Is Bangladesh India's Mexico?

Successful economies have always been hotbeds for mass migration from poorer countries, but what about emerging economies? What roles should they assume in addressing migration patterns and issues in their respective regions?

Earlier this month, BBC News declared the 1,790-mile fence separating India and Bangladesh to be one of the bloodiest in the world. Since the last armed conflict between the two countries in 2001, nearly 1,000 Bangladeshis have been murdered while attempting to scale the fence, and many have already coined the fence “the new Berlin Wall.” 

Interestingly enough, both countries share a common history and culture dating back prior to the British colonial period. Before the partition of India in 1947, Bangladesh was part of India. Following the bloody fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971 – with the help of India – Bangladesh’s economy suffered a major setback, leading a large number of its citizens to abandon their country for its more affluent neighbor.

As India’s economy and global influence expands, the Indian government must assume a strong leadership role in addressing migration issues and maintaining a healthy relationship with its neighbors. Surrounded by poorer countries under repressive regimes or the stranglehold of terrorist networks, India needs to position itself as a friend – rather than a threat.

Similar to its North American counterpart (United States), the Indian national government has failed tremendously in tackling the issue of border security. As a result, other entities are stepping up to the plate and implementing radical measures to combat the problem. In the U.S., states like Arizona and Alabama have responded to the influx of immigrants by enacting harsh laws that stand in opposition to the Bill of Rights. In India, however, the Border Security Force (BSF), a sect of the Indian army, serves “jungle justice” to people caught crossing the border. Although mandated to guard the border against illegal activities such as narcotics smuggling, sex trafficking, and terrorist activity, the BSF has perpetuated countless acts of violence against innocent Bangladeshis traveling back and forth between the two countries looking for jobs or visiting relatives.

Nonetheless, the Indian government has received scathing criticism both from the international community and non-government organizations in India and Bangladesh. Last December, Human Rights Watch released the report “Trigger Happy,” which shed light on the extrajudicial killings and excessive force used by the BSF. Despite orders from New Delhi to end the mass killings and exercise restraint in dealing with people crossing the border, new deaths and other serious abuses are still being reported.

In rich economies, there is an irrational fear of migrants as law-breaking, job-stealing, tax-evading terrorists. In the Indian context, this radical approach to border enforcement can yield more problems than solutions. India, one of the strongest economic powers in Asia, has to continue to serve as a model of democracy and diplomacy for its neighbors. Corrective steps have been taken as both India and Bangladesh recently signed the Border Management Coordination Plan, calling for the use of comprehensive and joint management for all border issues. However, the deal has proven inadequate as the use of excessive force and murder is still the norm along the border.

As a new member of the UN Human Rights Council, India has to lead by better example. It must implement laws that ensure the accountability of those guilty of perpetuating human rights violations along its borders.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Sally Nnamani

International Development grad student at The New School. Interests: immigration policy, sustainable development, private sector development, public-private partnerships. Post-Rio+20 intern at International Chamber of Commerce. Sports lover - basketball, track & field, gymnastics oh and Lebron James!!

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