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2. Immigration from Bangladesh

2.1. The uses of migration

In the demographic competition, simple procreation is not the only factor. There are cases where Muslims are in a minority and use migration to remedy their minority condition. This does not, of course, mean that all Muslims involved in such migration are conscious soldiers in a demographic offensive (“infiltrators”), but an element of planning may nonetheless be involved, or may arise in certain activist circles once the political potential of an ongoing migration process becomes apparent.

Thus, about the situation in Europe, Bat Ye’or observes: “The Islamicist movement does not conceal its intention to islamize Europe at all. Brochures sold in European Islamic centres explain goal and means, including conversion work, marriages with native women, and especially immigration. Knowing that Islam always started as a minority in the countries it conquered, these ideologues consider the implantation of Islam in Europe and the USA as a great chance for Islam.”1

The Islamic calendar starts with a momentous migration, that of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina. The result of this immigration from the Medinese viewpoint was that the city lost its autonomy to Mohammed, who became its dictator and expelled or killed sections of its population.

A recent case of the use of demography in the interest of Islam was on the occasion of the 1994 provincial elections in the Malaysian province of Sabah: “The number of Muslim‑dominated constituencies in Sabah has increased from 17 in 1990 to 24 in 1994. The [Christian‑led] Parti Bersatu Sabah has accused [the ruling party] of flooding the state with Muslim immigrants from Indonesia and the Philippines. Some estimates put the number of immigrants as high as 800,000”, with Sabah’s original population numbering 1.5 million.2

The situation in India follows the same pattern: higher Muslim birth rate, and migration creating Muslim majorities in strategic places. This is most visible in the problem of illegal immigration from Bangladesh in the 1980s and 90s, the most common occasion for using the term “demographic aggression”. In the case of immigration, the intentionality is undeniable but it is not necessarily or at least not exclusively motivated by Islamic concerns: Bangladesh is simply overpopulated and wants to get rid of its population surplus by all means available. Non-Muslim governments would probably pursue a similar policy in similar circumstances.

One factor which makes India the prime target of Bangladesh’s demographic dumping policy, apart from its geographical contiguity, is the tough policy of other countries vis–vis illegal or even legal immigrants: “At the end of last year, there were still more than 100,000 illegal immigrant workers from Bangladesh in Malaysia. As of early February 1997 they are massively expelled by the Malay Government. (…) Bangladesh has some experience with such disasters: last year already, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar expelled some 50,000 illegal Bangladeshis. (…) Three years ago, the Malaysian Government signed an agreement with the Government in Dhaka agreeing to take in 50,000 new guest workers from Bangladesh. But when more and more Bangladeshis entered the countries secretly and started to work without work permit, Malaysia canceled the agreement unilaterally.”3 Against Bangladesh’s aggressive policy of encouraging its citizens to trespass against the laws of other countries by settling there without permit, most other countries defend themselves with a non-nonsense policy of cracking down on these infiltrators.

2.2. Refugees and migrants

Immigration from Bangladesh is of two types. Firstly there are members of the minority communities fleeing occasional waves of persecution or the more general sense of being second-class citizens under the Islamic dispensation.4 Few Hindus would dispute their right to settle down in India. Secondly, there are Muslims seeking economic opportunities or sheer living space, which dirt-poor and intensely overcrowded Bangladesh cannot offer to the ever-larger numbers of newcomers on the housing and labour market.

Hindu Revivalists are glad to quote unsuspect secular sources to confirm their worst misgivings about Muslim demographic aggression from Bangladesh. A 1992 report prepared by B.B. Dutta for the North-Eastern Congress Coordination Committee meeting in Guwahati looked into both types of immigration and notes:

“Between 1971 and 1981, Bangladesh census records show a reduction of 39 lakhs in the minority population.

“Between 1981-89, 36 lakh religious minorities were missing from that country.

“In 1972, there were 7.5 lakh Bihari Muslims in the camps in Dacca. As a result of mediation by Saudi Arabia only 33,000 of them were accepted by Pakistan.5 At present, there are less than two lakhs in the camps, where have the rest gone? (…)

“It would be interesting to note that a group of intellectuals in Dacca is seeking to legitimise the migration of Muslims into the adjoining areas of North East region by invoking the theory of _ lebensraum_ or living space. A number of Dacca dailies carried articles written on these lines by university professors. They were not at all apologetic about the infiltration. People are sought to be inspired by the hope that one day the north-eastern region will be added to Bangladesh giving it a natural boundary in place of present one which throttles Bangladesh.”6

So, there is a large emigration of non-Muslims, but there is also a large emigration of Muslims, as exemplified by the case of the Bihari Muslims in Bangladesh, of whom the great majority, feeling unwelcome both in Bangladesh and in Pakistan, have simply returned to Bihar and adjoining areas, whence their parents had left for the promised land of (East) Pakistan in 1947. Moreover, the intentionality of the population shift from Bangladesh to India is expressed quite candidly by opinion leaders in Bangladesh.

The BJP argues that refugees from persecution and illegal economic migrants merit a different treatment, as is assumed in the arrangements for refugee relief of most countries. But secularists see it differently, for “unlike the BJP, the Congress (I) views both Hindus and Muslim from Bangladesh as infiltrators”.7 Terminology is a part of the problem here, with secularists systematically describing Hindu refugees as “migrants” if not “infiltrators”, and Muslim illegal immigrants as “refugees”.

2.3. An estimate of the numbers

Arun Shourie has brought the findings of the police and other Government agencies to the notice of the public. According to an Internal Note prepared by the Home Ministry, “large-scale infiltration has changed the demographic landscape of the borders”, and it also affects Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, etc.8

By 1987, the number of illegal immigrants in West Bengal alone was ca. 4.4 million, and 2 to 3 million in Assam, so that “large stretches of the border in these states are becoming predominantly inhabited by Bangladeshi Muslims. The simmering communal tension in some of the border areas is one of the manifestations of the effects of large-scale illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals who have slowly displaced or dispossessed the local population, particularly those belonging to the Hindu community”.9 Moreover: “In the metropolitan cities of Delhi and Bombay not less than 4 to 5 lakh Bangladeshi Muslims have been residing”.10

The Hindu population in East Bengal had declined from 33% in 1901 to 28% in 1941. It fell to 22% by 1951 due to the Partition and the post-Partition exodus, and to 18.5% in 1961. By 1971, it had fallen to 13.5%, partly due to the 1971 massacre by the Pakistani Army, partly due to intermittent waves of emigration. The 1981 figure was 12.1%. In 1989 and 1990, due to “large-scale destruction, desecration and damage inflicted on Hindu temples and religious institutions”11, “clandestine migration by the Hindus to India went up”.12

On top of the continuous trickle of Hindu‑Buddhist refugees fleeing discrimination and harassment, the big majority of clandestine immigrants consisted of Muslims seeking “living space”. It is very hard to count them, but the difference between the actual Bangladesh population in 1991 and predictions for 1991 based on the birth rate and other data shows that millions of people have disappeared from the radar screen of Bangladeshi census workers: “The net shortfall, according to Bangladesh government projection was between 7.24 and 9.24 million, and according to UNDP estimates it was between 12.24 and 14.24 million.”13 And since 1991, millions more have been added to that number.

2.4. Indian worries

All the BJP’s “genuine secularists” are, in their heart of hearts, worried about the demographic increase of the minorities, but they don’t want to admit it in so many words. Thus, in its 1996 Election Manifesto, the BJP warns that because of Bangladeshi infiltration, “various demographic entities are bound to come in conflict” due to “an alarming growth of a section of the population”; already, “a section of the population has grown by almost 100 per cent” in certain northeastern areas.14 Not wanting to sound anti-Muslim, the BJP avoids being explicit about the “communal” angle.

Even to the extent that the BJP does identify the problem as “illegal Bangladeshi Muslims”, it dooms itself to an unimaginative (and by now probably unrealistic) solution, viz. to physically push these people back across the border, and then build a hermetic fence around Bangladesh. However, the BJP state government in Delhi, voted to power in 1993 on a platform prominently including a crackdown on Bangladeshi “infiltrators”, has totally gone back on this promise. Few people seem to realize that the only democratic way to conduct this policy of allowing illegal immigration is to have Parliament pass a law declaring: “Henceforth, India gives up the right to control its borders and the access to its territory”, a right which is one of the defining elements of sovereignty. Allowing illegal immigration to continue is an act of contempt for India’s democratic laws and institutions.

Even a secularist paper has noticed the seriousness of the problem: “The police say that Bangladeshis are behind most of the robberies, stabbings and other crimes being committed in the capital. Their area of operation includes posh localities in South Delhi where most of them work as domestic help.(…) Scarce job opportunities are thus being hijacked by these foreigners. Pakistan claims to be a great friend of Bangladesh, but it is unwilling to allow even one Bangladeshi to stay on. In fact, Pakistan gunned down hundreds of Bangladeshis who were trying to sneak into its territory. If this is how Pakistan is dealing with the situation, there is no need why we should be so generous. As a first step, India’s borders with Bangladesh should be effectively sealed. As for those Bangladeshis who are already in the country, they should be identified and deported. Otherwise, the whole country will be paying a very heavy price.”15

As against the reassuring view that Muslims can only outnumber Hindus in India in a matter of centuries, the evolution in the North-East suggests that the problem of a Muslim majority will take the form of the successive Unterwanderung (“to overwhelm by walking in”) of designated parts of India within decades. The demographic evolution is bound to create successive Kashmir-type situations, with local Muslim majorities in a (decreasingly) Hindu-majority republic.


  1. Bat Ye’or: Les chrtiens d’Orient entre Jihad et Dhimmitude (Le Cerf, Paris 1991), p.256. 

  2. The Economist, 26/2/1994. 

  3. De Wereld Morgen (Brussels), April 1997, p.17. 

  4. Published information about the oppression of and the violence against the minorities in Bangladesh is extremely scarce. The most accessible general information can be found in Taslima Nasrin’s controversial fact-novel Lajja (1993, Penguin 1994); an actual report is _ Communal Discrimination in Bangladesh: Facts and Documents_, compiled and published by the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council, 1993. 

  5. Urdu-speaking Bihari Muslims migrated from Bihar to East Pakistan in 1947. In the Urdu-Bengali controversy and in the Bengali freedom struggle they sided with Pakistan, a position which turned them into unwanted refugees after the creation of Bangladesh. 

  6. “Report ‘C’ – 1992 of Congress (I)”, excerpts reproduced as appendix 2 in Arun Shourie: Secular Agenda (ASA, Delhi 1993), quotation on p.299-300; as annexure B in Baljit Rai: Is India Going Islamic? (B.S. Publ., Chandigarh 1994), quotation on p.91-92; and in S.N.M. Abdi: “No place to call their own”, Illustrated Weekly of India, 14-11-1992. 

  7. Statement by Mr. D.P. Roy, joint secreatry of the All-India Congress Committee, quoted by Tapan Sikdar, president of the West Bengal BJP: “How West Bengal Congress is providing fillip to Muslim infiltrators”, BJP Today, 1-10-1992. 

  8. Appendix 1 in Arun Shourie: A Secular Agenda, spec. p.269. 

  9. In Shourie: Secular Agenda, p.269-270. 

  10. In Shourie: Secular Agenda, p.270. 

  11. A list of over 200 Hindu places of worship attacked or destroyed in November 1989, compiled by the Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council of Bangladesh, is given in Shourie, Goel et al.: Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them, vol.1 (Voice of India 1990), appendix. 

  12. Shourie: Secular Agenda, p.272. 

  13. Internal Note, in Shourie: Secular Agenda, p.273. 

  14. BJP Election Manifesto 1996, p.39. Though intended as quite serious, this could practically be read as a parody of the Press Council rules pertaining to riot reporting (where “Muslims burned a temple down” becomes “members of a particular community damaged a religious building”). BJP spokesmen have tried to justify this wording with reference to a crackdown on Hindu refugees by the CPM Government of West Bengal, who wanted to show that Hindus would suffer first if anything was undertaken against Bangladeshi immigrants. 

  15. Rajiv Shukla: “The unwanted guests. Isn’t it time we sorted out the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants issue?”, Sunday, 12/2/1995.