A day after Myanmar’s army claimed that it had discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of 28 Hindus, including women and children, in violence-affected Rakhine state, blaming the killings on Muslim Rohingya militants, Times Now revealed that about 300 Rohingya abducted 100 Hindus on August 25, eliminated 92 of them and forcibly converted the eight surviving women to Islam. Around 30,000 Hindus and Buddhists have been displaced by the violence.
The two back-to-back disclosures confirmed India’s worst fears that Pakistan-based terror groups have infiltrated the Rohingya and pose a grave threat to national security. Inputs from security agencies indicate the involvement of some Rohingya in illegal activities including fund mobilisation through hawala channels, human trafficking and procurement of fake Indian identity documents. Rohingya with militant backgrounds have been found to be active as far as Jammu, Delhi, Mewat and Hyderabad. Intelligence inputs also indicate that the nefarious designs of the ISI and ISIS include not only using the Rohingya to stir communal violence and destabilise the Northeast but also a serious potential of violence by radicalised Rohingya against the country’s Buddhist citizens.
In 2005, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Centre had not done its duty to protect Assam from “external aggression” due to the IMDT Act, which encouraged rampant illegal migration from Bangladesh. In a recent interview, Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was quoted as saying: “Our experience in the Northeast with immigrants has been very bad. Over 30 per cent people are immigrants and as a result, the indigenous people are fast losing their identity… Our monasteries and temples have been encroached upon. We are in very serious trouble when it comes to immigration. So, drawing from my experience in the Northeast, I don’t think anymore people should be given asylum or refugee status in India.”
The clamour for granting refugee status to the Rohingya also does not stand on legal grounds as India is neither a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor the 1967 Protocol Relating to Status of Refugees. Moreover, Article 19 of the Indian Constitution states that the right to reside and settle in, or move freely throughout, any part of the territory of India is only available to the citizens of India.
From a purely economic point of view, with its challenges of population and meeting their basic requirements, the country would be hard-pressed to handle such a major influx of illegal immigrants. Pumping in more resources to cater to the illegal immigrants would only serve to deprive legitimate Indian citizens, which could result in social tensions.
From the strategic point of view, Myanmar has been extending cooperation to India in dealing with insurgent groups operating in the Northeast and combating drug smuggling and gun-running. With China gradually expanding its interests in the region, it would be naïve on New Delhi’s part to alienate Yangon by providing refuge to Rohingya terrorists on the run, who have clearly infiltrated among the illegal immigrants in large numbers.
Notwithstanding its reservation on allowing large-scale influx of illegal immigrants, India has gone out of its way to extend all possible humanitarian assistance by rushing emergency relief material to its friendly neighbour Bangladesh under Operation Insaniyat.
The country just cannot afford to turn more of its states into Assam. India may not build a wall along its borders but its first and foremost duty is to protect the rights of its bonafide citizens and insulate them against any form of external aggression. It needs to strike that delicate balance between humanitarian aid and national interests.