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Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh says that Rohingya’s in India are illegal immigrants not refugees. To justify his argument he says Rohingyas have not come to India by following proper procedure and making a formal application for seeking asylum. Now the entire world knows that Rohingyas had to flee Myanmar when they faced persecution there. Does Rajnath Singh expect them to go to the Indian Embassy in Myanmar or in Dhaka to make a formal application for seeking asylum when their priority is to keep their families together and somehow survive as they run away from the security of a home in Rakhine to an uncertain future. The Indian government wants to deport all of the 40,000 Rohingyas who’re in India. However, it would be a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, i.e., not sending back refugees where they are unwelcome. But Rajnath Singh says that India not being a signatory to the UN Refugees Convention it would not violate any international law if it chose to deport Rohingyas to Myanmar. The Home Minister is trying to hide behind the veil of technicalities but is this response expected of a regional power aspiring to be a world leader? This is probably the first time in its long history when India is trying to shut its doors to a refugee or a visitor from abroad.

Irrespective of all evidence that they are extremely impoverished community the Indian government sees them as potential security threat. Earlier a similar apprehension was expressed for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Bangladeshis are also very poor. They come to seek jobs in India. Most Bangladeshis in north India are garbage collectors. Some of them sell black masala tea on court campuses. The people who used to traditionally do the garbage collection work are in better jobs or doing sanitation work in better paid jobs like regular government service. Hence Bangladeshis are not taking away the jobs of any Indians. They are doing work which no Indians want to do.

There are Indians migrating to Gulf and other countries of the world including the United States illegally in search of job. There are 5 lakh illegal Indian immigrants living in US alone. Indians have been migrating since ages. Initially when the system of passports and visas was not there it was not considered illegal to move from one part of the world to another. But slowly restrictions began to be placed on such movements. Suddenly some people found that they were illegal. For people who cannot get a passport made or obtain a visa from the country they wish to travel to, like in all other government departments there are middlemen, who can get the work done for a hefty fee. For example, if somebody from Gujarat wanted to go to US, the asking rate for preparing the required travel documents is about Rs. 20 lakhs.

Indians are settled in various corners of the world for several generations now. More enterprising among them have ventured to assimilate themselves in local politics, have contested elections and even held high offices. Mahendra Chaudhry became Prime Minister of Fiji, Mauritius has had several Indian Presidents and PMs including the present one, Anerood Jugnauth, Trinidad and Tobago had Basdeo Pandey as its PM and former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley is current US Ambassador to United Nations, to just name a few.

Question is how is an Indian illegally going to Gulf different from a Bangladeshi illegally coming to find work in India? Just because s(he) or the Rohingyas are Muslims is it correct to brand all of them as potential threats to India’s security? There are more people living in India, some very influential, who pose greater threat to national security than these poor immigrants.

There is movement of workers within the country too. Workers from poorer states like UP, Bihar, Odisha, Chattisgarh migrate to better off states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab to find work. For Shiv Sena there is no difference between a Bangladeshi or a person from UP or Bihar who is seen as competitor with locals for odd jobs. Hence the issue is not that of nationality or religion alone.

The Bhartiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Varun Gandhi has rightly called for display of empathy towards Rohingya immigrants with a willingness to grant them asylum after examining them case by case satisfying outselves on security concerns. However, the rational suggestion of Varun Gandhi was countered with a question on his commitment to national interest by his own party’s Minister. The atmosphere of nationalist jingoism created by the Hindutva brigade precludes the possibility of any meaningful discussion on any issue. The BJP sticks to its pre-decided stance on every matter with no scope for course correction. The arrogance of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh does not let them examine any alternative point of view.

The Indian government should try to convince government of Myanmar to accept the Rohingyas back. But unless Myanmar is ready for this it would be improper to push the Rohingyas back into their territory. As a regional leader India is expected to help Bangladesh deal with the current refugee crisis created there because of entry of over six lakh Rohingyas from Myanmar. It cannot simply wash its hands off any responsibility by merely sending some relief material there. Narendra Modi has the ambition of being remembered as a good PM. But he does not possess the statesman like quality which any great leader must exhibit. He visited Myanmar during the middle of crisis but didn’t mention the issue of Rohingya is his interaction with Aung San Suu Kyi, who has now fallen from grace in the eyes of the world.

The Bangladeshis in India must be given a work permit without the citizenship status and Rohingyas must be given refugee status if India is to be seen as country with large heart.


By Sandeep Pandey

A-893, Indira Nagar, Lucknow-226016

Ph: 0522 4242830, Mobile: 9415022772


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