Home / Opinion / Columns /  Opinion | Why you don’t love immigrants as much as you claim

In the end, the National Register of Citizens will identify illegal immigrants, and the newly-amended Citizenship Bill will naturalize some of them if they are not Muslims. Usually, societies that wish to discriminate against a religion take great pains to cloak it in respectable economic and humanitarian terms. The Indian government, however, appears to have taken great pains to present its reasonable economic and humanitarian intentions as religious bias.

India’s economic intent is to favour poor Indians over poor foreigners, and its humanitarian intent is to grant citizenship to those who have fled part-theocracies in the neighbourhood and are not so many that they will alter Indian politics or exert a strain on the nation’s resources. But India has articulated this in a way that appals many.

The reactions to India’s new policy on immigrants may have made you feel that many people here love immigrants. Some Hindus are behaving as though they are so full of insatiable love for each other that they now need to love “persecuted" Hindus from other lands. And India’s suave are demonstrating great love for Muslim immigrants whom they absorb as servants with no fair contracts, pay poorly for 12-hour shifts with no weekly offs, and sack them at five-minute notice.

Compassion for poor immigrants is a high virtue and emerges from mankind’s most intelligent invention—the idea that the strong should take care of the weak. But people who do not have to make any sacrifices in exchange for professing such compassion are not the finest analysts of the issue. This is the reason why The Guardian has repeatedly got its own nation wrong.

On Friday, as early results of the UK’s general elections showed a thumping victory for the Conservatives, who had championed Brexit, which is essentially an immigration issue, The Guardian reported that the poll results were a “shock" outcome. I think only The Guardian and its subscribers were shocked. Its intellectuals, whose jobs are unaffected by migration, have been telling others who are in more precarious positions that they have nothing to fear from immigrants. We don’t know yet who is right, but we know how most people feel.

Across the world, the poor and the lower middle classes despise poor migrants (for convenience I will use the word “migrants" to refer to “immigrants", too) because poor migrants first compete for resources and jobs with poor residents and not with editorial writers and poverty economists. This is what politicians know.

A central attribute of migrants is that they are competition, or perceived as competition. If you are not in competition with a migrant, you are analysing the wrong one. Find the migrant who is your rival, and you will suddenly realize you are not so noble anymore.

Who is your migrant, your child’s migrant? The provincial students who are taking over the Indian Institutes of Technology and against whom the old urban elite cannot compete in entrance exams. Listen carefully to how the refined condemn the new elite engineering students—as merely exam-crackers, who have no other talent, who can’t speak English, who don’t read novels, who don’t quiz, or play Carnatic music. Have you gone back to your alma mater recently, and covertly found the new students there shockingly “downmarket", and did you instead express your thoughts as noble concern for how “the standards have fallen"?

These are all sophisticated ways of putting down the migrant who is encroaching on your turf, your culture, your way of life and your resources and the resources of your children.

Also, the new type of politicians and scholars who have taken over Lutyens’ Delhi—they are the new spatial and cultural migrants. This is the very reason why conscientious economists and other humanities professors who claim to have compassion for migrants hate the new rustic, nationalistic and vernacular academics.

In news coverage of the amended citizenship bill, you may have seen images of protests in Assam. Many who have the heart but not the time to read news have been led to believe that Assam is filled with angry humanitarians who are demanding an influx of Muslims from other places. The fact is they are screaming that they do not want any immigrants.

Even a famous Assamese television anchor who usually agrees entirely with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a daily coincidence, has said India’s new citizenship policy is “ridiculous".

Most humans are wary of immigrants, and the BJP knows that. I believe that the party plans to build increasingly efficient ways to transfer cash and subsidies to the most needy of voters, and that it does not want illegal immigrants to share India’s modest resources. A significant section of the Indian electorate is wary of the Muslim population in India, a fear that often gets presented as a humanitarian concern for “explosive population growth". This is a cloak that India chose not to use in its new citizenship policy. However, it has bluntly used faith in Islam as a criterion to deny immigrants citizenship. As a result, the optics are very bad.

All nations are discriminatory, but they deploy informal policies to carry out the discrimination. For instance, there is no written law that requires US immigration authorities to question Muslims more often and deeply than they do Christian Whites. Yet, they do.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, and a novelist, most recently of ‘Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous’

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