Activists question Centre’s illegal 348-hour detention of ‘Bangladeshis’ picked from Karnataka

They were allegedly apprehended and detained without reason and there is no clarity on repatriation
Illegal immigrants
Image: Abhirup Dam/The Telegraph Online

The 61 alleged Bangladeshis who were detained by the Bengaluru police in raids on October 26 are now being ferried to Kolkata to be deported to Bangladesh. The Muslim rag pickers dubbed ‘Bangladeshi’ in Karnataka were recently targeted by the BJP government in a bid to strengthen their call for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and send out a message to illegal immigrants, The Federal reported.

It was unsure that the immigrants who had now reached Howrah would be dropped at the Petrapole – Benapole (India – Bangladesh border). As the train reached Howrah, activists held protests saying the process of deportation was illegal and inhumane, demanding reasons behind the move, especially in the absence of any official, formal procedure regarding their deportation.

While the ‘Bangladeshis’ were worried about their fate – there was a rumor that they would be held at a detention camp near the border, the police refrained from speaking to both, the media and the illegally detained citizens.

The Petrapole – Benapole border near Bongaon has now become an infamous point in North 24 Parganas for being the preferred route to deport undocumented Bangladeshis who have been nabbed across raids in India. The number of these raids has increased since the BJP came to power.

There have been occasions in the past where migrants who were pushed back by Indian authorities were not accepted by Bangladesh. There is, however, a greater understanding between the border authorities now. The Indian authorities reportedly contact their counterparts in Bangladesh before deporting people.

The group that consisted 29 males, 22 females and 9 children were kept waiting for hours at Howrah station due to the lack of clarity regarding the repatriation procedures.

The Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) that was investigating the case since the detention wrote to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with regards to the apprehension and illegal detention of the citizens.

Citing that the detention was shrouded in secrecy and in violation of Articles 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution, they wrote, “While investigating on their whereabouts we were informed that the accused persons were detained for several hours under police supervision in Howrah railway station after they reached on 23.11.19. From there they were taken to the Nischinda police station in Howrah district where they were kept in the building of a government run training centre under strict police supervision. When contacted the Officer in Charge of Nischinda police station on 24.11.19 over phone, he said that there are no such persons in his police station and told us to contact the Block Development Officer (BDO) of Bally Jagachha block. After we contacted the Block Development Officer over phone he said that the accused persons are being kept in a school building but he refused to impart any other information on whether they are being provided with proper food, clothing, sanitation and medical treatment. He further stated that he is only responsible for keeping them there; the rest is being arranged by the local police and state level police officials. The whole matter is being executed under secrecy and the process is not at all transparent. MASUM perceives this as an autocratic executive decision that goes against the Articles 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution stating the right to life. According to Intelligence police (border) of West Bengal, those “undocumented migrants” case to be followed with Union Government for further instruction from them. We are shocked to learn that neither Karnataka government, nor West Bengal government knowingly violated well settled procedure as laid down in Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1961 and 1963.”

When MASUM’s fact finding team tried to visit the Nischinda police station to check on the present conditions of the detainees, they were not permitted to do so. They were, instead, asked to get permission from the Block Development Officer (BDO) and were also threatened for breaking in to the restricted premises.  

They then visited the BDO, Mr. Asit Baran Ghosh, who stood by his original statement that he is only responsible for their stay but doesn’t know anything about who is catering to their food and other basic needs. He also stated that he did not visit the place yet.  All these things are being handled by the higher police officials.

MASUM states the detention of these citizens is in severe violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution that states ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’, which translates to every person inside Indian territory, even if the victims are Bangladeshi nationals, is entitled to Right to Life. Also the Article 22 of the Indian Constitution that states, ‘No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice’ and ‘Every person who is arrested and detained in custody shall be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate and no such person shall be detained in custody beyond the said period without the authority of a magistrate’. In the case of these victims, it was informed that they were not even allowed a change of clothes since the day they were taken in custody of police of Karnataka and thereafter, police of West Bengal.

The activists from MASUM and other human rights organizations are upset with the treatment being meted out the victims of religious and ethnic cleansing. They demand a proper investigation of the above incident and that the police should be transparent in line with the law of the land and not act like the decision maker in the process.

Whether or not the State and Centre stand up to answer this question on the gross human rights violations against these detainees, activists have important questions to ask –

· How did the apprehended persons get into the country by crossing the border and work in our country for years and who is responsible for the same?

· Were the detainees produced in court and if they were, why are there no judicial orders for their repatriation?

· How were the detainees identified to be Bangladeshi nationals and whether the Bangladeshi government was intimated of the same?

· Why were the accused not handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ India office and were they even consulted?

· How could the Karnataka government detain them for 348 hours without producing them before a court?

And the most important question of all – Is this a camouflage process of NRC initiated by BJP-led Karnataka Government and allegedly supported by the TMC-led West Bengal Government?

After leaving out 19 lakh people from the NRC in Assam, the government is now planning to extend the exercise to the whole country. Mamata Banerjee who has always vociferously opposed NRC, in a counter to Amit Shah’s statement of NRC being carried in the whole country, has now said that she will regularize all land in the state where refugees have settled since the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. However, the BJP has dismissed this to be a political tactic for Mamata is scared of losing her minority vote bank. Till date, the rumours of NRC have claimed at least 11 lives in the state.


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