The intertiolly acclaimed spiritual leader Sri Ravi Shankar was in town recently, and had occasion to tell us much too belatedly what we should do about the large number of migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in Assam. He was kind enough to advocate the imperative of deporting them from Assam through political and diplomatic initiatives with Bangladesh—decades after ministers and bureaucrats in New Delhi and Dispur allowed the problem to fester. In a sense, therefore, Ravi Shankar’s sound advice comes like something that has emated from Rip Van Winkle after years of sleep. His awareness of the most vital problem of Assam appears to have dawned on him only decades after its onset and only after the number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has crossed at least five million in Assam alone. Ravi Shankar cannot be very conversant with political or demographic problems of Assam. And one is not entirely convinced that he knows much about Assam and the Northeast either. Anyone familiar with the State and the region and their problems would have been far better aware of the enormity of the problem and of the futility of suggesting the most obvious solution decades after the problem began to fester. He is also blissfully uware of the role of politicians and bureaucrats of Assam in permitting the problem to fester by failing to take the required action in all these years. If Ravi Shankar is at all aware of how insurmountable the problem has become after all these years, he would probably have refrained from making any suggestions on the matter at this stage. He is also obviously uware of how long-drawn political and diplomatic initiatives are in countries like India and Bangladesh. He will find a year-wise statement of the number of illegal migrants deported from Assam to Bangladesh not only edifying but also very risible.
Even if people might be willing to overlook Ravi Shankar’s much delayed advice about what needs to be done about the illegal migrants from Bangladesh, what they are quite unlikely to be indulgent about is his demand of refugee status for the 125,000 Rohingiya Muslims of Myanmar who have started fleeing to Bangladesh. Many of them have also come to India. There are really two issues that will have to be looked into. One is whether the Rohingiyas really qualify to be regarded as refugees. According to reports, the Rohingiyas have been thrown out of the Rakhine State of Myanmar because they were responsible for “extremist violence”. Many countries would tend to put them in the category of either insurgents or crimils. So, do they really qualify to be given the status of refugees? The other issue is perhaps a little more pertinent. Ravi Shankar claims that considering their plight they must be granted the status of refugees in Assam and other parts of the country. Instead of saying “in Assam and other parts of the country,” why does he not just say “in India”? This is because even in the eyes of some of the most distinguished Indians, Assam and the Northeast are dumping grounds for all kinds of foreign tiols—illegal migrants and refugees alike—for whom the rest of India will not make any room. The other part of this question is: Why does India imagine that it has some kind of a humanitarian duty—to the exclusion of all other countries—to be the saviour of ‘suffering humanity’ from other countries? These are responsibilities that the UNO must take up and decide which countries to approach for succour to refugees. It is quite unnecessary for India to pretend that it is some kind of a mini-UNO within the UNO and has special duties for ‘suffering humanity’ from all over the world. Why should India adopt such a supercilious stance?