The billion is not quite Indian

The billion is not quite Indian



Officially India's population crossed the one-billion mark last week, although some UN agency had unilaterally declared that this landmark was reached last August, so that it could conveniently coincide with India's Independence Day.

The story was first taken up by êiThe New York Timesêr and the whole of the foreign correspondents corps followed suit. All the major European newspapers did full-page stories on how India, already poor and afflicted with debilitating problems (corruption, or the ubiquitous caste system the French love to talk about) had even more mouths to feed. The usual negative and condescending talk about India which sells so well abroad.

All the reasons have been paraded, then and now: the failure of India's successive family programme, the inertia of the bureaucracy, the backwardness of its people, the underprivileged condition of women in India (although Indian women have known, in ancient Hindu India, much more freedom than their sisters in medieval Europe or Islam). But not a single newspaper, whether foreign, or Indian, bothered to mention that one of the reasons India crossed so quickly the billion mark is that there is, according to official (but secret) records (compiled by governments which were non-BJP), at least 18 million (1.8 crore) Bangladeshis in India today! Most of them are illegal migrants, but many of them have acquired fake papers through devious means -- and sometimes even with the connivance of the local administration like in West Bengal.

Did you know that India shares 4096 km of border with Bangladesh and that it is nearly impossible to guard, as it costs Rs one crore per km to protect this border: metalled roads, so that patrols can quickly survey it, barbed wire, watch towers etc? That there are 41 battalions of BSF, precious manpower, which is tied down along the Bangladesh border?

That the government has only managed to fence 788 km out of 4,000 and that Rs 1,500 crore is spent every year on guarding it? Or that Bangladeshi infiltrators come up to Bombay, or even Delhi, where they form important communities which have voting power -- hence their wooing by politicians and the silence that different governments maintain (even the BJP, apart from the courageous Assam Governor, who was immediately branded a "nationalist" by the Press)?

That even though the BSF managed to catch 60,000 illegal Bangladeshis last year, very few Bangladeshis are ever sent back, as officially the Bangladesh government, which covertly encourages it, says that there is no illegal immigration to India? And finally that Bangladesh may lose 20 per cent of its land in the next few years, because of erosion and constant flooding. And where will these people go?

It would be nice to say that Hindus in Bangladesh are prospering. Butit is the reverse which has happened. There were 28 per cent Hindus in Bangladesh in 1941, 10.5 in 1991 and less than 9 per cent today. Pogroms, burning of temples, specially after Ayodhya (see Taslima Nasreen's book Lajja) have all ensured that Hindus also flee Bangladesh. What is the solution to the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis? It is true that it is not done with a bad intention: most of these immigrants come to India in search of better salaries and conditions of life. But ultimately, the Indian and Bangladeshi governments should co-operate so that quotas for work permits can be issued along with identity cards -- and proper census kept.

There is another factor which has been kept under silence by the Press, both western and Indian, most of the Hindus -- even the poorest in today's remote Tamil villages -- have understood that it is better to have less children: thus many women get operated after three or four kids. The Christians, of course, have been the first to embrace family planning in India, because they are among the best educated. The same thing cannot be said about the Muslims, the great majority of whom are poor. Thus Muslims in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar have often six or seven children.

Of course, if you dare mention this fact in India or abroad, you are immediately branded anti-Muslim. The problem is not with the Muslims as human beings -- the refinement and hospitality of many Muslims in India is often unparalleled -- but with their scripture, which was devised 1,400 years ago for the conditions and people existing then and which do not apply any more and have never been adapted to modern times.

So next time someone mentions that India's population has reached the billion mark, just tell them: "No, there are 982 Indians and 18 millions Bangladeshis"!

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