You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” – Elie Wiesel, Writer, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor.
Manipuri heroes - Tikendrajit Singh and Thangal General were hanged by the British for waging war against the British Empire-a short yet significant struggle by a tiny hilly Asiatic kingdom against the most powerful empire in the world at that time. The ‘Anglo-Manipur war’ of 1891 drives home the irrefutable point of men’s willingness to go to any length to safeguard their identity and dignity even in the face of insurmountable obstacles. It is also a struggle against exploitation and subservience and at the root of it, a struggle for survival.
At this time and age, while outright war might not be an immediate possibility, ethnic persecutions, atrocities and crimes against the weak and vulnerable on a social, political and economic level has been continuing, and with an imperfect and insensitive administration, the problem can and does get serious. When such problem gets out of hand, the only option is to look for safer places, and more often than not, such oppressed people will invariably try and seek shelter in some neighboring state or country where the political and economic conditions are more favorable. It is not easy or desirable for anyone to uproot their lives and decide to take unseen risks and obvious troubles to move away from the lives they have been used to unless absolutely necessary and options are closed, when the very survival is threatened.
India is such a country whose social, economic and political situation is considerably more stable and secure than many of its neighbours for a long time, and people from these neighbouring countries have been crossing over to India in search for a better and more secure life, often illegally who are collectively and generally termed ‘illegal immigrants’.
Under the Citizenship Act an “illegal migrant” is defined as a foreigner who has entered into India—
(i) without a valid passport or other travel documents and such other document or authority as may be prescribed by or under any law in that behalf; or (ii) with a valid passport or other travel documents and such other document or authority as may be prescribed by or under any law in that behalf but remains therein beyond the permitted period of time.
An illegal migrant ( though the term is often misleading since their presence inside the country is a civil infraction, not a criminal offense) is excluded from the acquisition of citizenship through birth, registration, or naturalization. There is no program to grant citizenship to illegal migrants or their children. They are also denied the right to legal recourse and other basic amenities, reducing them to non-entities.
While the concerns on the pressures on the resources like land, law and order situations and economics of a state or country as a result of the influx of undocumented immigrants is legitimate and understandable, in the absence of an official deportation or any formal repatriation treaty with Bangladesh whose citizens form the largest number of such undocumented immigrants, the issue is a humanitarian one as much as any and needs to be dealt with empathy and understanding in a pragmatic and diplomatic manner. At the end of the day, a starved, tormented individual at the risk of losing one’s life will embrace the vague hope of a better life and a shot at survival, even with the punishments, trials and troubles that is more than likely to unfold.