The powers that be in New Delhi may be enjoying a quiet chuckle over reports furnished by the Border Security Force to the effect that there has been a substantial increase in January in the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants crossing over to the other side of the fence or the “porous border”, if you will.
While the BSF brass, that controls the South Bengal frontier, has stopped short of calling it an “exodus”, there is a sense of muted satisfaction that the homeward trek has begun even before the essay towards implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act has started and the National Register of Citizens or for that matter the National Population Register introduced.
In parallel to the endemic upsurge against the Centre’s intitiative, the BSF has let it be known that fewer people from Bangladesh are now trying to enter India illegally. Arguably, the contentious legislation along with the NRC and NPR have had a psychological impact on the average immigrant eking out a livelihood by doing odd jobs in India.
If the upsurge in several universities and from Kolkata’s Park Circus to Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh is believed to be spontaneous, so too has been the return to the roots as it were. The “quiet influx” ~ as this newspaper described it in 1979 ~ has continued for the past 40 years. Those apprehended while trying to cross over had no valid documents. They were let off and allowed to enter familiar terrain.
But the absence of documents has been the core issue for as long as it has, resulting in a demographic imbalance in the border states. The BSF brass has reaffirmed that the eastern border has over the years become increasingly difficult to manage. It is cause for alarm that nearly 60 per cent of the border remains unfenced and without adequate floodlights.
Of course, the smuggling of cattle is said to have declined by nearly 95 per cent, but the trade in narcotics ~ let alone trafficking in women and children ~ remains unaddressed. Nor for that matter is it known whether there has been a decline in the circulation of fake currency… to destabilise the Indian economy.
Even coins are believed to be smuggled across the border, there to be moulded into blades. There are no fewer than 20 locations where “borderline or zero line” villages exist. Maybe a single-line fence can be erected, one that will occupy less space and cannot be cut.
More the pity, therefore, that the ramifications of the border issue have not been addressed ever since Bangladesh was liberated. The country’s attention is now riveted to the essay towards a redefinition of citizenship… 73 years after freedom was won and Partition effected on the basis of the communal factor. One community is being targeted again.