Ambika Roy Bardhan

Bangladeshi Migration to India: Impact on the Demographic and Socio-Economic Conditions in the Border Districts of West Bengal

The history of the region i.e. present-day Bangladesh and West Bengal is related to that of larger area of Bengal that dates back four millennia. British political rule over the region began in 1757 when the last Muslim ruler of Bengal Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah was defeated at the Battle of Plassey.

The rise of nationalism throughout British-controlled India in the late 19th century was characterized by periods of Hindu-Muslim cooperation, as well as by communal antagonism. When British India was partitioned and the independent dominions of India and Pakistan were created in 1947, the region of Bengal was divided along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim eastern half was designated East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and made part of the newly independent Pakistan while the predominantly Hindu western part became the Indian state of West Bengal. Pakistan’s history from 1947 to 1971 was marked by political instability and economic difficulties. Almost from the advent of independent Pakistan in 1947, frictions developed between East and West Pakistan, which were separated by more than 1,000 miles of Indian territory. East Pakistanis felt exploited by the West Pakistan-dominated central government. This led to widespread protests in East Pakistan and in 1971, the Liberation War followed by the declaration of the independent state of Bangladesh.

India’s independence that led to the partition of Bengal in 1947 was one of the cruellest partitions ever in the history of the world where the bedroom of a household had been under the geographical boundary of West Bengal, India, and the kitchen was on the other side of border in East Pakistan. A major consequence of partition of India was the rapid migration and infiltration of people from Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) to India in general and West Bengal in particular with or without valid documents which was later boosted up during Bangladesh’s war of Independence with Pakistan in 1971. Up to 1971, over 4.7 million Hindus migrated to India, mostly in West Bengal. Initially the uprooted Hindus from their hearth and home of Bangladesh due to religious prosecution were taken-in by the Government of India and given shelter and citizenship and were gradually absorbed in the main stream of Indian people, particularly that of West Bengal. But increasing rigidity in Government’s immigration policies not to grant citizenship to any people coming from Bangladesh after 1971 gave rise to the process of illegal cross border immigration from Bangladesh to India and particularly to West Bengal.

Role of Democracy in Determining the Demographic Changes in the Border Districts of West Bengal

Initially policies and activities of the Government of Bangladesh were the main causes of Hindu eviction and migration from Bangladesh which has been increased by some important anti-minority and Pro-Islamic political changes in Bangladesh. Although partition of India in 1947 on religious lines was the main stimulant for cross-border migration from Bangladesh to India but later on life insecurity and religious oppression worked together as the major push factor for migration from Bangladesh. On the other hand, favorable political conditions of acquiring easy citizenship rights in the border districts of India has acted as a significant pull factor in the border districts of West Bengal.

In a democratic country like India where ‘Democracy’ means ‘rule of the majority’ in the formation of the representative democratic government, the political parties has always played an important role for the purpose of increasing their vote banks by issuing illegal voter cards to the immigrants for gaining votes in elections. This has not only helped the migrants to enter the country illegally but to stay back in the country legally and mix with the mainstream of the population thus, making the identification of the illegal migrants difficult. This is supported by the increasing number of ‘Middle Man’ helping to cross the border illegally either through the river or land, presence of relatives or friends, fragile political and administrative situation in the border villages, lack of Border Security Force (BSF) in some special locations etc. who are acting collectively behind the illegal immigration from Bangladesh to India. In this context, the concept of democracy has been negatively used by the ruling elites in the country by manipulating the voting behaviour that can be regarded as a mode of legitimizing democratic rule.

Thus, addition of new migrants into the voter’s list as the decider of governance in the state and central level is noteworthy which has evidently influenced the policies, laws, rights etc. formulated and implemented throughout the country.

Demographic Changes and statement of the Socio-Economic Problems in the Border Districts of West Bengal

Influx of refugees from Bangladesh has made a profound impact on the demographic conditions and socio-economic profile of the bordering districts of West Bengal, India. Some of the demographic changes that have taken place in the border districts are:

  • Increasing growth rate of Muslim population in the border districts.
  • The percentage share of Muslim population is higher than the state average while the share of Hindu population is lower than the state average from 1951 to 2011.
  • The percentage share of Muslim population is increasing while that of Hindu population is decreasing.
  • Density of population in the border districts is increasing exceeding the state’s density of population after 1991 till 2011.
  • Sex ratio in the border districts are increasing but are lower than the state’s sex ratio since 1951 till 2011.
  • Literacy rate in the border districts are also increasing but are far below the state’s average literacy rate.
  • Finally, Kendall’s method of Composite Score Analysis for identification of level of demographic development in all the districts of West Bengal shows that the border districts are far behind compared to the other districts of the state of West Bengal.

The Bangladeshi immigrants being hardy and laborious have helped in improving farming and increasing production of food crops. Additionally there has been a remarkable development in the Household industry including Pottery, Mat, Candle, Embroidery work, Weaving etc. since illegal migrants provide cheaper labour. Although there has been some positive growth in the agricultural and unorganised informal sectors, the negative impact has outweighed the benefits and the obvious result is the emergence of a number of serious problems. Some of these are listed below-

Economic Problems

  • Overcrowding in the primary sector as a result of inflow of low-skilled labour.
  • Problem of unemployment in the unorganised informal sector owing to continuous inflow of migrants
  • Growing threat for local workers in the unorganised informal sector due to easy availability and readiness of the migrant workers to work at a very low wage.
  • Creation of pressure on natural resources due to land grab, trade grab, illegal occupancy of pavements and railway platforms by undocumented migrants.
  • Growth of the pre-existing slums, increase in density of occupants in certain areas that create pressure in water supply, health facility and education.

Social Problems

  • In border areas, disturbances are created so that security becomes at risk.
  • Trans-border crime is a major problem. All types of criminal activities including murder, robbery, cattle lifting, kidnapping offences against women, smuggling etc. are seen to occur in the entire border region.
  • Smuggling is taken up as a major employment source by a large number of people in the border region.
  • Women trafficking involving Bangladeshi girls is in the rise.
  • Local administration is influenced by smugglers in some of the cases. The BSF is finding difficulties to tackle the problem of infiltration smuggling because of (a) the language problem, (b) protection of infiltrators and smugglers by local political parties.
  • Large number of local youths in this district has established family ties with Bangladeshi people by marrying Bangladeshi girls, especially in the border regions. These family or marital relations are often used to serve illicit purposes.

Conclusion

The rapid infiltration and illegal immigration of Bangladeshi nationals to India since partition in 1947 has affected the very concept of practicing free and fair democratic electoral processes in the country. Illegal immigration has also affected the demographic conditions by increasing the percentage of Muslim population in the country, affecting the social conditions by increasing level of insecurity and number of crime rates based on communal issues and women trafficking and affecting the economic conditions of the country by pooling in more people into the unorganized sector of the Indian economy. Due to the lack of effective laws and legal measures by the Indian government to prevent illegal migration and due to the politics of migration of Bangladeshis to India, it has adversely affected the local residents of the country on all fronts whether politically, economically, socially or culturally.