A foreigner at home

Last night they came, the big fat men.
They had chalks in their hands, some ropes and scales and obscure maps.
They drew a line and they divided my land.
My bedroom fell in the country where I was born,
While my toilet was now in the new country, they just formed!
It didn’t bother me much till i heard the rumors floating about.
Some said i am an immigrant, while others claimed i am a foreigner in my own house.
Idle minds, I thought bitterly; i was filled with sadness and anger.
This is the land of my ancestors, my family legacy, the property of my forefathers!
I resolved to never part with the house even if going to the toilet is a matter of international concern and a threat to national security.
And to be honest, I was happier now than ever before, at the very thought of being a proud home owner in 2 countries!
Then came the horrible day!
They tried to get me to choose one country to say!
NO WAY! i screamed. I am a proud home owner in two countries!
I firmly stuck to my reason – everybody knows it’s better to have home in 2 countries rather than only in one.
They refused to see my reason; they threatened to put in me in a prison!
I am a martyr’s son, i am not afraid of you, i said defiantly!
Then it struck them again and now they were puzzled about where to imprison me?
Which country’s prison should host a noble person like me, they wondered.
The diplomats and high officials were confused;
The diplomats argued and the two delegate groups from the 2 countries ended up in a fist fight with one another.
And all because of me they rolled in the mud, abused freely and shot guns at each other!
I felt pity and they felt tired after 4 of them had died and only 3 lived – 1 and a half from each side.
They decided to leave and let me keep my home in the 2 countries!
I retired to the bedroom peacefully, proud and happy at my victory!
However, the idle talk continues still and they never shut their stupid mouths.
I can always hear some say i am an immigrant and others, that i am a foreigner, in my own house!
I don’t care really because the liquor keeps me rather happy!
However, i worry that those big fat men are bored again.
And this time they want to toy with a new idea and play a deadlier game!
Countries and their boundaries are now sacred they say,
Hence, the laws that were meant to help people will now be used to have their way!
But I can vouch for it, the boundaries are vague like the horizon itself – never definite and ever shifting;
It is a certain line drawn on a map, conjured for dividing and an excuse of violence, conflict and mass killings.
The boundaries are rather confusing and very unforgiving!
Stretching over miles, unchecked and free, the borders tell the story of thousands crossing over daily.
They are the oppressed people and the poorest of poor, the ignorant, the naked and the hungry.
They are also the threat that weaken international law and shake national security.
They have no home and no choice and they desperately seek an escape from melting into lifeless carcasses.
Rib-cages jut out, starving babies wail and panic stricken men and women migrate in masses.
They travel to survive; they travel in search of a living.
These, the-wretched-of-the-earth, the good-for-nothing,
They have no respect or even an understanding of how illegal their struggle for survival is!
These fools are ignorant of the international law and of violating national boundaries!
Once caught, these trouble-makers, the illegal foreigners like me, are jailed and deported back.
These hapless millions are pushed back while bullets are fired from both sides of the boundaries.
Disowned by countries, criminalized by governments and denied of all rights due to human beings,
I wonder if they even existed before they died during the ruthless firing?
And the game continues, a game played rather well!
There are exclusive jobs given out by the Government to help win medallions for killing,
And those assigned by law, can shoot whoever they claim to be the “other”;
After all, there is a reward now even for firing!
The body count and blood shed ensures promotions;
And shiny medals and many other delightful possessions!
So here take my warning my dear friend, the ignorant and pitiable creature.
Don’t ask questions and don’t seek answers.
If you are poor and the persecuted, don’t seek life.
Instead suffer in silence and choose to die.
The Governments have finally got supporters too who will not let you live if you step on their land!
Your life is your curse my friend and your death your salvation.
Nobody cares in your well-being anyway, so please don’t cross any line
They will charge you with your life for this unpardonable crime!
Coming back to my story, these are bad days for poor-fools like me.
The lines they draw, shifts like sand dunes but a violation means prison or death surely.
The new country disowned me and the old one calls me, a traitor.
And the saddest part of my story is, even at home I am accused of being an illegal foreigner.
The poem “Foreigner at Home” was written in September 2013 when the issue of ‘illegal immigrant’ flared up targeting Muslims and branding anyone without an identity proof as a ‘Bangladeshi’ (especially in Assam and other parts of Eastern India).
In this part of the world where borders have always been porous and people have historically migrated for various reasons – for marriage, for business or for expanding their territory or setting up a new territory. The borders of modern India were also drawn up arbitrarily and overnight creating the nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh from parts of British India. India itself is an entity that came into being through the British occupation. In such a scenario, it is not a surprise that our lives across the 3 countries remain intertwined socially, economically and politically. My own grandparents from the father’s side migrated from Bangladesh when the country was divided in 1947.
Amidst the bloodshed that they witnessed they remember the humanity they experienced – a Muslim boatman who brought them to their safety in India. Life in India was not any easy as refugees. I know that from whatever I have heard from my late grandmother who was pregnant with my father when they came to India. My father’s childhood was filled with that turmoil that is true for any child born into a refugee family.
We of course remained unaffected by all that as we were children born in the era right before liberalization.
Yet to us the word ‘refugee’ came alive from the first-hand stories we heard and whenever I heard the outrage against ‘illegal immigrants’, I felt a strange solidarity with them. I understood the precariousness of the existence of my own family when they were fleeing from their ancestral home to come to India as nobodies, immigrants, as refugees.
I wonder therefore, who has the right to decide which immigrant is legal and who is an ‘illegal’ immigrant?
In South Asia given we have a history of porous borders and the borders itself keep shifting. Many people who live along the border still don’t know what the border means apart from heavy firing from both sides. Many people still live in precarious situations – their bedroom is in one country and the bathroom in another. Everyday thousands of farmers cross the international border to tend to their crops. Children too cross the international border, unknowingly of course, while chasing a hen or a goat.
The situation is even more complex as many people born in India remain without any identification because of deep poverty, lack of literacy and limited access. Making these poor people easy targets for being labeled and criminalized, reminding me of the vulnerability of my own existence as a 4th or 5th generation child born into a family of refugees. For refugees are also immigrants, only fortunate to have been granted the legal status and declared refugees.
I hope the international and national laws once again recognize that immigrants are displaced people who leave their homes for a variety of reasons, mostly driven by political and economic reasons. They leave because they have no other choice; they leave for the safety and survival of themselves and their families. They too are refugees and as human beings who are forced to migrate, their basic right is to be not called “illegal”. As human beings, they are all legal and they are all refugees whose lives are also a part of the collective responsibility of every nation in this world.