By Upasana Hembram
As 12 to 17 million people were required to move across borders prematurely created by the British on the spur of the moment, India witnessed the largest migration in history. India still continues to play host to migrants from its neighbours. It is itself a source of emigration with the largest diaspora in the world, without causing a significant dent in the country’s domestic economy.
What do the immigrants aspire?
People often migrate for economic reasons and sometimes for political, religious and personal factors. Political stability, higher incomes are incentives for migrating into a country while war, poverty, natural disasters are reasons for emigration from a country. The primary aspiration accompanied with immigration is gaining nationality or citizenship of a different country. For migrants entering India, the Constitution provides for laws governing the citizenship or nationality of an individual. The Constitution of India grants only a single citizenship for the entire country. In addition, the Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for the acquisition and termination of Indian citizenship and defines the term “illegal immigrant”. “Illegal immigrant” is defined as a person who (a) infiltrates India using forged documents or with an invalid passport or (b) delays their stay in the country beyond their visa permit.
Hostility towards minorities within the country
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 seeks to change the previous definition. The Bill proposes that individuals belonging to minority religious communities from neighbouring countries with Muslim majority shall not be considered as illegal migrants and be eligible to qualify for naturalisation as citizens of India. The proposed Amendment Bill effectively excludes communities facing horrific forms of hostility in their home countries like the Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar, Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs of China.
Meanwhile, Bengali-speaking Muslims in several north-eastern states are seen suspiciously, leading to unwelcome consequences. The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 empowers the Central government to order the expulsion of certain immigrants from Assam. The onus is now on the Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam to habitually prove that they are Indian citizens.
India: Preferred destination for emigration?
Immigrants from neighbouring countries usually adjust easily in India due to the common culture shared in the subcontinent. With no social security or job safety, they usually live in slums and avail subsidised food and fuel with ration cards. Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants come to Assam and West Bengal for work, of which many further migrate internally in search of jobs. With open borders between Nepal and India, several Nepalis migrate to India doing low paid menial jobs and remitting money to their families back home in Nepal. There are plenty more immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan as well.
India need not look beyond the existing international frameworks for refugee law in order to provide protection to religious minorities in neighbouring countries. As recognised in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the very definition of a refugee is based upon fears of being persecuted by one’s own nationality on grounds of race, nationality, religion, membership of a particular political opinion or social community. Till date, India has refused to be a signatory to the 1951 Convention. The State’s relaxed stance on refugees sends out a message that granting protection to victims of persecution is not its primary purpose.
What happens to Indian immigrants?
Migrants to the US and EU are usually highly educated but migrants to the Middle East are often unskilled, comprising of construction workers, maids, and clerical staff. India receives a huge remittance of $68.9 billion, to which these workers in the Middle East contribute 50 percent. They pay hefty sums of money to brokers and agents, with the prospects of getting jobs and visas. On arrival in the Middle East, they are often forced to work in deplorable conditions by confiscating their documents. Indian workers have also been victims of visa frauds and deported back home. Kerala, which sends the maximum number of workers to the Gulf region, is experiencing a trend of many returning expatriates owing to the decline in oil prices.
Just like there is a massive legal lacuna in protecting labour and democratic rights of immigrants, Indian workers are also victims of human rights exploitation in the Middle East. Though the Ministry of External Affairs does an impeccable job at intervention and rescue, the absence of solid legislation makes repatriation of these stranded workers difficult.
Immigrants contribute to India’s GDP and are consumers of Indian products and services. Most of the migrants from coming to India are often unskilled and thus jobs sought by the educated youth in the country are not under direct threat. Human rights exploitation and trafficking must be prevented both at home and abroad. There is an urgent need for a national immigration and deportation policy for the State to grant immigrant rights and to demand the same for Indian workers abroad. The very first step would be to collect and store reliable data on immigration to and emigration from India. This would give a clear picture based on which the government could build a robust framework for further policy and legislative measures.
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