(Madhurima works at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, Calcutta University, and can be reached at email@example.com)
India has a long and complicated history of migration across eastern border, particularly large scale flows from Bangladesh to India. After India's independence in 1947 it has taken a political dimension, wherein documented and undocumented immigration poses threat to India's national security. India’s with border with Bangladesh is the longest among all the neighbours and West Bengal has always been at the receiving end of the Bangladeshi migrants since 1947. It is tragic fact of history that partition of Bengal was the cruellest partition in the history of the world and brought in unimaginable miseries to millions of the countrymen who had been forced to leave their ancestral homes under compelling circumstances.
Geographically, historically, and culturally, Bangladesh forms the larger and more populous part of Bengal, the remainder of which constitutes the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. Just after partition in 1947 massive refugee migration took place and later all illegal migration was considered Indian citizen by Indian government. The most tragic part of history was the partition of Bengal in 1947, which brought about immeasurable sufferings to millions of countrymen who were forced to leave their ancestral home under compelling situations.
Petrapole is situated on the Indian side of Petrapole-Benapole border checkpoint between India and Benapole of Bangladesh near Bongaon in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Petrapole border is the only land port in south Bengal. It is also the largest land customs station in Asia. This check post accounts for more than half of the $4-billion (nearly double the trade volume with Pakistan) trade with Bangladesh. This is the largest land port of Asia. The landport alone accounts for nearly 60 per cent of the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh. According to study by RITES, the goods traffic is approximately 400 trucks per day both ways, while the 2006 passenger traffic was about 1,159 people per day (both incoming and outgoing). The total traffic in 2029-30 has been projected as 2,938 trucks per day and the passenger traffic by then will be 3,924 people per day. With the remote possibility of improvements in the narrow roads leading to the border, because of land acquisition problems, the focus is now on improving the rail transportation system.
There are various factors like the economic, political and demographic reasons for Bangladeshi migration. a) Economic push factors that motivated people to leave Bangladesh have been 1) Instability and economic depression in Bangladesh, 2) Poverty, 3) Lack of employment opportunity, 4) Struggle for livelihood, 5)Forced grabbing of landed property from minority group in Bangladesh, 6)Economic insecurity. 7) Lack of industrialization.
b) Another factor motivating migration to West Bengal is demographic disproportion especially for minorities (Hindus) in this densely populated country having roughly a density of 780 per sq km as against half that number on Indian side of the border.
e) Political instability, fear of riots and terrorism in Bangladesh inhuman attitude and activities of the political leaders, domination of religious fundamentalists in Bangladesh worked as push factor, whereas Indian political patronage to the illegal migrants for vote bank has worked as pull factor for Bangladeshi migration.
f) Being cheap labour the Bangladeshis find easy acceptance as “domestic helps” in Indian homes, which keeps proliferating by ever increasing demand for domestic helps.
g) Geographic proximity, cultural similarity, homo-ethnic climate act as a pull factor for the migrants. The study reveals that migrants contributed to fertility of West Bengal, and the reasons can be attributed to a) illiteracy of migrants b) migration by family, c) unawareness about family planning, d) lack of easy access to scientific family planning method, sexual abuse and unwanted children.
In recent years, various reports and stories have been published in newspapers and magazines in West Bengal dwelling on what is alleged to be illegal migration from Bangladesh into West Bengal. Often such reports and stories are based on hearsay evidence without support of authentic documents. It is true that presence of common border with Bangladesh all across the eastern side of the state has made it administratively impossible to keep track of such migration.
Primary sector like agriculture and forest were overcrowded by the migration flow of low skilled labourers. The agricultural sectors have improved wherever the migrants have settled; since they are hardy and tedious. Household industry, including Bidi, Pottery, Mat, Candle, Kantha Stitch, Ganjee factory, ShantipuriTant etc., has been benefitted since illegal migrants provide cheapest labour. Two factors have worked against local workers: a) easy availability and readiness and compromising attitude of the migrant worker to work at a very low wage rate, and this is a challenge and threat to local worker, and b) general impression that the migrant workers are more hardworking. Besides, continuous inflow of migrants has aggravated the unemployment problem in the unorganized informal sector.
Deforestation, land grab, trade grab, illegal occupancy of pavement and railway platform by undocumented migrants are creating pressure on natural resources. Continuous inflow of migrants enhanced the pre-existing slum, increased the density of occupants in certain areas, which influenced the water supply, health facility, and education with utter inefficiency. Often, slum owners accommodate 10 people in place suitable for one person. In border areas, disturbances are created so that security becomes at risk. Different political parties in different periods gave those safeguards for which local administration could not impose strict law and order. With the limited resources, fund and administrative officials stated that this problem cannot be solved. Illegal migrants are illegally enrolled in voter list and used as vote banks. Indian politicians have often encouraged Bangladeshi migration to garner their votes. They are forced to involve in various unconstitutional activities at the time of election. Due to lack of good will of political leaders, it is not possible to separate them from original citizens of India.
The study of migration from Bangladesh to India or more specifically to Wwest Bengal is a very formidable task. The deficiency of data, shortage of reliable and authentic information, and the diversity of the issue creates difficulty towards computing the situation properly. Both centre and state governments of India have expressed serious concern over this continuous infiltration from Bangladesh to West Bengal. The government has come forward with various policy prescriptions e.g., border fencing, issuance of identity cards, granting work permits, etc. The West Bengal government has decided to issue identity cards to all residents since immigrants were not restricting themselves to specific districts, to stall illegal migration from neighbouring Bangladesh. The I cards mooted by the state will bear the photographs, name, age, address, educational qualification, and a caste of bonafide resident blood group and a national number. Economic cooperation through bipartite agreement between India and Bangladesh may be the best solution.
Chirantan Kumar, Migration and Refugee Issue between India and Bangladesh, Biannual Publication of Centre for Defence Studies Research & Development, Scholar’s Voice: A New Way of Thinking for Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2009 . pp. 64 – 82
Joyeeta Bhattacharya, the Diplomat, India: Resolving the Bangladesh Immigration Issue, May 27, 2014
Mohit Ray,Illegal Migration and Undeclared Refugees - Idea of West Bengal at stake, Dialogue, October-December, 2009 , Volume 11 No. 2