In what is a clear fallout of the political obsession with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and calls to implement similar exercises elsewhere in the country to weed out illegal Bangladeshi migrants, apartment complexes in Bengaluru’s tech corridor have been directing recruitment agencies not to send them Bengali speaking workers. This also comes at a time when the police have launched a crackdown on illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Bengaluru. But the inability to distinguish between people from Bengal and Bangladesh is leading to prejudice against all Bengalis. As a result many Bengalis who have been living in Bengaluru for years, including some in white-collar jobs, are facing harassment.
The anti-Bangladeshi sentiment morphing into anti-Bengali prejudice is a textbook example of the ugly warts that start appearing across society and administration, when politicians whip up ethnic passions in a diverse society and emotions override logic. Will the Karnataka government now start deporting Bengalis, ignoring their constitutional right to move anywhere in India? Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya already wants NRC to be extended to Karnataka. After the Assam experience, that would mean another round of hardship and harassment for crores of people.
No country can be fine with large influxes of illegal migrants. But the cure can’t be far worse than the disease. Exercises like NRC only obfuscate the issue, create panic in society, damage the social fabric and hurt the local economy. If the anti-Bengali drive in Bengaluru balloons out of control, it is bound to hurt Bengaluru’s cosmopolitan image and its lucrative tech industry that employs a considerable number of Bengalis. Prejudice and development cannot go hand in hand. Moreover, if states start expelling or otherwise harshly discriminating against people from other states, this will loosen the bonds that hold the country together.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.