The history of immigration is related to labour. Migration took place wherever there was increased demand for labour. Effluent nations encouraged migration to get cheap labour for country’s development. Thus the Africans went to America, so are Indians to South Africa. Bangladeshis came to Assam in lakhs and still coming, albeit in lesser numbers. Assam once had plenty of resources to feed much more than its existing population. The state’s per capita income was higher than national average. Nobody though migration was a problem then. While migrants were happy not to starve anymore, locals did not mind it as migrants filled the demand for labour. Such labour force is cheap too. This is the reason migrants are still preferred for various kinds of jobs in Assam. This could be the reality worldwide. Otherwise, there is no reason for conservative nations like Germany to welcome Asian and African migrants with open arms, despite growing concerns over immigration in several other European countries.
There is a growing concern over influx into Meghalaya. The history of migration into the region is not new. Along with the British, various communities from the plains including Bengali, Bihari, Nepali, Assamese and Sikhs settled here. They were sought for different kinds of jobs then. The situation has changed now. While a major section of the outsiders are here in connection with their government jobs, there is another large section engaged in labour works. They are in high demand in Meghalaya due to their better skills (compared to locals) and, obviously, cheap wage. Even as civil society groups and some regional political parties express concern over demographic change brought by migrants, the labour force is still welcomed by all and sundry. Migrant labourers are preferred in every construction work undertaken even by local indigenous contractors.
Besides the migrants coming to earn their livelihood, there is also a growing number of tourists coming to the state. And sometimes, the nationalistic groups try to paint tourists with the same brush with migrants – as outsiders. At this juncture, the entry/exit points going to be set up across the inter-state border with Assam – Meghalaya has inter-state borders with Assam only – are not likely to end the so-called concern. The government, in apprehension of offending tourists and investors, already made it clear that the points would rather be facilitation centres with all kinds of amenities including eatery, accommodation, museum etc. But, in the backdrop of the entry/exit was a violent agitation by pro-ILP groups in 2013 that claimed at least three lives of non-tribal persons. With the contradictory positions of government and pro-ILP groups on the issue, it remains to be seen if entry/exit points would become another bone of contention leading to another period of unrest.