And then there’s always Bangladesh

(After the Jaipur blasts, the BJP Government of Rajasthan has begun a witch-hunt against ‘Bangladeshis’. Who are these dreaded ‘Bangladeshis’? Of course, many of them are merely Bengali-speaking Muslims – and those that are indeed Bangladeshi are merely migrant poor in search of work. We reproduce excerpts from a piece by Naeem Mohaiemen, who works on art projects in Dhaka and New York, which appeared in the Indian Express on June 6. Ed/)

Bomb blast in Jaipur. What will we do now? Round up the usual suspects. Abdul, Rahman, Rahim, Karim, Salim. All you ‘illegal’ Bangladeshi immigrants within our borders. Report to the newest detention centres.

Remember, it’s not who you say you are, it’s what we say you are.

Bangladesh has emerged as the all-purpose ‘Nondo Ghosh’ (scapegoat) for Indian intelligence agencies. …With meticulous efficiency, we are informed that the ‘modus operandi’ of the Jaipur blasts is similar to the UP court blasts (November 2007), Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts (May 2007) and Malegaon (2006). Every bomb blast is similar to the one before. They are all connected, except when they aren’t. Working on these leads, police are raiding Bangladeshi localities at Galta Gate, Baghrana, Ramganj, Subhash Chowk and Bhatta Basti in Jaipur. It’s also election season.

I remember (a little wistfully) the old days of media hysteria about ‘Pakistani’ militants. Bullet riddled bodies (dead don’t talk) and Pakistani passports (always in their pockets!). But Pakistan has become more complex, with its role in the US axis of willing. Anyway the public wants new, fresh faces. New borders. New panic.

Some time in the last few years, it has become easier and acceptable to bring out the Bangladeshi ‘militant cell’ bogey. That there is Islamist politics inside Bangladesh is not in question (many of us spend a great deal of energy opposing it as a political force). … But that they have the capacity to wage cross-border forays — this still needs to be proven (that is, are the fantasy groups ten strong, or one hundred thousand — no one has done credible research on this inside or outside Bangladesh).

The proof after the blasts always seems to come from shaky sources. That shadowy beast of Indian intel. Well, not just Indian intel, also American intel. The US has listed HuJI as a ‘global-standard’ terrorist organisation. …

… Of course there are many Bangladeshi immigrants inside India. There will always be. The real question about Jaipur is — who are these people in the ‘Bangali para’ — what were they doing all this time? Working for middle class Indian families, of course. Everyone in India knows exactly why these people are there — to work. As house help, cleaners, sweepers, cooks, maids, taxi drivers, tailors, weavers, jewelry makers, construction workers. Keeping Shining India rolling along. Yesterday, they were your convenient and easy source of cheap labour. Why are they a problem today?

As India develops as a hyper-growth Asian tiger, with Bangladesh next door, immigration is inevitable. Until Bangladesh becomes a medium growth country (Goldman Sachs seems to believe it’s possible), we will be as a ‘Mexico’ to India’s ‘United States’. Bangladeshis, hungry for work, with families to feed, will cross the borders.

Immigrants are ubiquitous in the daily lives of modern cities. In a megapolis like New York, they are the ones who drive taxis, sell newspapers and coffee, clean restaurant tables and work in kitchens. They are intimately present in the physical space, but absent from consciousness. Only when they are detained do they become hyper-visible as ‘sleeper cells.’

The desire to identify ‘traitors’ within borders has a long lineage. In America (‘the immigrant nation’), the last century saw detention of Italian immigrants after the anarchist bomb attack in 1919, jailing of German-Americans during WWI, internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, execution of suspected Soviet spies Julius & Ethel Rosenberg, Joseph McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’, the scapegoating of California Mexicans, and the rise of the border vigilante militia Minutemen. W.E.B. Dubois’s question to African Americans, "How does it feel to be a problem?" is now redirected and made freshly relevant for a new population.

When the Hyderabad blasts happened, we heard intel was tracking phone calls to Bangladesh. What happened to that trail? Did the investigation go somewhere? If not, what about the public perception created about ‘dangerous’ Bangladeshis? A few years ago, there was another Bangla ‘terror cell’, splashed across Indian media. Again the story died out. The similarities to the US media are eerie.

After Jaipur, Pankaj Singh, a senior Rajasthan police officer told the press: “The modus operandi, the way the bombs were manufactured and concealed in bags, is very similar to the way Huji [Bangladesh] operates.” I wonder what exactly made the trademark so easily spotted? Were the bags made out of jute? Sealed with jackfruit juice? Lined with Nilkhet Bangla book pages? Now I hear that bombs of medium intensity planted on bicycles are a HuJI trademark? Really? It’s an original and never before tried idea? The Vietcong were using bicycle bombs against Americans in public spaces as far back as 1965. But oh dear, that’s only history.

A previously unknown Islamic militant group, the Indian Mujahedeen, has actually claimed credit for the Jaipur bombing. But internal enemies are suddenly not so convenient. Questions of internal disenfranchisement and homegrown anger are so inconvenient. Naturally, Indian intel says the ‘evidence’ provided by Indian Mujahedeen is not credible, it has many holes. But apparently the Bangladesh HuJI link is rock solid. The smoking gun points to over there, across the border. Inevitably, tragically, the fallout is underway. Political, legal and social. Arrest, round up, deport. Kick them out.

So hard to get good help these days. Now who will clean little Siddharth’s bottom? I hear the Nepalis are rested and ready.

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