Abdullah, a refugee in India from the Rohingya minority, is a prey to the same fear in his shack camp in New Delhi that caused him to flee Burma (Myanmar) almost a decade ago, among the growing calls from the Indian government of expel the “infiltrators” in the country.
The term charged with negative connotations is used by the Prime Minister’s Hindu nationalist government, Narendra Modi, to refer to irregular immigrants who intend to identify through a hypothetical census.
Modi and other leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have stated that they want to “free the country from infiltrators” on multiple occasions and Interior Minister Amit Shah compared immigrants with “termites.”
The anti-immigrant speech reached the point of attracting teasing in social networks when the national secretary general of the BJP, Kailash Vijayvargiya, said he had expelled some workers from his house on suspicion that they were Bangladeshi.
They only ate one type of flattened rice called “poha,” he said a few weeks ago, before reminding him with a mixture of jocular and hurtful comments that the dish is popular in parts of India.
For Abdullah and the rest of his almost 250 neighbors of the Rohingya minority, who live in makeshift homes with badges and awnings with erratic electricity on land in the south of the capital, political rhetoric has very real consequences.
NIGHTS WITHOUT SLEEP
“Here I feel more scared than I used to be in Burma. Until 2017 (the situation) was a little better, but now I have no words,” this 29-year-old man told Efe.
Married and with two children who were already born in India, Abdullah arrived in the country guided by the image of harmony and social justice of Bollywood cinema, after seeing his house burn in Burma.
In New Delhi, he has seen his temporary home succumb to the flames in 2018 in what, he claims, was an intentional fire. Now he doesn’t sleep at night and fears being filmed for fear of reprisals.
Some 18,000 Rohingya live in India after years of violent persecution in their home country, according to estimates by international organizations, in many cases since before the mass exodus of members of this minority to neighboring Bangladesh in August 2017.
Recently they discovered three masked men hanging around the camp who fled after being spotted.
“We are afraid and we have seen many videos on social networks where they threaten the Rohingya, where there are Indians who threaten us saying that they are going to kill and expel us. We have seen videos in recent days especially since the Citizenship Law was passed “Abdullah explained.
THE HARMFUL EFFECT OF THE POLITICAL CITIZENSHIP LAW
The Indian Parliament approved last December a controversial amendment to the Citizenship Law that seeks to give citizenship to irregular immigrants from neighboring countries that belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian religions.
The Government defends the law as necessary to welcome the persecuted minorities, while its critics denounce it for discriminating against Muslims and see in the text an attempt to relegate second-class citizens to the followers of this religion.
Why does this debate matter to the persecuted Rohingya, holders in addition to official cards of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)?
“At the beginning we felt calm, but since the Citizenship Law we are no longer sure. It should not affect us, but it is doing so,” Mohammad Haroon, one of the camp leaders, told Efe.
Especially because the predominantly Muslim neighborhood of Shaheen Bagh, where a camp in the south of the capital is the scene of permanent demonstrations against Modi’s initiative for two months, is only ten minutes away.
On the road dotted with combative posters and blocked by several hundred protesters, where women occupy a prominent role, the activist and former professor at Jamia Millia Islamia Sarvatali University showed her rejection of the Government.
“We are a secular country, we are not guided by religion. It is an attack on the Constitution … and they are not going to stop. They are trying to create a country first for Hindus,” he said, summarizing the sentiment of the protest that it is a law against Muslims.
GOOD AGAINST BAD IMMIGRANTS
For the assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delhi Radhika Chopra, Modi’s Hindu nationalism is projecting an image of good versus bad immigrants. The persecuted minorities in front of the “infiltrators” or the “termites”.
“The thing is that termites get into all safe places like closets and even rooms, that’s the message they want to send,” Chopra said.
One language, denounced Efe the director general of Amnesty International in India, Avinash Kumar, “directed primarily against Muslims to show them as intruders and foreigners” as part of the “political agenda” of the BJP.
Not only irregular immigrants suffer the consequences. Kumar recalls that recently the police in the southern city of Bangalore destroyed a shanty town because they suspected they lived in Bangladesh.
“It turns out that most of the residents were Indians, but they suffered only because they came from outside and spoke a different language,” he lamented.
David Asta Alares