The Visible Invisibles

The warmth of my bed, the familiarity of my pillows and the comforting lullaby of the creaky rotating fan were things that I missed the most when I was sailing on the high seas.

Though I did have a completely comfortable life while at work with all the basic demands and a lot more being available, nothing could replace the scent of the known that waited for me back home.

I used to be hardly away for a period of four months when the feeling of being patriotic, wanting to go back to my mother country, the need to step my foot on the land that gave me my education, friends, love and memories started to work on my psyche.

Hence, it was unbelievably shocking to realise the fact that there is widespread ignorance about the sections of people across the world, who have not known what home is and are languishing in limbo.

The Refugee Crisis

The United Nations defines a refugee to be any person who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

In the present digital India, the mere mention of refugees makes us sympathise with the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people knocking the doors of the European and American continents.

Sympathy is a wonderful human emotion.

The anger that fills our heart at the atrocities of ISIS and the sense of resentment towards the countries that shut down their doors for the scores of people who just want a secured future and peaceful existence is completely justified.

While our mainstream media constantly covers the widespread apathy by the West towards the refugees from Western and South Asia, Africa, most sections have conveniently ignored the plight of the ones who are living in India.

According to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, India has 4,56,000 refugees with only 2,00,000 registered.

Though the media’s role in shaping the democracy is highly invaluable and has time and again proved its worth and relevance, it can’t be discounted that most of them have not been as vociferous and pro-active while talking about the situation of refugees in India.

Is the media’s considerable silence over the refugee crisis in India because the refugees live in places that are far away from the power centre of the country?

Are they left voiceless and unrepresented because they do not contribute to the vote-bank politics that has spread its tentacles across our nation?

The sheer invisibility of the conditions of the Sri Lankan Tamils in India and refugees from other countries has led to people believe that everything in our ‘Akhand Bharat’ is normal.

Though the influx of Sri Lankan Tamils into India has considerably reduced, there are thousands of Lankan Tamils still living in our country in pitiable conditions as refugees. Even the repatriates who returned to the land that sent them into a war-strife country are suffering for years due to bureaucratic apathy and widespread ignorance about their plight.

Every successive government in the state of Tamil Nadu has promised the refugees here a dual citizenship, nothing has worked out so far and it has pushed many refugees into believing that staying back in a war-torn country with no guarantee for life was a better bargain than living in India.

Since our national policy doesn’t provide an Indian citizenship for people born in our country, there are scores of second generation refugees who though only know India as their country and have only heard stories and descriptions about a country their parents call ‘home’ are not Indian on paper.

Though India has a liberal approach towards refugees and asylum seekers, there are no laws specifically dealing with them. India is not a signatory of the 1951 United Nations Convention dealing with the status of refugees.

This uncertain refugee policy and the absence of a legal framework has led to the refugees and asylum seekers being treated arbitrarily and they live a life of uncertainty.

These people when registered with UNHCR get a card that gives them right to education in government schools and free medical care at government hospitals.

But, their ordeal never gets better because of the absence of a sensitization process for the people of the country about the refugees.

The locals will never welcome them into their daily life if the refugees are always placed in camps without any form of rehabilitation.

The jobs that a refugee gets are mostly in the informal sector where their qualification does not matter. They might never get a job that is worthy of their education. Being in the informal sector leads them to get duped off their salary and are forced to be okay with such treatment because there is no other way.

Racism, sexism, forcing to work longer hours, forcing to work in untimely hours, sexual assault are some of the issues plaguing the refugees who see no respite from all of this, even temporarily.

So the question arises as to why the media doesn’t pose the right questions to the Governments which have always been reiterating the cause of the refugees without any kind of progress.

How do political parties go scot-free by harking on the same unfulfilled promises every election?

How long will the average Indian who empathizes with the situation of their fellow human beings from across the borders, be unaware of the false promises that are constantly made to such people here who want to live a life of dignity??

Will the media be vocal about how “Kacchatheevu” (a land of dispute between India and Sri Lanka) will not be a point of contention for India, especially when China has shown pertinent interest in Sri Lanka?

Will the media highlight the fact that the fishermen from our neighbouring countries are not exactly fond of Indian fishermen who ‘encroach’ and take away their livelihood?

Can the media and the people of India actually be fair and have a sensible discourse without being labelled as ‘Anti-National’?

Effectively we are now facing a situation where we have certain members of the Executive stoking the sentiments of Indians with promises and hoodwink us into believing that everything India does is ideal. We have certain members of the bureaucracy and judiciary who forget the powers vested in them and are unmindful of the plight of the people who came for help.

If even the fourth estate decides to keep its silence and not question the other three estates over its decisions and assume that an Indian is never at wrong, we are setting a dangerous precedent where not just the refugees but also an average Indian would become unimportant and most likely, invisible.

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