ‘zero-line’. India’s position has been that it largely adheres to this guideline, but may need to get closer in some cases. In any case, India holds that the border fence is not a ‘defensive structure’ and thus does not violate the bilateral agreement.

Bangladesh disagrees with this and dislikes the fence for the same reason. And tensions have risen over the last several months along with the length of the fence. Smugglers of all sorts, including those who smuggle cough syrups dislike the fence for their own reasons.

Who were those armed civilians?
The involvement of ‘armed villagers’ who weigh in on the side of the Bangladeshi forces complicates matters considerably. The most innocent explanation is that the villagers have a vested interest in preventing the construction of the fence because it impedes their historically free movement across the border. Their less innocent counterparts may be doing so in the interests of the smuggling rackets. But the positively sinister explanation could involve the use of ‘irregulars’ by the Bangladeshi security forces. While there is little evidence that this is the case, Bangladesh cannot simultaneously tolerate the role of aggressive ‘armed’ civilians and then point out to atrocities against civilians, in offence or in defence, by Indian forces.

An imposed peace
Clearly, the security situation on the India-Bangladesh border has deteriorated to absurd levels. There have are clear indications for some time that on the political level, Bangladesh does not share India’s sensitivities over immigration and terrorism, and on the tactical level, it sees room to engage in low-grade hostilities. The most straightforward way for India to address this is through a greater power projection — through the use of military power to deter such incidents.

The guns on either side of the border must go silent first. So far, official bilateral negotiations have not resulted in preventing border clashes and civilian casualties. While the Indian government has begun to realise the futility of its current approach, it must invest much greater military resources along the Bangladesh border to see the construction of the fence through.

Related Posts: Rezwan (correctly) accuses the Indian media of ignoring Bangladeshi casualties; and a previous post on this issue on the Acorn

37 thoughts on “Fence, Phensidyl and border tensions with Bangladesh”

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  2. I just hope that the fencing is completed within shortest possible time honoring the accord (150 yards or metres?).

    These fences are supposed to deter the illegal immigrants and the smugglers to benefit both the countries. When there will be no illegal interests involved, the shootings will also stop. No innocent civilians (see my post) would die because of overenthusiastic brawls of the both border forces.

    However I am also pondering on the reasons behind the erection of Berlin Wall(http://userpage.chemie.fu-berlin.de/BIW/wall.html) in 1961 and its demise in 1989.

    And I also remember one play I had watched. It was written by Sadat Manto and its called Tobatek Singh(http://www.sikh-history.com/literature/stories/tobatek.html). Quite ironic.

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  4. The fence must be completed in double quick time. And it must be built only by India. Others will contribute with taunts, accusations, whines and occassional bullets and mutilations of Indian soldiers.

    Still we are “the bigger nation”, I guess.

  5. Rezwan,

    Yes, most reports suggest that it is 150 yards, so I’ve made the change. That’s a difference of 12.84 metres. I’m wondering, could this difference in units be the cause of all this mess 🙂

  6. Kiran,

    I understand you are the bigger nation. Because of that you ignore the Bangladeshi civilian casualties just like the Indian media. You talk about mutilation of Indian soldiers (I believe in 2001) But you do not know the truth that these soldiers went on to rampage a total Bangladeshi village on their own, they were apprehended and mob lynched.

    I am against every brutality, every death. Why should Indian soldiers get killed and Bangladeshi civilans/soldiers shot by BSF bullets?

    Being a big brother is not easy. The big should earn the respect of the smaller ones by good deeds, not using force. You are seeing that the using of force attitude is not paying off.

    We may extend this brawl just like BSF & BDR are doing. But nobody can do anything for the families of the civilians killed. The border forces personnel killed are usually compensated by the government.

    How many civilians have to die before both of the countries realize how to stop this?

  7. Rezwan -There seems to be no effort from Bangladesh towards reconciliation with India. Bangladesh could win immense goodwill in India by simply not harboring ULFA big boys in Dhaka. Something that should come at no cost to them.

    A large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into Bangladeshi immigrants in all cities of India. Views on this economic migration are laced with suspicion in an era of islamic terrorism, reports of minority tortures in Bangladesh and continuous negative press about ULFA and other outfits getting grand treatment in Dhaka.

    While we are at it – in your knowledge how prevalent is the Lebensraum concept in Bangladesh? That coupled with the reality of migration is the other biggie in Indo-bangladesh relations.

  8. The ideal reaction to this would be getting the IAF or special forces and eliminating a few of the ULFA camps currently being harbored in Bangladesh.
    That would result in
    a) a suitable punishment for the atrocity by the BDR
    b) presenting the Bangla Govt with a fait accompli on the insurgent camps
    c) an idea of the extent to which the Indian Govt will go to ensure that the terrorists are not harbored by Bangladesh
    Finally, an enquiry has to be set up to find out the truth regarding how the BSF casualty arose and how civilians were killed on the Bangla side.

  9. Manu,

    I don’t support Bangladeshis to migrate to India even for economic reasons. Infact the loophole is the lax border security in both the sides. The barbed wire fencing might be a deterrent, we will have to see its usefulness. The migrations still happening because a large no of population has some relatives in either part. Now, because of the economic disparities migrants are preferring to move to India. If the economic conditions are better in Bangladesh, we might expect a reversal of the situation. With this fluid population, you need to put a valve and proper filters to monitor the actual movement and deter the unwanted ones. Its not so easy as you think. Your politicians crave for these people to be around when the election comes and then after the election cries wolf for their repatriation. They would be forced to hit the base whenever the politics with them are stopped. And for this it is imperative that Bangladesh develops in all aspects not being far behind of India. One of the reason behind Indira Gandhi’s decision to help Bangladesh liberate is the migrant refugee issue. So instead of accusing Bangladesh for the migrants, India should explore the reasons behind the migrations
    1. flooding dislocates many people – poor watersharing plan
    2. draughts creates famines -poor watersharing plan

    – See there are areas where India can contribute not to dislocate many people who become economic migrants in neighboring country.

    The ULFA issue:

    Anup Chetia’s jail term was supposed to end on 26th of February this year. But the matter is now pending in court because Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights filed a writ with the High Court, pleading that the Bangladesh government would be violating Clause 33 of the United Nations Charter if Chetia was handed over to India, denying political asylum. In response to this the court ruled not to release Chetia until there is a decision on his application for political asylum. Two writ petitions, one regarding his life security and another for political asylum, are now pending in the High Court, Chetia and two of his associates Lakkhi Prasad and Babul Sharma have to stay in safe custody.

    As far as I remember, the previous Awami League government was more harsh on the ULFA separatists. Officially the present Bangladesh government do not support any insurgents. I have found no proof in Bangladeshi local media about Bangladesh governments involvement (albeit Indian media claims). However if DGFI or any government intelligence is involved (which is deemed as a bid to create pressure on India) that is not known to general public like me and I have no proof of it. So does that provide you enough reason for hating Bangladesh? Does BNP & Jamaat’s vision represent all of Bangladeshis?

    You can accuse why the Bangladeshi media are not shading a light to the whole ULFA issue. I can accuse why Indian media always ignore the civilian casualties in the hand of BSF.

    These things are kept alive for political purposes, for benefit of some people which is beyond the interests of the general public of the two countries. And still the relationship of the people of both the countries will continue to foster at personal level because:

    1)Bangladesh is third or fourth largest market of Indian goods
    2)India hosts many tourism spots for Bangladeshis
    3) Indian Hospitals treat Bangladeshi patients with complicated illness
    4)Many Indians find suitable job in Bangladesh (specially in IT)
    5) And many Bangladeshi go to India for study.


    An enquiry is a logical move as I prescribed. But using the IAF? I personally don’t care whether ULFA is destroyed or not. But violating airspace and exposing innocent civilians to bombs certainly is not a sane people’s thought. That is why the civilians killed in Border disputes are almost non-existent to an entire group of people and media as well.

  10. Manu asserts: A large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into Bangladeshi immigrants in all cities of India.

    I have not. I travel widely, all over India. Just in the last six months, this travel has taken in Srinagar, Hyderabad, Chennai and cities south along the coast till Vedaranyam, Lonavala, Delhi, Agra, Bangalore, southern Gujarat. And Bombay of course. (I live here).

    So tell me, am I part of a tiny minority? Or have these Bangladeshi immigrants been hiding from my all-seeing presence? Or does “all cities of India” not include the ones I visit?

    Or should we all be careful of generalizations?

  11. Dilip – have you ever dealt with the poor laborers in any of the cities you mention? If you are going to hang out in 5star hotels and stick to the urbanites, you won’t notice the underbelly.

    And these people are not telling the world that they are bangladeshis. My parents live in Delhi. All helpers in that area – maid-servant (does dishes etc.) and housing society’s cleaner, etc. all have Hindu names – savita, sita, et al. and they take days off on muslim holidays. A little chatting and you can easily figure out that these people are all native bangla speakers. On one day the maid was chatty and my mom asked her what’s up with this name not matching her “holidays” and she admitted that she is from Bangladesh.

    I had first read about such migrants in Delhi online. Didn’t believe it. Sounded some paranoid mind’s imagination. But I had to believe it when I saw it.

    Rezwan – I will reply to your long rant later. Your attitude is that of lazy people who constantly blame the world for all of their problems.

  12. Rezwan,

    Your long comment is most welcome, there is absolutely no need for you to apologise on that count.

    On the ULFA case, it provides little relief to India if Anup Chetia and his Bangladeshi supporters are using Bangladesh’s legal process to their advantage. It does no credit to Bangladesh or its judicial system if a terrorist ends up escaping justice.

    As for illegal immigration, while I agree that this happens due to the unequal socio-economic conditions prevailing on either side of the border, Bangladesh cannot rely on this as an excuse to do nothing. Also, it is unrealistic to expect India to wait for Bangladesh to improve its economy and wait for the trend to stop automatically. While politicians on both sides of the border have exploited the issue, the fact remains that India ends up paying the costs. Indeed, the fence is an act of resignation to ground realities (not least the failings of its own politicians).

    If an atmosphere of cooperation had prevailed between the governments of the two countries, the fence would have been unnecessary. As I wrote in my post, the recent tensions are almost certainly caused by those who see the fence as a threat to their activities — most likely the smuggling of narcotics, humans, arms; even terrorists.

  13. Manu,

    Is it possible? Are you really telling me that you’ve met a chatty maid with a Hindu name who takes Muslim holidays off, figured out that she’s a “native Bangla speaker”, she admitted she’s from Bangladesh — and boom, from that much you have concluded that “a large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into Bangladeshi immigrants in all cities of India“?

    And what’s more, you decide that someone who calls this bluff must certainly hang out in 5 star hotels and “stick to urbanites” (what’s that supposed to mean, anyway — you’re the one who’s talking about running into these people in cities of India, and who else would anyone meet in the cities but “urbanites”?).

    This is your evidence, your argument?

    For the record, I have never in my life stayed in, only occasionally “hung out” in, 5 star hotels. I have met plenty of “poor labourers” in each of those cities I mentioned I’ve visited in the last six months. (I believe I’ve not set foot in a 5 star hotel in the last six months). I’ve met Tamil speaking labourers, Hindi speakers, Oriya speakers, Kannada speakers, Marathi speakers … I don’t recall a Bangla speaker, but it’s possible some were that.

    You made a pretty solid claim, Manu. You’re backing it up with your parents’ chatty maid?

    A good friend has just filed a Right to Information request for Government numbers on Bangladeshi immigrants. Should be an eye-opener when it is answered.

  14. I think the appropriate equivalent for the security fence would be the security wall built by the Israelis to keep the suicide bombers out rather than the Berlin wall. The Isreali fence is probably the single best ‘road to peace’ effort in the middle east, and appears to have put the terrorists where they belong – their camps. Lets get the fence done ASAP and give BSF all the support they deserve

  15. dilip,

    manu at least has his chatty maid, what data have you got ? btw, Ive had a similar experience with a maid servant working at my home in Bbay.

    As for govt. data, are you aware of Gov. Sinhas report on illegal immigration in Assam ?

  16. There is little doubt that a number of north-east Indian insurgents are taking refuge in Bangladesh (although the Indian government’s claim that terrorist camps operating from inside Bangladesh is unfounded), it is also true that most-wanted Bangladeshi terrorists have taken shelter in West Bengal (particularly Kolkata and 24 Parganas). The area behind Sudder Street near Kolkata’s New Market is a popular hangout for many of these criminals, some of whom have made Kolkata their home.

    The blame game can run on forever with no winners as both sides are at fault. Governments will always be asses and it is important that the people are not sucked into the futile bickering.


  17. Dilip,

    If your intention is to suggest that anecdotal evidence is insufficient to prove a point, that’s one thing. But to deny that there illegal immigration is a serious problem is totally another.

    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.

    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.[Ramtanu Maitra/Asia Times]

    Here’s another article on the migration matrix; and Arun Shourie’s four-part series on the silent demographic invasion.

  18. Rezwan:
    Granted that getting the IAF would cause needless collateral damage.
    You may not care whether the ULFA is destroyed or not but we do. The Bangla Govt and its constituent political parties have been in the recent past taking actions that keep causing a deterioration in relations between the two countries. Its become, in a short span, such a shining paragon of liberalism and human rights, that it believes it should protect the rights of terrorists. What it will have to understand is that in a democracy such as India, there can be a swift change in public opinion especially if it comes to defending national interests, and when there is a large public backing, the politicians have to tango. I believe that the incident in 2001 with the BDR, has not been forgotten, and every new such incident coupled with sheltering of terrorist leaders will force India to deal with it by using force.
    I certainly don’t believe Bangladesh should be eternally grateful to India for its creation but by its actions they need to demonstrate that they value our friendship.

  19. Dilip – Apologies on using incorrect verbiage – by Urbanites, I meant college educated, city bred, middle-class types (people like me). Also, it wasn’t very clear from my post – my chatty maid lives in a JJ colony (delhi euphemism for Jhuggi Jhonpadi or slum clusters) which has ~7000 odd people and according to her nearly all of them are from BD. I did not go there and count them. You can go to Rohini, Delhi, Sector-9 and check it out in the JJ cluster close to Razapur market.

    If you are saying that there is no migration, I have no clue what you are smoking… if it’s legal, pass some this way too 😀

    Rezwan – Apologies to you too for sounding rather harsh in my previous post. Also, not sure why you talked about reasons to “hate” bangladesh. I don’t have any hatred for Bangladesh. Some of my very dear friends in college were from Bangladesh and though I understand very little bangla – Nazrul geeti moves me.

    I find it odd / annoying that whenever some such situation comes up in South-Asia, everybody’s got to put to the blame on India. I wouldn’t say that India has done nothing wrong but to expect India to solve Bangladesh’s draught problem, famine problem, and what not is ridiculous.

    You wanted your own country – now figure out solutions to your problems yourself.

    0. Are you telling us that Human Rights folks in Bangladesh have also stopped the government from stopping action against terrorist camps on your side of the border?
    1. The biggest blot on Bangladesh is the demographic change with in the country. Think of the ruckus Gujarat riots created in India – it is a historical event in the consciousness of the country – what do you have to show for the drop in minority population by millions in bangladesh?
    2. I have full sympathy for poor immigrants but charity is no good at the cost of one’s own country
    3. I fully agree with you on the problem of some a**hole Indian politicians who use migrants to their electoral advantage. Thankfully – the fence should resolve some of that
    4. Indians getting IT jobs in Bangladesh – hahaha that’s gotto be the funniest thing I have read in a while

  20. >> most-wanted Bangladeshi terrorists have taken shelter in West Bengal (particularly Kolkata and 24 Parganas). The area behind Sudder Street near Kolkata’s New Market is a popular hangout for many of these criminals, some of whom have made Kolkata their home.

    Ishan, can you cite some neutral source for this ? What terrorist activities have these people caused in Bangladesh ? AFAIK, most terror attacks in Bangladesh are because of Jehadis getting impatient with the pace of the ongoing Islamization project. Bangladesh govt. appears to have taken cue from the Pakistani govt. in making wild allegations about terrorist camps in India.

  21. Manu,

    I have worked for 4 years with a Bangladeshi coprorate which had a joint venture (during late nineties) with one of the leading Indian IT training companies (a pioneer in Bangladesh IT sector). The Indian IT training companies were so dominant in this sector, that at one point Bangladesh govt. had to resrtrict work permit for the Indian IT professional who were brought as trainers. Over the years , Bangladeshi people were trained and eventually with the fall of this sector, the number of Indian IT professionals have decreased considerably.

    And the root of the famine/draught problem is the Indian watersharing plan with Bangladesh and Farakka dam, if you want to know why, please find the info on public domain.

    I agree with Issam here that the blame game would continue if we do not change our perspective to the things.

    I would request all of you to know more about Bangladesh and its problem before reaching any verdict and understand that there is a bigger politics behind this. In all of rants I have never accused any Indian at personal level rather denounced the medias role and subsequent ignorance of the causalties of civilians in the process. You are more inclined into establishing India’s authority and justify the actions of BSF (without questioning whether they are unjust). Your statements do hurt people at personal level (who sadly do not have enough power to change government decisions) which is detrimental for the peace between the two countries. The general Bangladeshis are caught between the policians derelict propaganda against India and the Indian media’s arrogance. The truth lies far behind and is never being exposed profiting those who are behind the rifts.

    None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves.

  22. It’s funny. A guy claims that “a large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into Bangladeshi immigrants in all cities of India.” I read that and challenge it. Immediately it is assumed that I’m denying there is illegal immigration, or it is a serious problem.

    So let’s get things straight: I didn’t deny there’s immigration. I didn’t say it isn’t a serious problem. Do understand that these disclaimers should not be taken to mean that I agree there is huge immigration and that it is a serious problem. Because either way, I simply don’t know enough, which is one reason I’m waiting for an answer to that RTI inquiry I mentioned a friend has made.

    Uspeed, so you’re basing your claims on a maid as well? What do you mean what data have I got? All I said, in response to Manu’s claim, was that I have not run into such immigrants. I’m supposed to have data for not running into immigrants?

    Nitin, I’m all for anecdotal evidence (oddly, I even wrote about it recently here). I’m asking for evidence, anecdotal welcome, to support such claims as “large majority” and “all cities.” So far, Manu has offered a maid, and then what she says about her neighbours in a Delhi colony. Not even the entire colony would support “large majority”, let alone “all cities.”

    Manu, so now it’s not just what your maid tells you about herself, it’s what she tells you about her colony? Which you’ve not even visited yourself? Why haven’t you visited it? You still do not explain how you’ve leaped from your maid’s conversations to “large majorities of Indians in all cities.” Please do.

    Finally, some points about numbers. Nitin, the very Asia Times report you cite should have set alarm bells ringing in your mind: in the first para alone it gives us two different numbers for how many Bangladeshis come into the country monthly (300K and 100K) and two different numbers for the total number of such immigrants in India (16M and 15M, and the first of those a unsupported “rough estimate” anyway). In the second para it gives us a third number for the total (20M). How do you take such a report seriously?

    Besides, give a thought to those monthly figures: at 300K a month, we have 3.6M immigrants coming into the country every year from Bangladesh, nearly 20% of our total annual population growth. Is this even remotely credible? (You can do the maths for the 100K figure).

    How can anyone place any reliance on this? What it tells me is this: nobody has a clue about what the real numbers are, but everyone wants to bandy this threat about, believe what they want to believe in the first place.

    Me, I want some reliable evidence before I come to conclusions. Not someone’s friendly conversation.

    Besides, here’s another point to consider. The Asia Times report says 16M migrants have come in since 1972. Seems alarming, right? But put it into perspective: our population in 1972 was about 550M. Today it is about 1.1B. That is, since 1972 we’ve added 550M to our numbers. 16M of those are these migrants (even if we rely on that number): less than 3% of the increase, less than 1.5% of the total population. Is it your case that that fraction amounts to a “serious problem”? How? Note again, in case I need to explain: I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m asking you to back up your claim: how do you conclude it is a serious problem?

  23. >> Uspeed, so you’re basing your claims on a maid as well? What do you mean what data have I got? All I said, in response to Manu’s claim, was that I have not run into such immigrants. I’m supposed to have data for not running into immigrants?

    So since youve not run into such immigrants, is that enough to claim that there is no illegal immigration ? (Absence of data is data on absence 😀 )And I did point out Gov. Sinha rept. to you, but you apparently miss seeing things bang in front of your eyes.

  24. Dilip,

    I think you should read Lt Gen Sinha’s report and the old Rajeshwar report that Shourie cites. My own reading, albeit through reports in the public domain, convinces me that the problem of illegal immigration is serious enough on its own. Seeing the numbers as a fraction of India’s population may make it look small, but 16M is about the population of Bombay. And the economics of illegal immigration in India are different from the West — there immigrants (illegal or otherwise) play a useful role by doing work which locals do not want to do. India does not find itself in a similar situation with respect to jobs.

    I am a strong believer in India having a more open immigration policy. It is in India’s interest to be open to foreigners from around to world to live, work and even settle down in. But I do not think this should mean condoning illegal means. Even one illegal immigrant is one too many.

  25. >> And the root of the famine/draught problem is the Indian watersharing plan with Bangladesh and Farakka dam, if you want to know why, please find the info on public domain.

    Isnt there a water sharing treaty for the farraka ? Why did the Bangladeshi govt. agree to it if thats what is causing famine/draught ?

    >> I agree with Issam here that the blame game would continue if we do not change our perspective to the things.

    Dude, instead of talking about a blame game, why not point out some neutral source of information that suggests that India is *sponsoring* terrorist activities in Bangladesh ? What terrorist activities are they conducting ?

  26. 16 million all over India sounds a small number, but what if 10 out of those 16 millions are concentrated in a few districts ?

  27. Uspeed, one more time. You say: is that enough to claim that there is no illegal immigration?

    Would you like to show me where I claimed there is no illegal immigration? I’m waiting.

    Nitin (and Uspeed): I’ve read the Sinha etc reports. I’ve not commented on them because they are not germane to what I’ve been focusing on in this conversation: Manu’s claim that “a large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into Bangladeshi immigrants in all cities of India.”

    It is this kind of wild claim that inflates problems into monstrous spectres; therefore it is vital to challenge such claims when they are made.

    Nitin, you say migrants in the West are doing work which locals do not want to do. India does not find itself in a similar situation with respect to jobs.

    You’d be surprised. To pick just one example: last year I visited Alang, the shipbreaking beach in Gujarat. The employees (from workers to foremen) are all from UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa. Many Gujaratis told me they would never do such work. The point: there are indeed Indian jobs which the local Indians don’t want to do, which migrant workers — whether from within India or elsewhere — will do for them.

    Finally, if you’re a “strong believer” in a more open immigration policy, what’s the objection to “illegal” immigrants? If Manu’s maid told his parents that she had come to Delhi legally, you’d be OK with that? Why?

  28. Dilip,

    Your Alang story proves my point — there are enough migrant workers in India itself. If Gujarati workers do not want to do the shipbreaking work, they can always find workers from elsewhere in India to do. If there is such work to be had, and there are Indians willing to do it, I would prefer that those Indians do not get cheated out by illegal immigrants.

    India has a population of about 1.05 billion and a workforce of some 414 million that is expanding by 1.8 per cent a year. With government data showing the annual pace of job growth trailing at 1.4 per cent, unemployment is set to rise to 11.2 per cent by the 2007 financial year from about 9.2 per cent in 2002.[FE]

    To your question about Manu’s maid: The objection to illegal immigrants is because they are illegal. Open immigration policy does not mean indiscriminate open borders for anyone to come in. Those who can contribute to India’s economic or social growth should be welcome; it cannot be not a blank cheque for everyone.

    Give its own unemployment rate, India can do without legalising the immigration of unskilled workers from Bangladesh or elsewhere. For that reason, I do think it is necessary to import domestic workers from Bangladesh. But if, for some other reason, Manu’s maid had legally obtained the right to live and work in India, I do not see what is wrong with that.

  29. >> Uspeed, one more time. You say: is that enough to claim that there is no illegal immigration?

    >> Would you like to show me where I claimed there is no illegal immigration? I’m waiting.

    Ill ignore the sarcasm, but you’d do well to change the way you write things. It wasnt just me, but about three other people who got the impression that you were denying that there was any illegal immigration at all. May be you should retake whatever writing lessons you have taken, because your craftsmanship is certainly incapable of getting across any subtleties or nuances that you perhaps want it to. Anyway, Ill take that these two sentences as an acknowledgement, that yes there is illegal immigration.

    >> It is this kind of wild claim that inflates problems into monstrous spectres; therefore it is vital to challenge such claims when they are made.

    So what is your assertion ? That most people havent come across Bangladeshis in India ? And why are you conveniently sidestepping govt. data when there *is* govt. data on this issue ?

    You also performed some 8th standard math to claim that 16 million in 1 billion is not a large number. May be I should import a 3-4 Afghan refugees and put them up in your bedroom. 3-4 in a billion, hell.. 3-4 in 16 million (population of bbay) is not a large number. Will you be OK with that ?

  30. Just as an FYI..

    excerpts>> It is a well-known fact that Nerul, particularly New Kuksheth village, has the largest population of Bangladeshis in Navi Mumbai (metro Oct 29 – Nov 4, 2004). Most women from this basti work as maids, while the men are daily wage earners.

    But on April 10, the day of election, most took a break from work to vote

  31. uspeed: I never took no writing lessons. There is no sarcasm. I am asking you, where did I claim there’s no illegal immigration. I can hardly take responsibility for what “about three other people” choose to understand.

    Here’s an analogy, I trust it will make things clearer.

    Suppose I claim “a large majority of Indians (almost any one you talk to) have run into porcupines in all cities of India.” Suppose you read this and think to yourself: “Hey, I’ve never run into a porcupine, and I’ve been in several cities all over India.” If you then replied to me saying: “I have not run into porcupines, am I part of a minority (etc)?”, would it be reasonable of me to conclude that you are saying there are NO porcupines in India?

    And if I did conclude that, and got up and said “Uspeed believes there are no porcupines in India”, would you not ask, “Where did I claim there are no porcupines in India?”

    Give it a thought.

    What is my assertion, you ask even though I’ve made it several times? That when I saw Manu’s statement, I reacted by saying I haven’t run across these immigrants even though I travel widely in India. That’s it.

    So what’s it, am I part of a tiny minority? Or is Manu’s claim somewhat inflated?

    Who’s sidestepping government data? My focus was on Manu’s claim; but having said that, I also told you that a friend has explicitly asked for govt data on Bangladeshi immigrants under the Right to Information Act. In three weeks or so, if the Govt chooses to respond, he should have a reply, and we’re waiting for that.

    Your Sulekha article quote says “It is a well-known fact” — is that sort of like the Asia Times’s use of “Rough estimates”?

    What I asked about the 16 million (always assuming that number is right) is this: How do you conclude it is a serious problem? Can one of you explain this to me without assuming it is self-evident? Can one of you assume that this is a serious question with no sarcasm, because that’s how it is meant?

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