Another Bangladeshi Destination

Nagaland does not share a direct land border with Bangladesh, but illegal migrants are infiltrating into the state from Assam, with which Nagaland shares a nearly 500-kilometre-long land border.

Another Bangladeshi Destination

Unabated illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into Nagaland isemerging as a major problem in the state, threatening to assume proportions thathave already disrupted populations and peace in the Northeastern neighbourhood.Better economic prospects and a shortage of local labour are compounded by acritical absence of mechanisms to prevent such an influx. Despite their seriousdemographic, economic, security and political ramifications on a tiny state likeNagaland, these developments continue to remain substantially outside the realmof the security discourse in the country.

Nagaland does not share a direct land border with Bangladesh, but illegalmigrants are infiltrating into the state from Assam, with which Nagaland sharesa nearly 500-kilometre-long land border.

Areas around Dimapur town and the foothills along the Assam-Nagaland border haveemerged as the prime targets of migration, spreading gradually thereafter intoother distant locales. The very cosmopolitan nature of the Dimapur area makesdetection of illegal migrants a difficult task. Worse, the illegal migrants arealso in possession of valid official documents like ration cards and voteridentity cards procured from the states of Assam or West Bengal, where these areavailable against a small bribe. The fact that Dimapur town and its surroundingareas are not covered under the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system, which prohibitsall non-Naga outsiders (including Indian citizens) to settle in the area, isvisibly being exploited by the immigrants before they trickle into other areasof the state.

Once in Nagaland, the illegal migrants manage to get absorbed in widelyavailable occupations, including agricultural labour, domestic helps, rickshawpullers, manual labourers in construction sites and shop attendants. Besides, asection among the locals patronize them by providing land for cultivation andtemporary settlements. Bangladeshis, providing cheap labour, have become thepreferred option, rather than the relatively expensive and inadequate pool oflocal workers.

Accurate estimates of the numbers of illegal migrants staying in Nagaland arenot easy to come by. Available estimates vary between 75,000 and 300,000.Despite the absence of a precise figure, these estimates underscore themagnitude of the crisis in this tiny state, which has a total population ofbarely two million. Surprisingly, the Dimapur area alone is believed to havemore than 100,000 illegal migrants. Way back in February 1999, the formerNagaland Chief Minister and currently the Governor of Goa, S.C. Jamir said thatthere were about 60,000 Bangladeshis illegally staying in Dimapur.

The continuing influx of illegal migrants has created a serious threat ofdestablisation in the state, with migrants progressively usurping the economicbase of the Nagas. In major marketing areas of the state like Dimapur, they havealready secured considerable influence in trade and commerce and this isexpanding rapidly. Muslim migrants today run almost half of the shops in Dimapur,the biggest commercial hub of the state. In 2003, a local newspaper editorialnoted succinctly, "There is no denying the fact that on any Muslim religiousday, at least half of the shops in Kohima and some seventy five per cent inDimapur, remain closed. The point is that this is a clear indication of how muchthe migrants have been able to make an impact on trading."

A survey conducted by the Nagaland state Directorate of Agriculture in 2003revealed that about 71.73 per cent of the total business establishments in the statewere controlled and run by ‘non-locals’ including both legal and illegalmigrants. According to the report, out of the 23,777 shops in the state, thelocal people own only 6,722 shops (that is 28.27 per cent). While the reportmade no effort to separately identify illegal migrants among the shop owners,there is a large body of supplementary evidence that suggests their sizeablepresence. Illegal migrants are also acquiring land and other immovableproperties in collusions with their local sympathizers.

The impact of Bangladeshi migrants is also visible in the unstable demographicprofile of the state. With a population of 19,88,636 under the Census of 2001,Nagaland recorded the highest rate of population growth in India, from 56.08 percent in 1981-1991 to 64.41 per cent in the decade, 1991-2001. Significantly, thepopulation growth was been uniform throughout the state. Several areas in theDimapur and Wokha Districts bordering Assam have recorded exceptionally highpopulation growth. Wokha district, bordering the Golaghat District of Assam,recorded the highest population growth of 95.01 per cent between 1991 and 2001,the highest figure for any district in the entire country. Evidently, the silentand unchecked influx of illegal migrants in the District, has played a crucialrole in this abnormal growth.

Migrants marry locals to secure legal and social acceptability for their stay inthe state. As a result, a new community locally called ‘Sumias’ has emergedin some parts of the state. These ‘Sumias’ are estimated in the severalthousands and are concentrated mainly in the Dimapur and Kohima Districts. Thereare rising fears among locals that voters’ list are now being doctored toaccommodate the "Sumias" as well as other migrants. These apprehensions havebeen further reinforced by the fact that, as the Census 2001 records, thepopulation of Muslims in the state has more than trebled in the past decade,from 20,642 in 1991 to more than 75,000 in 2001. Illegal migrants are widelybelieved to account for an overwhelming proportion of this recorded increase.

Worried by such developments the vocal Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) hassought to impose restrictions on Naga girls marrying illegal migrants. On August10, 2003, a Naga student leader said that the NSF has already imposed a ban onNaga girls marrying illegal migrants from Bangladesh. However, he also regrettedthe fact that the ban could not be strictly implemented. On some occasions, thestudent body also claimed to have ‘deported’ illegal settlers from the state.Unfortunately, those deported reportedly came back after a brief stay inneighbouring Assam. The state government has also claimed to have deported about20,000 infiltrators between 1994 and 1997, but most of them were again reportedto have come back. In any event, such claims of ‘deportation’ have littlemeaning as they involve nothing more than dumping the illegal migrants from oneIndian state to another.

The presence of large number of foreign nationals has also created a vulnerableconstituency for exploitation by hostile Bangladeshi and Pakistani Intelligenceservices. The threat has been further compounded with the emergence of severalIslamist extremist groups in the region, who secure support from Pakistan’sInter Services Intelligence and the Bangladeshi Directorate General of ForcesIntelligence.

The debate on migration from Bangladesh has been politicized in the past,contributing directly to demographic destabilization in Nagaland and the widerNortheastern neighbourhood. Successive central and state governments have provedineffective in formulating workable measures to stop the flow of illegalmigrants into the country in general and the Nagaland in particular, and thisneglect is extracting an increasing price in social, economic and security termsas time goes by, and threatens to secure the dimensions of a major internalsecurity crisis in the foreseeable future.

M. Amarjeet Singh is Research Associate, Institute forConflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of theSouth Asia Terrorism Portal