India’s concern over illegal immigration from Bangladesh may be real and the government may be displaying a stronger determination to push them back to their country, but that is easier said than done. The problem today is not only confined to West Bengal, Assam or Tripura, the immediate neighbours of Bangladesh, which have seen a rise in (Muslim) population in border areas. The immigration ranks have clearly spilled over to the northern parts of the country, especially Gurgaon. The difficulty faced by the Indian authorities is that it is not easy to able to trace the illegal Bangladeshis, as a large number of Bengali-looking and speaking people from West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand regularly migrate to Delhi and the neighbouring areas in search of economic stability. They are mostly employed in household work or as labour in the construction industry; lately they have swelled the ranks of rickshaw pullers, auto rickshaw drivers and even taxi drivers.
Sabina stays near Chakarpur village. She migrated about a decade ago from Bengal, looking for greener pastures in Gurgaon, where there was new economic activity and the population was growing. "I came from Nadia district in West Bengal and am staying here for the last ten years. I work as a maid in a kothi. Sabina, who belongs to the Muslim community, is quite sympathetic towards those whom she believes are Bangladeshis. She feels that they are in Gurgaon for the same reasons as her. “Of course I do hear that the government is trying to push them back to their own country because they are staying here illegally. However, many of the Bangladeshis who are here have left their country more than twenty years ago and are now settled here. How will the government identify them?” she asks. She in fact defends them. “The government cannot just throw them out now. It would be unfair. They may not have anything to go back to. On humanitarian grounds they should be allowed to stay,” she says. But what about issues relating to fake identities, spurious documentations, etc.? “But who is responsible for this?” retorts Sabina. ”They have surely procured illegal documents with the help of the same government authorities that are now trying to throw them out after so many years,” she says. The Millennium City has not only given job opportunities to the educated, but also attracts a huge number of uneducated labour from across different parts of India. Many earn pretty good money. The estate manager of Chakarpur village says, "There are many families that have been staying here for generations. They have proper identity cards. We also conduct police verification. These unfortunate people come here to earn their living and we should welcome them. There is no reason for us to believe that they are illegally staying in our country. They are good workers and we find no reason to disbelieve their identity.” R.S Rathee, of Gurgaon Citizens Council (GCC), believes that Bangladeshis do enter India in large numbers. “In fact, during the Commonwealth Games in 2010 many Bangladeshis were thrown out from this country because either they had overstayed or had illegal or fake documents.” But they are back. According to Rathee, there could be around 10.000 Bangladeshis in Gurgaon, and many of them could be living in the country illegally. He feels that immigrations laws should be well defined, and depending on the employment situation, work permits should be issued to those who would like to come into the country. In the absence of such well-defined legislation, people in need will continue to come into country illegally. Also, since they often are employed at lower salaries, the demand for such labour is quite high. Of course the employers may be compromising their own security by employing such people, who can easily disappear without a trace. ”All these problems have to be addressed with clarity and in a humane manner,” says Rathee. Among the general public, there is a sense of distrust. According to Vijay Anand (name changed), the Bangladeshis are not reliable or trustworthy. Ironically, he has provided jobs to a number of such migrants. “Most of the Bangladeshis are working here as maids, construction labour or sweepers. It is a big racket and many people are involved,” he adds.
Prime Minister Modi's visit to Bangladesh seems to have given fresh hope to many Bangladeshis. They believe that a structure may be put in place wherein their identities will be made legal. This will also help them return to their countries with dignity, and visit relatives whom they have not seen for years. Ishita Mainak Pal, resident of Ardee City, says, “There should now be better ties between the two countries, and those wanting to come over to earn legally must be allowed to do so with proper work permits. Both countries should understand the needs of each other and should come together to offer mutual benefits in many sectors. Our laws should be strict enough to control illegal immigrants.” Adds Rana (name changed), who runs a boutique near Shahpurjat, “The Bangladeshis offer some unique positives too. They are often found to be very talented, and are excellent in working with their hands. Their embroidery work is fantastic."