Tuesday, 27 July 2010


Which prominent country is spending one billion pounds building a 4,000 km fence to keep out its neighbour’s Muslim citizens?

Hint: It’s not Israel.

It’s India.

India has been building a fence along its border with Bangladesh since before 2005. The fence is about eight feet high, though higher in some places. It is accompanied by a road and patrolled by 80,000 troops of the Indian Border Security Force.

India has defended this rather un-neighbourly conduct by pointing to the supposed threats of attack by Islamic extremists and of illegal (Muslim) immigration. The first is real but small. In any case fanatics are more likely to come from Pakistan than from Bangladesh and, as the Mumbai attack showed, can easily arrive from the sea.

There is, of course, no real threat to India from the ten million Bangladeshis living there, many of whom were welcomed after Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan. But there is local friction. Muslims of Bangladeshi origin are thought to comprise 30% of the population of the (mainly Hindu) Indian state of Assam.

These ‘immigrants’ are the subject of the usual accusations, eg ‘they’re taking our jobs’. And, of course, the problem is talked up by rightwing Hindu politicians.

So far, so familiar. But this fence has a broader significance if you look a few decades ahead.

In July 2010 the CIA put Bangladesh’s population at 158 million and its growth rate at 1.3%. That growth is unlikely to be maintained but with a median age of just 23½ and 34% of its people under 14 substantial population growth is inevitable.

By contrast the land area of Bangledesh seems bound to shrink over the coming decades. That’s most obviously because rising sea levels will flood low-lying land but also because more severe storms will make some of that land uninhabitable.

Squeezed out by the rising sea many Bangladeshis will look for somewhere less vulnerable – and where else will they look but India? (Bangladesh’s only other land neighbour is Burma – hardly attractive.)

In this context India’s security fence is a step in creating the Police World scenario described three years ago. It’s not a large step; fencing one’s border is hardly a tyrannical act. But it is through small, defensible, steps that the Police World will be built.

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