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Some 1.5 million Bangladeshis were issued Indian visas during normal times in 2019. This is 20 per cent of all visas issued to foreigners to enter India and the highest among all Indian missions abroad. Yet even just a few years ago, around 600,000 to 700,000 visas were issued. So Bangladeshis are going to India, whether out of necessity or otherwise. The number has been increasing in recent times. The natural question that arises is, why do Bangladeshis go there?

Amit Shah's comment

Indian home minister and former president of BJP, Amit Shah, has claimed, "The poor people of Bangladesh still do not get food."

He made this claim in a recent interview with Anandabazar Patrika. It was no slip the of tongue and he went on to elaborated the matter. Anandabazar Patrika asked him, "Bangladesh has seen massive economic achievement over the past 10 to 15 years, so why are people infiltrating West Bengal from there?" In reply, Amit Shah said, "There are two reasons for this. One, the development of Bangladesh has not reached to the backward border-lying areas. When the development begins in an economically backward country, it starts at the centre. And the benefit reaches to the rich people, not to the poor. Now that process is going on in Bangladesh. As a result the people are unable to eat. So the infiltration is taking place."

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Statement of Riva Ganguly

According to former Indian high commissioner Riva Ganguly Das, India is being benefited economically by the large number of Bangladeshis visiting India. Bangladeshis go to India for Eid and wedding shopping and for business purpose. Owners of shopping malls and hotels in India were distraught when travel was disrupted for Bangladeshis visiting to India due to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Bangladeshis also go to India for medical treatment, studies and tourism. India recently started issuing medical visas despite suspension of other visas as a section of Indian hospitals and hotels in the adjacent areas fully depends on Bangladeshi patients. India earns around USD5 billion in foreign exchange from these sectors if Bangladeshi tourists spend an estimated cost of USD2,000 per person for more several trips and stays.

Classification of migration

People leave and migrate to other countries for various purposes including better economic opportunities, political repression and studies. Some of them migrate as permanent residents for citizenship. Others go on temporary migration. They return after their studies, medical treatment and trips. Bangladeshis go to India for specific purposes. As under the National Register of Citizens of India and the amendment of citizenship act, non-Muslim citizens from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are entitled to obtain citizenship. Taking advantage of this opportunity, a small number of non-Muslim Bangladeshis have siphoned off their legal and illegal money to India and they are settling down in different towns and residential areas there including Salt Lake of Kolkata.

Political economy of migration

There are some push and pull factors behind migration. Unemployment, inadequate healthcare facilities, political and religious repression, damage of property, natural calamities and lack of marriage opportunities can push people to go abroad.

On the other hand, employment opportunities, high living standards, education, health facilities, security, family connections and marriage opportunities pull people abroad. These reasons clearly indicate there are no reasons for Bangladeshis to migrate to India permanently.

But there are many reasons for Bangladeshis to migrate to India temporarily. Of the reasons, Bangladeshis go to India for better treatment, studies, tourism and shopping.

We should keep in mind that many middle class and even lower middle class people are compelled to undergo medical treatment and education abroad, and they also go abroad for tourism and shopping. The people who go to India for these services say the quality of services is better there and cost-effective. So if the quality of services can be enhanced and the expenditure reduced here, temporary migration to India will decrease to a great extent.

What should be done

Let us consider medical treatment and education. A gloomy picture of low quality and inadequate facilities of medical treatment surfaced clearly during the coronavirus pandemic. Private and public investment has to be increased. Pilferage and wastage have to be reduced in the government investment. Different economic zones are being built. Some of these can be selected for the investment of health and education. The purpose of this would be to stop people from going abroad.

We have to keep in mind that the amount Bangladeshi citizens spend in these sectors would be recovered in two to three years. We have to invest not only in infrastructure but also in human resource development. An environment has to be created so that qualified physicians, teachers and technologists stay in the country.

Let us take shopping and tourism into consideration. High prices are a problem here. Saris and other items of clothing the main items for Bangladeshis to buy from India. The apparel industry for local market is neglected due to attention focused on the export-oriented RMG sector. Textile mills have to be made dependent on local market. Small industries of this sector have to be given incentive.

Then again, a pinch of patriotism needs to be added. I recall visiting the shawl stalls during breaks in SAFTA trade negotiations in Kathmandu. The Indian delegation leader Meera Shankar was with us (later she became the Indian ambassador to USA). She looked at the shawls, asked the price but did not buy a single one. On the other hand, we bought many. I feel ashamed, in retrospect. We should follow policy 'Be local, buy local.'

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We have to keep in mind that Amit Shah is not the only one making derogatory remarks about Bangladesh. Earlier, Indian state minister for home affairs, Kishan Reddy, remarked half of Bangladeshis will leave their country if offered Indian citizenship.

Visiting various parts of India, it seems to me that Muslims and Bangalees are the most deprived communities after Dalits in India. The majority people of Bangladesh have these two identities. So such remarks by Indian rulers about Bangladesh are unwarranted. Some believe such remarks are political, delivered for the elections in the West Bengal. This is not right. Large numbers of Indians have this attitude. The main reason of this is sociological. This is clear in the novel 'A Fine Balance' by expatriate Indian writer Rohinton Mistry.

There is reason for us to feel smug by the fact that most Indians defecate in open spaces or to be enraged by the remarks of Amit Shah. We should simply adopt the measures as discussed, to rein in the visits of so many people to India.

*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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