The murder of two non local immigrants was dastardly to say the least. Such crimes in the last few years, it is now clear, is not random but falls into a definite pattern. Even as the state is reeling under the impact of the economic blockade, anti-social elements are adding insult to injury by their atrocious and unthinking acts. The crime must be roundly condemned. In any case, xenophobia is no solution to whatever genuine concerns of possible demographic overturning caused by unregulated inflow of immigrants, economic or political. The government must ensure that the vulnerable sections of the society are given adequate protection to their life and property. It is very unfortunate that these ugly incidents have been periodically resurfacing in this beleaguered state. It is also unfortunate that between one massacre and the next, the government has not been able to evolve any farsighted policies to tackle the problem conclusively. All it has been doing is to fire fight, which quite obviously, to use a medical analogy, is merely in the nature of sedative but far from being a cure to the disease. So as in the past, the administration has, as a response to the most recent racial attack, herded non local immigrants to camps it set up and given them police cover. But the question is for how long can this be for? This is especially relevant because those housed in the camps are mostly impoverished daily wage earners and outside their places of work would be deprived of their meagre earnings. Sooner than later, by the compulsions of poverty, they would want to be released so that they can return to their places of work, and that is when the cycle of hate violence would likely be repeated soon as the public and government vigil drop.
The moot point is, while the government must do what it is doing now by making the security cover foolproof, it must also think of evolving longer term strategies to tackle this growing menace of xenophobic hate crimes. While it is a few miscreants who are responsible for these crimes, what is to be remembered is the crimes are the extreme manifestation of a general atmosphere of concern amongst the a good section of the population of the state that immigrants would come to outnumber the indigenous populations sooner than later. It may be recalled that so many powerful and well known civil organisations, have expressed this anxiety in no uncertain terms and indeed there is a parallel increase in the decibel in the demands for the re-introduction of the inner line permit system which would restrict immigration as well as prevent transfer of landed property to immigrants. A longer term solution to the problem would have to address this concern and seek to resolve or moderate it. If such an approach is not taken, the government would be left with no other option than to resort to the same strategy of bolting the stable after the horses have fled. This would be unforgivable for the matter involves lives and any loss of life is nothing to be callous about.
But what manifests as a concern of possible demographic imbalances may have a strong unarticulated component of competition for jobs. As had been written and thrashed so many times even on these same columns, immigrant labour always manages to drag down wages earning the ire of the local labour market. The fact that those the miscreants targeted were impoverished immigrant labourers may in fact be an indicator of this contention. Some years ago, the reason for the attacks in Assam on “Hindi speakers” was openly stated to be an outcome of competition for railway jobs of grade three and two. In Maharashtra the underlying causes for the attacks on non-Maharashtrians were also for the same reason. We are pointing out these possible factors so that the government does not miss them out in evolving its own long term strategy of tackling this ugly and shameful problem. Just to underscore the point, the government cannot afford to let its guards down in the immediate context for there are killers out there bent on creating xenophobic mayhem. They must be kept at bay. However the government should also think of some regulatory mechanism to check the inflow of immigrants. It must be acknowledged that beneath the loathsome xenophobia are some genuine concerns which must be taken care of. As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours. At this point perhaps introducing such a regulatory mechanism, even if a mild one, is this good fence. It is needless to remind the government that such regulatory mechanisms exist in many other Northeast states.