Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Assam: India's very own basket case

...and this has absolutely nothing to do with illegal immigrants.  Really.

Some political parties (I'm looking at you BJP) are riding the long-dead horse of illegal immigration into the next election coming up in a few years (ask the Republicans in the U.S. how that works out).  For all the vitriol coming from some certain political parties you would think that India has a major illegal immigration problem.  In terms of comparison, the United States (population about 300 million) has approximately 11 million (not even 10% of the population) illegal immigrants from Mexico. India (population  over 1,000 million) recorded less than 100,000 persons (not even 1%) who could be considered illegal Bangladeshis over a three year period from 2009 to 2011 (says the Times of India).

So why blame illegal immigrants? The same reason Americans do, its politically expedient. Even some Congress politicians think they can garner favor with their constituents by blaming illegal immigrants.  I'm no expert on corruption, but I'm willing to be that if these politicians spent more time fixing broken economies with what money they do receive (rather than doling out favors to businesses and buying votes) the economic situation would actually improve.  Though I believe border management is largely a farce (seal the border! is a laughably stupid idea from, you guessed it, the BJP) meant to gather additional funds from Delhi, supporting local economies and cross-border trade would go a long way in righting the imbalance.

The continual harping on illegal Bangladeshi migrants (who just happen to also be Muslim) is also threatening to turn the ethnic violence narrative into a religious violence narrative as riots broke out in Mumbai (killing two and wounding scores more) following protests over the victimization of Muslims in Assam.  Copy cat attacks are now spreading to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and elsewhere in Maharashtra, forcing the government to issue an advisory to various states asking these governments actually protect the citizens of India. What a novel idea!

Despite this very worrying development, I wouldn't call the Assam violence a pogrom, yet, since the Chief Minister of Assam (finally) revealed a few weeks ago that the conflict occurred over land rights and admitted that there are "no Bangladeshis in the clash."  But hats off to the BJP and the media for its sensationalism and abhorrent oversimplification. One hopes that the Indian media will wake up and stop painting the conflict as ethnic or religious in nature, not to mention the xenophobic Hindutva/Bharatiya Janata Party (HJP perhaps?).  Framing the conflict in this way obscures politically relevant solutions (like land reform and anti-corruption campaigns) for waste-of-money-and-time proposals like sealing off the border (seriously, if the U.S. can't do it in a desert, India certainly can't do it a geography dominated by hills, greenery, and waterways.

Update (literally minutes after I post):

STOP CALLING IT ETHNIC VIOLENCE TIMES OF INDIA. And yes, it is unfortunate because no one has really decided to investigate what the real problem is. Its much easier to just blame sectarian violence, because if you actually confronted the real problem - one would realize that it takes a bit more work (and money) than extra policing.

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