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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forcible deportation of indigenous Muslims

Forcible  deportation of indigenous Muslims

In 1993, Narasimha Rao government launched Operation Pushback which authorized the police to pick up thousands of poor Bengali Muslims from all over Delhi and to send them to the border. Central Government has delegated its authority to State Government and State Government has in turn delegated it to the police. Such action is taken under Foreigners Act according to which, action can be taken on anybody's complaint without any adequate primary evidence. The onus is on then accused to prove that he is an Indian Citizen. Under the current law and Action Plan, the deportation order is passed without any hearing and without disclosing the reasons which led to the conclusion that he/she is a foreign national. 'Operation Push-Back' is being implemented in a highly improper manner. Within 10 days, the accused is judged as foreign national and taken to the border to be deported. This Act does not confirm to our Constitutional norms. If the Act itself is unjust, then how can one expect justice.

Bangladesh refused to accept these people – claiming that they were not Bangladeshis at all – and many were stuck in the no-man's land on the edge of the border. According to The Citizen's Campaign for Preserving Democracy, if you are a Muslim and Bengali is the language you speak, the Delhi police needs no further proof that you are an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant to be summarily deported.

Starting from 'Operation Push Back' in 1993, thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims have been picked up from various working class settlements all over Delhi and forcibly pushed inside Bangladesh. It has never been clearly established whether these people were actually from Bangladesh or not. Instances from various parts of Delhi have shown that Indian citizens from West Bengal and Assam, working as rag-pickers in Delhi, were routinely arrested on the charge of being illegal immigrants. The findings also revealed that, The police relied solely and absolutely on the informer's word. All pleas and submission of proof by the detainees – of authoritative documents issued by agencies of Delhi government or the Union government – invariably fell on deaf ears.

The raids included swoops on the so-called illegal migrants in the dead of night and rounding up of men, women and children from theirbastis. People were not even given enough time to get dressed properly or collect their documents. During other times, family members, including minors, caught in the raid were forced to face the situation alone, without being reunited with their families. Many complained of being beaten and threatened when they began to plead their case. All pleas and entreaties of the detainees for a hearing were effectively silenced by physical assaults and verbal abuse. According to the conclusions of "Immigrants in Bombay : A Fact Finding Report." conducted by Shama Dalwai and Irfan Engineer , There have been several complaints of policemen picking up Bengali-speaking Muslims at random and abusing the procedure in order to extort money. There have also been complaints of policemen destroying documents on the ground that they are fake. Police declined to accept Bengali-language documents as proof of Indian citizenship and demanded an English version. Commonly used documents – like electoral identity cards, ration cards, school certificates, and certificates from MLAs and gram panchayats were not accepted. Informally, the study team was told that only documents showing proof of ownership of land are admissible. Given the economic status of those arrested and the fact that, in India, more and more migrants to Indian metros are landless labour, unable to eke out a living from daily wages, this is an unrealistic demand and cannot be met by any poor. It is strange that the Indian government is reluctant to accept other documents issued by its own departments. In a few cases, these documents were torn up by the state authorities on the specious grounds that they were false and fabricated. Police harass Indian Muslims to make some money. It is observed that those who had the financial means to offer and pay bribes were usually set free, regardless of any other proof. Interviewees recounted how those unable to pay bribes were detained and then (presumably) sent ahead. A rough calculation based on an average amount of Rs. 1,000 paid per individual to be freed suggests that there are considerable sums to be made, including the amounts extorted by the informer.

As per the Action Plan, the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO)/civil authority acts as the coordinating agency. The notification issued by the Delhi Administration in pursuance of its power under section 3 of the Foreigners Act, 1946, empowers the FRRO to scrutinize the proposals for deportation, and satisfy itself of their illegal status by providing the concerned person with a hearing. However, the study team did not observe the detainees being produced before the FRRO on any occasion during its visits over three months to the FRRO's office, although some rag-pickers mentioned that they were sometimes briefly produced before the FRRO. From the accounts of some detainees, it was learnt that the conditions of detention fall far below the prescribed national and international standards : –

1) In violation of national and international rules, both men and women detainees are kept together in captivity on the ground floor, i.e. the Baraat Ghar of Delhi.

2) The basic amenities provided here are woefully inadequate. There are only two toilets in the building, one of which is used exclusively by the police staff, and the other is shared by male and female detainees, in violation of their right to privacy.

3) Even to use the toilet facility detainees have to seek prior permission, which is refused sometimes.

4) Items of necessity, such as blankets, are inadequate. According to one narrative, a woman detainee who had two children asked for an extra blanket because one blanket was not enough for them in biting cold. Not only was she refused the extra blanket, but was also slapped across the face for her audacity. Other items of necessity, such as milk for the children, have to be bought from the police at excessive rates.

5) No regular visitation rights are available for the relatives of the detainees.

6) Detainees are not allowed to offer prayers (namaaz), in direct violation of Fundamental Rights (article 25, Constitution of India, that guarantees freedom to profess and practice religion).

7) Detainees are forced to perform odd jobs for the police, like washing their motorcycles, sweeping the floor, cleaning toilets etc., which will attract section 374 of the Indian Penal Code that proscribes unlawful forced labour.

8) The team also heard several complaints of detainees being physically assaulted by the police. Slaps, kicks and punches were part of the treatment meted out to detainees. Degrading forms of punishment, like forcing detainees to squat in the murga position, were routinely reported.

Right from roundup and arrest, to the supposed 'hearing' and deportation, no lawful procedure is being followed by the authorities. The entire process contributes to and manifests the criminalization and communalization of the state and the corruption of its legal and judicial institutions.

From the FRRO the arrested persons are taken to the MCD Ren Basera, where the police are waiting for them. They are kept at the Ren Basera until there are sufficient numbers to fill a railway bogie. Subsequently, they are taken to the Old Delhi railway station in closed vehicles and put aboard a train. The Delhi police accompany them to Malda station in West Bengal, from where they are transferred to a Border Security Force (BSF) camp.

Diplomatic protocol requires that when deportation takes place, the embassy or high commission or any other representative of the State of the country of origin of the deportee be informed about the decision. This has not been undertaken, resulting in a breach of international protocol.

As the Bangladesh Government is not even informed about deportation, their border security force BDR refuses to take them.Foreign Minister Mustafizur Rahman of Bangla Desh spelled it out by saying: "we will not accept (the deportees) unless the Indian authorities provide documents that they are our citizens"Still, Khaleda Zia, then Bangladesh's prime minister, said: 'They are not our headache since they are not Bangladeshis' (The Economic Times, October 15, 1992; see also Tribune, October 10, 1992).Bangladeshi Government calls the entire operation as 'Operation Push-In' as according to it the Indian Government seeks to push its citizens inside their borders. Any sovereign nation will find it offensive and violation of their sovereignty the manner in which 'Operation Push-Back' is being conducted unilaterally by India.The BDR therefore threatens that it would not hesitate even to shoot the people pushed into its territory.

Since the required procedure has not been followed, care has to be taken by the BSF that their counterparts in Bangladesh (BDR) do not know that the deportees are being pushed across the border. Hence, the deportees have to be released in batches of two, and that too in the middle of the night. Thus, it may take several days for the entire lot of deportees to be evacuated from the BSF camp, and during the entire time armed guards are deployed to ensure that the people remain concealed within the camp. The people, both men and women, remain completely at the mercy and whims of the guards. Several incidents of rape, sexual harassment and physical violence have been reported by those who have somehow returned from the border. When the people are forced across the border, all their possessions are taken away along with any signs that may point to their Indian origin. If they have any money, that too is taken away. The general trend appears to be to forcibly push the people into No-Man's Land, regardless of the weather, the condition of the people, and the terrain (jungle or river). They are warned that if they turn back they will be shot as infiltrators. Thus police atrocities become inevitable part of the whole operation as they feel that unless they are terrorized by atrocities, they will return. Therefore they beat men and rape women. This is highly condemnable and indicates that humanity is missing in the police force. This is mainly a result of undue responsibilities thrust on the police by the Government. As the end of 20th century is coming close, such inhuman treatment is unthinkable merely on the ground that the person concerned is not a citizen of our country. Following few examples shall make the situation crystal clear.

i) Indo-Bangladesh relations have been deteriorating for more than a year for several reasons, both commercial and political. The concerted and widespread attempt to push in Bangla-speaking Indian nationals on the plea that they are Bangladeshi intruders is the latest move by India to intimidate Bangladesh and bring it to heel. In the last week or so India has made at least 30 attempts to push in Bangla-speaking Indian Muslims. They have assembled several hundred helpless, indigent people along various border outposts and are holding them under the open sky in inhuman conditions. (Holiday frontpage, 31 January 2003)

On 31st January 2003. On this day a BSF vehicle arrived at the 147th pillar carrying 51 Bangladeshis (21 women and 30 men and children). These people were dropped off at the no-mans-land. On entering the Bangladeshi territory they were all violently beaten by the BDR officers of Kazipur who again drove these people towards the Indian side of the border. The local women from the Bangladeshi side of the border entreated the BDR not to beat the women; however, their fervent requests fell on deaf ears. To escape this beating all men barring three ran away while the women and children took desperate refuge in the bamboo forest by the Indian half of the border. The Indian BSF barred their re-entrance into Indian territory at gunpoint. The BSF created a human barricade to prevent the locals from the Indian side of border from offering any assistance or aid to these tortured and torment people. (By Krishna Banerjee & Purna Banerjee)

ii) As per the official estimate the number of people killed in BSF firing in South Bengal districts bordering Bangladesh more than doubled in the last one year. The victims are often branded as infiltrators, ISI agents and smugglers. Even women and children are not spared. The killing of a middle-aged woman by the BSF sparked some debates. Apart from often indiscriminate firings families trying to cross the border find themselves stranded in no man's land with both the BSF and the BDR claiming that they do not belong to their part of the world for want of legal papers. Our investigative report suggests that very few people in the border areas have evidences of citizenship. Sometimes to make a political statement they are rounded up by security forces of either side and pushed to the no-man's land as happened to 213 people, largely snake charmers in Satgacchi in early February. An overwhelming number of those stranded were children yet they were kept in bitter cold and many of them became afflicted with respiratory tract infection. (As the shadows lengthened, the officers walked back and so did the media team. (among these snake charmers) shrill voice though cut through: "saab, if possible, please tell our people back in Sabor that we are in the dire distress. ("Kinsuk Basu, Satgachi, Hidustan Times, February 4) Both India and Bangladesh have well-established laws of dealing with "aliens" and are signatories to any number of international conventions against torture of children and yet in practice hapless children in the borders are consistently victimized. The tension seemed to reach break point late in the morning; soon after the crucial sector command talks between the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) reached a stalemate. The BDR refused to let in the 213 gypsy snake charmers – stranded in no-man's land for a week. So there they stood, or rather sat most of the time, huddling together in severe cold in the open for six days and nights, with guns of the two forces facing each other.

In the past few years we have witnessed repeated border clashes where besides the government security forces, local populations on both sides have taken part in what one newspaper commented on one such occasion, this practice of people being "pushed in" or "pushed out" as "the dance of death". These villages are being encouraged to become "patriotic", take up lathis (sticks), tangis (broad-blade knives), spears, swords, and wherever made available guns, to strengthen the border, and "resist the illegal intruders". As news of the talks' failure spread, hundreds of Bangladeshi youths, who were waiting at the border, marched towards and swords and shouting anti-India slogans. Fearing an attack, the stranded gypsies began crying for help. Soon, hundreds of villagers from the Indian side rushed towards the zero line armed with bamboo sticks and stones. The BDR immediately positioned its forces and the BSF ordered its men to crawl closer. For a nerve-wracking 45 minutes, a showdown seemed certain, till both forces gradually withdrew. The BSF and the state government declared an alert along the border and rushed in more forces. "We have told the district administration to evacuate civilians in case there is firing," said DIG (Headquarters), (Narayan Ghosh, in Kolkata. Hidustan Times Correspondence, Satgachi/Kolkata/New Delhi, Hindustan Times, February 4, 2003)

iii) Aktar Ahmed of the Bangladesh interior ministry and head of the Bangladesh delegation at the two-day meeting in Dhaka said that we have expressed our concern over the killing of innocent Bangladeshis by Indian Border Security Force (BSF)," More than 50 Bangladeshis have been killed in the last six months by BSF," Most victims were innocent farmers working in their rice fields or tending cattle in Bangladesh territory along the frontier. The BSF said those it shot were smugglers or illegal intruders trying to slip through the porous border. (Reuters July 16, 2006 )

iv) "The BSF killed a middle-aged woman in cold blood a few months back when she went to give food and water to her son working in the field beyond the border fencing. Do they consider her a smuggler or an ISI operative?" retorted Forward Bloc MLA Gobinda Roy. A confidante of agriculture minister Kamal Guha, Roy was one of the conveners of a recent meet in Kolkata to protest 'BSF atrocities' in border districts. "You cannot fight infiltration or terrorism by terrorizing your own people," said state relief minister H.A. Sairani. He and Roy blamed BSF for running a "fiefdom" along the border. They accused the BSF of imposing 'dusk to dawn curfew' in border areas. "This is to facilitate smuggling and trafficking of men and cattle as both BSF and BDR border posts receive payment from border gangs," alleged Roy. (Biswajit Roy,Times of India, February 21, 2003, Page 1)

More and more policemen are being pulled away from their normal duties (i.e., the maintenance of law and order) and being told to concentrate on looking for Bangladeshis. Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government of Maharashtra has been deporting Bengali-speaking Muslim zari workers from Mumbai, branding them Bangladeshis. Muslim residents of Howrah, Midnapore, Hooghly and 24-Parganas districts are anxiously waiting for news from their relatives in Mumbai who are mainly engaged as zari, diamond, platinum and gold workers. Alauddin Mollah, one of them, told Frontline that he had not heard from his brother Salim Ali for over a month. He had heard about the raids conducted in parts of Mumbai where Muslim workers from West Bengal live.

The workers returning from Mumbai alleged that the Maharashtra Police made large-scale arrests of Muslims workers, mistaking all of them for Bangladeshi infiltrators simply because they spoke Bengali. "On July 9, the police raided a place under the Satra police station in Mumbai when my friends were asleep. The minute the police heard the terrified workers speak Bengali, they herded them into a van," Sheikh Dilwar, a resident of Bahira in Howrah district, said. Dilwar escaped being picked up since he was sleeping some distance away. News of the incident spread, and within days, almost all Bengali workers in Maharashtra left.

All district collectors in Maharashtra have been instructed to collect the data of the Bengali refugees residing in the state. The collectors in turn have issued a circular that all such persons to submit their citizenship documents within a month, failing which they would be liable for deportation. This has created anxiety among number of Bengali refugees that had settled in Bhandara, Chandrapur and Gadchirauli districts of Maharastra since fifties.

A crowd of about 3,000 people stopped the Howrah-bound Kurla Express from Mumbai at Ulubearia, 65 km from Calcutta, on the afternoon of July 23, demanding that a batch of 34 persons in the train be set free. These passengers, who included seven women, were Bengali-speaking Muslims, all zari workers. They had been "identified as Bangladeshis" and sent by the Maharashtra Government, with police escort, to be deported to Bangladesh at West Bengal's border town of Bongaon. A section of the crowd even climbed on to the train, and the Maharashtra police personnel who were in the train fired five rounds in the air. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) too fired blank shots. Those who led the protesters, claimed that the deportees had valid documents to prove that they hailed from Barast, Bangaon, Uluberia, Howrah and Panchla in West Bengal.

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