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Migrants, refugees... Just look at our history!

The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed here are personal.
Published : Nov 13, 2017, 12:23 am IST
Updated : Nov 13, 2017, 6:32 am IST

India has repeatedly been invaded over ages. In the last 1,000 years alone, as many as 40 major invasions occurred.

India has had several types of “refugees” in the past 70 years. (Representational image)
 India has had several types of “refugees” in the past 70 years. (Representational image)

The rhythmic, lyrical literature of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali perhaps reflects the best possible description of Indian history — invasions, infiltration, immigration, migration and streams of “refugees” down the ages. “Keha nahi jane, kar ahbane, koto manusher dhara, durbar srote elo kotha hote, samudre holo hara! (Nobody knows from where or on whose invitation have such vast, endless streams of human heads arrived, only to be lost in the sea!)”. Thus, from the Black Sea to Baku, Buraydah to Basra, and Bushahar, Bandar Abbas to Bristol, Birmingham and from the British Isles and Central Asia to Asia Minor came invaders in hordes but, as their powers waned with the passage of time, a large number turned from forced invaders/infiltrators/intruders to forced immigrants and migrants, and ultimately to forced refugees. It’s not that India turned powerful. The fact is that India’s geography and demography, with all its faultlines and inherent failures, always remained Saare jahan se achchha (the best of all nations). Why? There’s no definite answer to that. It’s a simple reality that India was, and is, a powerful magnet even for the worst of invaders, greediest of traders, the most diabolical infiltrators, the most cunning intruders and the migrants/immigrants/ refugees for the Indian El Dorado. The tradition continues.

India has repeatedly been invaded over ages. In the last 1,000 years alone, as many as 40 major invasions occurred. This means an invader hit India every 25 years. Infiltration from East Pakistan (then Bangladesh) has been going on alarmingly since 1971 in eastern India,  In 1989, Pakistani infiltration began in Kashmir. All this has disrupted India’s demography.

Though immigration is a legal procedure to enter a foreign country, there comes a time, as happened recently in several Western nations, when the growth of anti-immigration psyche, out of fear of economic loss and social tension, gives rise to a rightist and extreme-nationalism polity.

Then we have people from neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan migrating to India for work. Most of the migrants coming from Pakistan and Bangladesh stay back permanently. And finally, we have “refugees”. These are the people who “flee or get expelled from their native country and seeks asylum in another country”.

Independent India’s journey began with an unprecedented influx of millions of its uprooted nationals who became “religious refugees” overnight, thanks to Partition. The irony of this, however, is that whereas Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Pakistan, arriving in India, were settled in less than a year, Hindu Bengali refugees from East Pakistan are yet to be “settled”.

The result: India faces a grave threat to its existence today. Is it because the swathe of land towards the east of Mughal Sarai is too far for, and from, the crème de la crème of Lutyens’ Delhi durbars to realise how devastating the east possibly can be? Before 1971, East Pakistan occupied a similar space in the psyche of the “elite martial races” of West Pakistan.

Things have been allowed to drift for far too long. And if not taken seriously now, the demography of India’s eastern areas will become the future history of remnant India’s school and college textbooks. The reality today is stark.

India has had several types of “refugees” in the past 70 years. Before Hindus and Sikhs arrived from East and West Pakistan in 1947, a few lakh Chinese (Buddhists and Christians) left mainland China and settled in and around Kolkata to escape the Mao-Chiang civil war and the Second World War.

In the 1950s, three to four lakh refugees came to settle from Lhasa and elsewhere in Tibet due to Beijing’s ruthless suppression and killing of Tibetan Buddhists. Thus whereas India sheltered Tibetan Buddhists, whom China hypocritically claims as theirs; China attacked India, killed Indian soldiers and forcibly seized its territories. Can Beijing ever be trusted? Only the gullible, thinking of increased trade and US dollars, will say “yes”.

Then we have Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who arrived in the 1980s to escape the civil war, and Afghan Muslims, whose country is perpetually at war since 1979. Interestingly, the Afghans too had thrown out, in the late 20th century, virtually all Hindus and Sikhs from Kabul. There are also three lakh Kashmiri Hindus who are derogatorily referred to as “internally displaced persons”.

Now come thousands of Rohingya Muslims (from Arakan), whose past record does not inspire even a bare minimum level of confidence.

All this shows India has always been a safe sanctuary, even for invaders! Babur and Humayun ran from pillar to post as fugitives to escape death from their own Muslim fraternity in Central Asia and finally got refuge in India. From refugees they turned into rulers. Such is the civilised, humane beauty of Al Hind/Hindustan and the people who live there.

Like Babur and his son, the Afghans too were invaders and ruled several years (in patches) over the Indian populace. Afghans may have been friendly to Indians from time to time, but can anyone forget the repeated invasions and the culmination thereof! Remember the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761?

Although giving refuge is humanitarian, the government must keep a number of issues like political coalitions and chaos, economic disruption, social unrest, religious violence, demographic (im)balance, geographical/territorial usurpation, perilous safety, threatened unity, challenged sovereignty, the trampled Constitution, fair administration to anarchy, and the numerous attempts by inimical forces operating through “harmless” actors (“refugees”) and “clandestine” factors (“renminbi and dollar”) to “divide India” into pieces in mind before giving refuge to anyone.

Eternal vigilance is the price of India’s liberty, sovereignty, unity and integrity. Humanitarian assistance needs vigilance against hostility and harmful acts. The price for forgetting that could be extremely high.

Tags: rabindranath tagore, refugees, rohingya muslims