India is a sovereign country, not a charity home and no one disagrees to that. Every sovereign country has well defined laws and norms for acquisition or alienation of citizenship.

Well, we then why so many illegal Bangladeshis in India? And the root to every problem is always a defective law. For e.g., why so many people evade income taxes? The reason is simple, the law provides good number of loop holes which facilitate this and all governments irrespective of their ideologies have let the loopholes remain.

I am going to talk about a (horrible)law which had facilitated migration of Bangladeshis and made it extremely tough for law enforcing agencies to expel them.

To give a background: After partition, migration and reverse migration from Pakistan occurred very quickly and the saga got over. But, the same did not happen with Bangladesh, the migration from Bangladesh was spread over decades and it happened mostly through Assam, as it shares a border with Bangladesh. Nehruji in 1951 conducted a Nation Registrar for Citizens (NRC) to collect data about the citizenship of people staying in Assam.

In 1971 Bangladesh freedom struggle began, due to Pakistani atrocities, millions of Bangladeshis moved to India. After Bangladesh was created, Indira Gandhi and Mujibur Rahman signed an agreement that Bangladesh will take back all its people who migrated to India after 24 March 1971.

During the 1981 census, All Assam Students Union(AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), demanded the NRC 1951 conducted by Nehru to be used where as Indiraji wanted her agreement with Mujibur Rahman which kept the cutoff date of 24 March 1971 for identifying the foreigners. This resulted to a stalemate and large scale protests. In the elections of 1983, many foreigners were included in the rolls. Subsequently, violence spread across the Brahmaputra valley. In a stunning incident on 18 February 1983, during the Nellie massacre, a mob of indigenous Assamese killed 2,191 suspected immigrants(unofficial estimates put this number at >10000), in 14 villages in Nagaon district.

In reaction to Nellie massacre, parliament passed the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal ) (IMDT) Act, 1983 which was applicable to Assam only. The law is indeed irrational.

The Foreigners Act, 1946 defines a foreigner as a person who is not a citizen of India. Section 9 of the Act states that, where the nationality of a person is not evident as per preceding section 8, the onus of proving whether a person is a foreigner or not, shall lie upon such person. However, under the IMDT, the burden of proving the citizenship or otherwise rested on the accuser and the police, not the accused. This was a major departure from the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946.

The highlights of the procedure and why it encouraged immigration are as follows

  1. The accuser must reside within a 3 km radius of the accused. In case an Indian accused a Bangladeshi, the Bangladeshi just has to move away and stay at a relative’s house which is more than 3 km radius of the accuser.
  2. If a suspected illegal migrant is thus successfully accused, he is required by the Act to simply produce a ration card to prove his Indian citizenship. Isn’t this absurd? Any one can bribe to get a ration card.
  3. Fill out a complaint form (a maximum of ten per accuser is allowed) and pay a fee of ten Rupees. This made it tough for any person and organization file complaints for identifying the Bangladeshis.
  4. And if a case made it past these requirements, a system of tribunals made up of retired judges would finally decide on deportation based on the facts.
  5. The act also provided that ‘if the application is found frivolous or vexatious’ the Central Government may not accept it.
  6. It excluded the migrants who entered India before March 25, 1971 from the illegal-migration accusation.

The IMDT, 1983 was struck down by the Supreme Court of India in 2005 in Sarbananda Sonowal v. Union of India. The law remained in force from 1983-2005. During this period a lot of illegal immigration occurred, the people got(by even bribing) ration cards (and per IMDT they could prove their citizenship), purchased properties and now it is literally impossible to identify and deport them. And, with so many Bangladeshis in India, it makes it easier for them smuggle in their relatives.

As great a leader she was, I don’t know why Indiraji passed the IMDT, that is her biggest mistake. Nellie massacre, though unfortunate cannot be used as a justification for this law. The emergency, 39th and 42nd constitutional amendments were rectified, but the damage done by IMDT can never be corrected. The blame also lies on AASU and AAGSP, had they been bit more compromising and accepted the cutoff date of March 25, 1971, then the damage would have been lesser.

More worrisome is that even non Gandhis were in power after 1989, none of them repealed the act, not even Vajpayee. I don’t know why. It was great of Supreme Court to finally strike the IMDT down in 2005.

Honestly, I have little hope that the Bangladeshis remaining in India for so long can ever be deported back.

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