The question of `deporting’ illegal Bangladeshi citizens from India exists mainly in theory, on government files and in an ever-excitable media outraged by the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In practice, away from the prying eyes of the civil society, there is no question of banishing anyone from this country, primarily because India and Bangladesh have no extradition treaty.
Why, Dhaka, miffed with New Delhi’s constant reiterations about throwing out illegal Bangladeshis, says not a single bonafide citizen from its shores is in India! Additionally, it has also asked India for a list of its citizens that New Delhi has in its possession, so that they can determine whether such a list contains bonafide Bangladeshi citizens at all. All indications suggest that India has no such list and even if one is produced, every single name will be checked and counter-checked for authenticity.
For a nearly three-decade-long campaign, which was launched by the then Congress Government in 1992, India does not have much to show for. Last year, the Delhi Police told the Supreme Court that merely 500 illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had been detained in the national capital in a two-year span, and subsequently deported. The police, in its affidavit in the apex court, said that between January 1, 2016, and April 30, 2018, 489 Bangladeshis were detained and 480 out of them send back.
The affidavit was filed through a PIL by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay, seeking deportation of illegal Rohingyas and Bangladeshi immigrants. This after Upadhyay, in his plea, has favoured the Centre's stand to identify and deport to Myanmar around 40,000 illegal Rohingya Muslims staying here. The plea has sought a direction to the Centre and the state governments to identify, detain and deport all illegal migrants and infiltrators, including Bangladesh nationals and Rohingyas.
It has alleged that there was an organised influx of illegal immigrants from Myanmar through agents and touts facilitating Rohingyas via Benapole-Haridaspur and Hilli (West Bengal), Sonamora (Tripura), Kolkata and Guwahati.
Theoretically, there are nine points of so-called deportation of illegal aliens from India to Bangladesh – six in West Bengal and one each in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. These are Petropore, Hilli, Chandrabandh, Mahadipur, Fulbari and Gojadanga in West Bengal, Agartala in Tripura, Dawki in Meghalaya and Sutankhandi in Assam.
Far from any deportation, it is a ‘pushback’ – aptly named after a project – Operation Pushback – that the Indian government started in 1992 with great fanfare. Then, such migrants – in a sordid show of strength – were literally manhandled in full view of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) on the other side and pushed into Bangladesh territory, though not for long. After a small gap, they are sent back by the BDR through thousands of kilometres of porous border. It would be worth examining how many of those `deported’ in the last few years, have returned to their habitats in India.
In a seminal account of this project, academic Sujata Ramchandran, an expert on migration, writes, “Operation Pushback exemplified a hasty yet haphazard attempt by the long dominant and then ruling Congress at salvaging its own authority…and signified less than a serious attempt on part of the Indian state to engage with `illegal’ migratory flows from a neighbouring country.”
Assam, a largely agrarian state of 33 million that shares a border with Bangladesh and Bhutan, has wrestled with a tide of illegal immigration for decades. Since 2015, Assam has been undergoing a Supreme Court-monitored update of its citizen rolls. A total of 3,30,27,661 persons had applied for inclusion of their names in this updated list of NRC Assam. More than 19 lakh people in Assam were excluded from the final list of the NRC that was released by the government on August 31, while over three 3.11 crore persons were included.
Officials at the state and national level have stressed that the list is merely a final draft and that residents have time to appeal their citizenship cases. But those whose names do not appear on the list will not be immediately ‘deported’ or placed in temporary camps, they have said.
Security has been beefed up after Amnesty International India issued a statement expressing concern that the process could render a “significant number” of people stateless.
Some residents in Assam have said that despite being born there and with all the relevant papers at their disposal, their names are not on the NRC list. They are mortally afraid of being deported or put into ‘detention centres’ that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah insist, are a figment of Congress party’s fertile imagination.
Assam has grappled with its population of migrants for decades, a problem that worsened in 1971, when Bangladesh — then East Pakistan — waged a war of independence from Pakistan, sparking a flood of refugees into India. The state endured six years of violent anti-immigration protests in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Over the years, hostility between migrants and the natives of the state, nearly half of whom speak Assamese, has gone from bad to worse. The ranks of migrants, who sneak over the country’s marshy borders with relative ease — have grown, as have fears that they are bringing extremism with them.
Assam’s Muslim population has grown faster than the national average — from about 31 percent to 34 percent between 2001 and 2011, compared with 13.4-14.2 percent nationally during that period, according to National Census figures.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.