It is not an uncommon sight anymore at Barasat in North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal.
A group of people wearing green checked lungis huddling together and breaking bread with a bhar (small clay cups) of chai in the early hours of the day. They speak a distinctly different dialect of Bengali and don't make any particular attempt to mingle with the local Hindu population. Once their breakfast is done, they hop on to their Toto (a specially made mechanised rickshaw) and go about their day's work.
In border towns like Basarat, locals say that the immigrants have a well-known process to settle down in India — after illegally entering the country from Bangladesh.
"We all know that most of the Totos in this area here are driven by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. When a new Bangladeshi immigrant comes, he first looks for a place to stay in Mathpara (a Hindu-dominated area) or Kazipara (a Muslim-dominated area). Then, they buy the manual 'van rickshaw' and earn their daily wages. After three months, most are able to collect around Rs 10k. They use that money to make a down payment and go for a Toto that usually costs about Rs 1.08 lakh (on loan). In a Toto, they can carry more passengers, hence they start earning more. As months roll by, some of them manage to procure a voter card, Pan card and ration card within the next one year," says a native of Barasat, on condition of anonymity.
Drive to freedom: Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh follow a few established steps to become Indians. (Photo: Writer)
The above statement is not any sort of secret at all though! It is the same way thousands of illegal Bangladeshis have made Barasat their home over the past four decades — and apparently at least half of them are now Indian citizens.
Barasat is just a case in point.
The process might be different but the situation is the same in most border towns of West Bengal, Assam and North Eastern states lying close to Bangladesh.
In case you are wondering how such immigrants are getting into the country in the first place, here is how.
There are miles and miles of unmanned border areas along the Indo-Bangladesh borders. Here's a Headlines Today investigation about how Bangladeshis use the porous and unmanned borders to infiltrate into India — sometimes by paying as less as Rs 100.
The below visuals are four years old — but the situation at the borders haven't seen any drastic improvement. The infiltration goes on unabated even today.
So, what happens when you have miles of fenced borders which are practically unmanned for the better part of the day? Well, this is what happens next.
Not only do these people get through the porous borders, but their livestock is also transported as well. The Government of India, in a written reply at the Rajya Sabha (January 2018), admitted that porous borders and unmanned areas remain a cause of concern for the government of India.
This below video has been uploaded in 2017. The ground situation remains fairly the same.
Once you are in India, the demography of the local area does the rest of the work. You travel to the area where you are most likely to blend in, get a local source of income (usually a rickshaw at first) and then scourge for documents to regularise your stay, or procure fake Aadhaar cards.
This unabated infiltration has now become a national problem. The Bangladesh-India corridor last year emerged as the second-most frequently used corridor for migration (attached graph), according to the World Migration Report 2018.
Innocent poor people migrating into India wouldn't have been the cause of much concern, had there been a filtration process or checks of some kind. As happens with unchecked processes though, the basket is getting filled with bad apples as well. Some of these are poisonous.
Two years ago, Bangladesh told India that their Jihadi elements were choosing India to get away from law enforcement. Analysts also pointed out that West Bengal is fast emerging as one of the major routes of terror infiltration — not only Bangladeshi terrorists but Rohingyas are also using the soil of Bengal to infiltrate into the North Eastern states.
Terrorism is a global threat, but there are local issues that cannot be unseen anymore. One of the biggest threats to Indian demography is the swelling illegal migrant population that has grown at such a scale, it will soon become an issue that no government can handle anymore.
In 2016, the home minister of India estimated that there were about 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in India. That was two years ago. We are still waiting for fresh numbers of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
As the ground realities refuse to change, the unchecked, unfiltered inflow of migrants is now threatening to change the entire demography of the border lying areas as well as the bigger metropolis of India like Mumbai and Delhi.
Recently, a new concept of Jihad emerged in West Bengal, which is termed Land Jihad. Allegations have emerged that native poor Hindus are being forced out of their lands by illegal immigrants who manage to make money.
Narcotics and cow smuggling across the borders has become a huge menace. (Photo: Reuters)
That is not all — Bengal led the list at the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), both in 2015 and 2016, in the category of crimes committed by foreigners, where it was acknowledged that Bengal is a hotbed of criminal activities by Bangladeshi elements who commit a crime and then quickly seek refuge in Bangladesh. The 2015 report said that Bengal accounts for more than half of such crimes (57.6% in the category of foreigners committing crimes) in the country.
The opposite scenario, where a criminal from Bangladesh takes refuge in Bengal while evading the law in Bangladesh, also appears to be true.
Ask any policeman in West Bengal and they will describe to you how criminal gangs operating from Bangladesh, and then running away, is a fairly routine occurrence in the criminal landscape of the state. Narcotics and cow smuggling across the borders can only be described as a menace.
This is why we need the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in West Bengal.
For decades, the Indian government has been trying to check the porous borders with Bangladesh. It has been somewhat successful.
But if the NRC is implemented, then it will be the first strong step towards correcting the process that has been going wrong for decades. The NRC will ensure that the people who illegally migrated to India are identified and marked. Going forward, illegal immigrants will find it tougher to regularise themselves illegally and will have to go through the proper process of seeking Indian citizenship after immigration.
But, most importantly, it will act as a deterrent for bad elements from getting inside our fences. The immigrants who have illegally procured forged documents will be identified and in the process, this will be the first check and balance in the flawed system that never saw one in the first place.
It is the government's decision on how they want to implement the NRC and what they want to do with illegal immigrants.
But it is a question of your safety — it is a question of the safety of millions of natives who inhabit our land.
Our hearts may certainly bleed for illegal immigrants and the conditions back home that they are fleeing, but that is no reason to endanger the life or property of our fellow Indian citizens.
Rigorous implementation of the NRC is the only solution in West Bengal.