Comparing Migrations A Study of Prafulla Roy’s Infiltration and Nina Sabnani’s Know Directions Home"

Soumyadeep Neogi

Soumyadeep Neogi

The Partition of India resulted in the mass migration of millions of people who were forced to leave their homes to move to either India or Pakistan. This migration continued to take place even decades after Partition and is now a serious political issue in India. Political leaders allow certain people to infiltrate into India en masse and give them full citizenship and voting rights for their own personal gain. In this paper, I will present a comparative study of two different types of migration: one that of a Muslim family from Bangladesh coming into India to get financial benefits and that of a Hindu family from Pakistan coming in order to flee from persecution. I will argue that while it is necessary for India to provide refuge to people who are facing oppression in their country, but there must be restrictions on people who come over for economic benefits and go on to play a huge role in the country’s democratic process.

Keywords: Partition of India, Migration, Exile, Roots and Routes, Bangladesh Liberation War

Comparing Migrations: A Study of Prafulla Roy’s Infiltration and Nina Sabnani’s Know Directions Home?
         As a consequence of the Partition of India in 1947, some 15 million people were forced to migrate from and to the newly created countries of India and Pakistan and around 700,000 Muslims had moved to East Pakistan (Ghosh, Reinvoking). The migration into India continued for many decades after Partition, by both Hindus and Muslims, for various reasons like religious persecution and economic necessities. This paper seeks to analyze two, almost similar, narratives about such migrations: Infiltration by Prafulla Roy and Know Way Home? by Nina Sabnani. I wish to present the argument that while it is acceptable to allow migration to India by people facing persecution; it is not prudent to allow Pakistanis to migrate here for economic benefits.
         It is important that I provide some historical context to support my argument. First, the Muslim League in the 1940s maintained that in a democracy, Muslims could only represent Muslims and large number of Indian Muslims from various Muslim-minority provinces came out to support the League (Ghosh, Reinvoking). Jinnah praised the Bihari Muslims for their efforts in creating Pakistan (Ghosh, Negotiating Nations). After Partition, many non-Bengali Muslims left for East Pakistan for a variety of reasons; some people went to get jobs while some went for religious reasons and some even felt Pakistan would not survive without them (Schendel and Rahman). The Bengalis did not like their presence, and during the war of 1971 when the non-Bengali Muslims supported West Pakistan, the Bengalis felt betrayed and they resented them. In the 1971 war, both the Bengalis and the non-Bengalis were guilty of terrible crimes against one another. After the war, the non-Bengali Muslims in Bangladesh found themselves in a difficult position, as they were forsaken not only by the Bangladeshis who looked upon them as traitors but also by Pakistan, the country they fought for. Pakistan has consistently denied taking their responsibility, citing shortage of resources. Even the MQM, which strives to get the migrant Muslims recognized as the fifth ethnicity of Pakistan, does not want these “Muhajirin-e-mashriqui” to be settled in Sindh; while for the ethnic Sindhis, these people are “gairmulkis” or foreigners (Ghosh, Reinvoking). These people were Pakistani citizens of Bihari origin; post 1971 they became Pakistani citizens, of Bihari origin, who were stranded in Pakistan with the option of either integrating with their Bengali surroundings or to be repatriated into Pakistan (Schendel and Rahman). Only a miniscule number got repatriated to Pakistan and most were left in relief camps in Bangladesh (Ghosh, Reinvoking).  Their situation is similar to that of the Hindus, left behind in Pakistan, who want to come to India, however there are certain important differences as well, which shall be discussed in this essay.
         In the short story, Infiltration, by Prafulla Roy we find two Pakistani families of 8 people coming illegally to India from Bangladesh, 20 years the 1971 Liberation War, who go on to get ration cards by fraudulent means and then become Indian citizens. The title of the story reflects that their migration is illegal and unwelcomed.
         The first image in the narrative is that of these 8 people quietly moving through Bihar in the dark night like “insects.” The comparison has dark undertones; they are akin to unwanted insects which create nuisance like spreading diseases, symbolically reflecting that these people can be a source of threat to the local people of that area. Their hapless fate as migrants is also palpable from the nature of their journey, having to illegally come inside a country which their forefathers had abandoned. The fact that it was not dawn yet symbolically reflects that darkness hadn’t completely disappeared from their lives, their future was still uncertain like their path, even after the arduous journey they had undertaken. The narrator gives a glimpse of their past history: Farid’s grandfather Mudassar Ali shifted to Dhaka in late 1947 as he felt that Bihar was “choked with terror” after their house was burned down in 1946 (519). After the Liberation War, Farid’s family lived in Dhaka for many years where he completed his graduation. It was only when his prospects of making a good career in Bangladesh seemed bleak, did they decide to come to India. Thus, these people were coming to find economic benefits.
There is an organized network of touts and agents, whom Kamal Sadiq describes as “networks of complicity”, who help them cross into India (Sadiq, Paper Citizens). The character of Shaukat Miyan, who was prearranged to take the refugees from Bangladesh to the “right place” in India, is significant (522). He had left India to settle in East Pakistan in 1947, where he helped other migrants settle down; 40 years later he was doing the same thing in the opposite direction. The narrator describes these people as “without country, identity, they were walking for a country of their own” (523). But, these were people who had supported the Muslim League’s demand for dividing India as they felt Hindus and Muslims couldn’t co-exist. They left India for a better future in East Pakistan, where many of them exploited the Bengali Muslims; then after the war, these people were suddenly abandoned by Pakistan and were looked upon as traitors by the Bangladeshis. The narrative’s information can make it seem that these men were victims of time. However, the opposite can also be true and so we have two possibilities of them being either innocent victims or opportunists and there were plenty of people who belonged to both these categories (Schendel and Rahman). Thus, their identity, in terms of nationality, is that they were Pakistani citizens who were deserted in Bangladesh after they abandoned India in 1947. Shaukat says that they are neither Indians, nor Pakistanis, nor Bangladeshis, whether they are Pakistanis or Bangladeshis is debatable, but they are certainly not Indians.  
Shaukat tells Farid that he has information about a political leader who can alleviate their problems; what the source of this information is not revealed, except that he might have received this information from some agent around the border, which side of the border or which country’s agent is also not mentioned. Thus, the question of security comes up. Shaukat understands that political protection is required in India to ensure their safety. Ironically, the politician who helps the migrants out is a character named Rambanvas Chaubey, a Brahmin named after Lord Ram. Chaubey represents the very figure that the Muslim League demonized: the upper caste Hindu politician who would persecute Muslims in a democratic political set up.  He helps Shaukat and his group settle in India by putting their names on the voter lists in return for their votes. Kamal Sadiq describes how, such illegal immigrants use fraudulent means to acquire documents like ration cards which turns them into legal citizen, through what Sadiq calls “documentary citizenship”, thus getting full constitutional rights. It is easy to procure these documents in rural areas like Manapthhal where men like Chaubey, who form the network of complicity, make it possible for illegal immigrants like Shaukat and Farid to become “visible” as citizens enjoying full “social, economic, political rights” and get enfranchised, which helps them “have a say in political matters” as Sadiq notes in Paper Citizens, this is a problem for all democratic states.
           Nina Sabnani’s graphic narrative, Know Directions Home? describes the experience of a Hindu family fleeing Pakistan after the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Despite being Hindus, these people did not find it easy to come to India. They were subjected to constant harassment by the Indian army who wanted to take them back to Pakistan, but each time their efforts were thwarted as the family remained steadfast in their resolve to not be sent back. There are no networks of complicity that come to aid them. Although a politician does visit once, promising to help them settle in India. But since then, they were left to fend for themselves in an inhospitable environment in Kutch where they had to rebuild their lives gradually as refugees. All this suddenly changed when they were finally declared to be Indian citizens by politicians. The narrator was amazed to see that becoming a legal Indian citizen was that easy, after all the hardships that they had to endure. The story ends with the narrator describing that they had left Kutch for Sumrasar where their lives would be a bit easier.
            The narrative demonstrates how, like in the previous story, official documentation was necessary for migrants to make better lives for themselves in India. Sabnani’s refugees are, what Schendel and Rahman describe as “border refugees” who left their land because of fear, discrimination and “persecution”, while Roy’s migrants can be classified under two categories: the “refugees from the interior” and the “nationalists” who chose to support Pakistan and leave India to settle in a land “where they had no previous contacts” (Schendel and Rahman). The difference lies in the fact that the Hindus did not want to create Pakistan, but had it thrust upon them.
           The title is interesting, “Know Directions Home?”, the word “Know” functions as a pun to refer to “No Directions Home” as in there isn’t any way they can go to a place which may feel like home. The word “home” denotes security, safety and surety, none of which are available to them. Alternatively, the title also reads like a question, which is asking the reader if he or she knows the direction where they might find a safe and secure place which they can call their home. The narrator is unnamed, symbolically functioning as a representative voice for so many Hindu families who found themselves on the Pakistani side of the Radcliffe line post Partition and ultimately perished in their struggle to get over to India. The narrator mentions that they lived in a village near the Indian border in Pakistan, and that they were the only Hindu family left in that village: a pointer to the fact that the other families who lived there might have all either left already or had been killed off. The religious persecution these people face in Pakistan is clear in the manner in which they plead the Indian guards to send them to anywhere in India but not back to Pakistan, they were even prepared to sit out in the wilderness for days as long as it was on Indian land.
In the first story, the migrants come to India for economic prosperity; in the second narrative the migrants come because they feel threatened because of their religion. The onus is not on India to provide refuge to every migrant who wants to come in, refuge should be given only to people whose very existence is under threat, as in this case it is with the last remaining Hindu family of Adigaam in Sabnani’s narrative, provided thorough background checks and security measures are taken.  Sabnani’s characters have no other alternative but migration to India. For a country, like India which is already reeling under economic and population crisis, it is not feasible to give refuge to everyone who wants to come in.  We cannot afford to take in people who come for economic benefits like Farid in Infiltration.
The question of security also arises. Sadiq shows, illegal immigrants become legal citizens by getting voting rights, which gives them a say in India’s political matters. This is obviously a dangerous issue as outside people must not interfere in a sovereign country’s democratic procedure. Vote bank politics is an ailment that seeps through Indian politics right to its very core. Shaukat Miyan knows that to stay safely in India, they would have to seek political protection. Rambanvas Chaubey reflects the ideal corrupt politician who for the sake of wining an election helps get these people, whom he himself calls “Infiltrators”, voting rights and thereby, Indian citizenship. The unknown narrator’s family in Sabnani’s narrative had to wait 8 years before they were granted citizenship. In Infiltration, we see that Shaukat Miyan is desperate to secure Indian citizenship; he calls Chaubey their “ma baap” who has already started playing unscrupulous political games (534). Chaubey shows how insignificant paper documents have become, reflecting the sad reality of how millions of Bangladeshis have managed to get fake Indian documents. 
People who face persecution and imminent threats to their existence must be given refuge in other countries. India must also give refuge to persecuted people of all religions and races, but this has to be a systematic process with proper background checks. Citizenship should also be given following the legal procedures. It is not recommended to give citizenship to anyone who somehow manages to come to India and especially if they come to improve their economic situation only. Also, the “Stranded Pakistanis” in Bangladesh are the responsibility of the Pakistani and the Bangladeshi governments, India can only mediate between the two governments, but the issue should be settled between those two countries only. India can go even further and offer some people temporary refuge (under strict surveillance) but then must deport them back to either Pakistan or Bangladesh, and not allow them to become political players in India.

                                                         Works Cited

  • Ghosh, Papiya. “Negotiating Nations.” Partition and the South Asian Diaspora: Extending the Subcontinent, 2007, pp. 1–56.
  • “Reinvoking the Pakistan of the 1940s: Bihar's 'Stranded Pakistanis'.” Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 2, no. 1, 1995, pp. 131–146.
  • Roy, Prafulla. "Infiltration." Bengal Partition Stories: An Unclosed Chapter, edited by Bashabi Fraser, Anthem Press, 2008, pp. 517-38.
  • Sabnani, Nina. "Know Way Home." This Side That Side, Yoda Press, 2013, pp. 100-111.
  • Sadiq, Kamal. “Documentary Citizenship.” Paper Citizens: How Illegal Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in Developing Countries, OUP, 2010.
  • Schendel, William Van, and Mahbubar Rahman. “'I Am Not a Refugee': Rethinking Partition Migration.” Modern Asian Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, July 2003, pp. 551–584.

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