I am an Indian but bureaucratic procedures will not allow me to vote from my real constituency. She is a Bangladeshi but will elect a representative who will likely govern us. She is neither ‘Savita’ nor Indian but her paper-perfect Indian identity entitles her — and the 20 million illegal migrants in India — to vote.
You may have seen her, spoken to her, even hired her. They are all over the place in select ghettos across Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati — their first destination when they jump the border. The influx of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is a reality — their numbers are large and growing; their networks are strong, allowing them to turn invisible; their enterprise is organised as each migrant provides a base for the next.
Their getting an Indian citizenship through a maze of corruption and manipulation, is not merely a supra-political paper issue. In real and tangible terms, they hurt Indian labour by offering lower wages and replacing them. Quite like what the Indian outsourcing industry does to workers of the developed world. With one difference: they are illegal.
In different ways and through the stories of different Savitas or Sameers, all of us know this. As do the officials who, through a mesh of bribes, are their catalysts. The local leaders as well as the local mafias — to which they provide competition — know this. The state governments (the Nano-Singur episode is one recent example) are also well informed.
And the Centre, at the highest level, too. “He has no business to work here unless he has a work permit,” home minister P Chidambaram told a TV channel in a January 11 interview. “He is a Bangladeshi. I think we issue very large number of visas to Bangladeshis every month. There is no reason to issue so many visas. And there is very ineffective monitoring system (to check) whether the guy has gone back to Bangladesh or remained here.”
In the earlier NDA administration, George Fernades, speaking as defence minister in September 2003 had said: “My discussions with the Eastern Army Commander this week revealed that there are about 20 million Bangladeshi migrants in India, which are altering the demographic character of the north-eastern states.”
Whichever government takes charge after elections and whoever becomes home minister, defence minister and foreign minister, will have one more tool to fight this menace at the diplomatic and policy level: Kamal Sadiq’s fascinating first insights into the subject.
In Paper Citizens: How Illegal Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in Developing Countries, Sadiq convincingly and compellingly argues that it is not just developed countries like the US, Canada, UK, Germany or France that face an influx of illegal immigrants. Developing countries like India (from Bangladesh), Pakistan (from Afghanistan) and Malaysia (from Philippines) too are major destinations for illegal immigrants.
Blog post on Cutting the Edge