Civil society writes to NHRC, demands probe into detention of Bangladeshis
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), a collective of social activists and professionals has approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) demanding its immediate intervention into the detention of 59 undocumented Bangladeshis, who were detained in raids by Bengaluru police in October and recently transported to Kolkata to be deported to their country of origin.
Citing articles by The Federal that since October have been following the lives of the Bangladeshi migrants, members of civil society in a letter addressed to NHRC chairperson HL Dattu urged him to order a “neutral” and “urgent” probe into the matter and allow activists to meet the detained migrants who are now housed at two different locations in Howrah.
The letter stated that the detention of the migrants was illegal and violates Article 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution which not only ensure the right to liberty but also the right to be informed while detained and consult a legal practitioner. The letter said, both the rights have been denied to the detainees. Instead, the Bangladeshi migrants have been arrested under the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 and are being treated as criminals by the police.
Raising pertinent questions on the detention, Masum has asked how the Bangladeshis crossed the border in the first place without being noticed, how they were identified as Bangladeshi nationals during the raids, why the Bangladesh High Commission in India and the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh were not informed of the detention and why the migrants were detained for 348 hours without being produced before a court.
The letter written by Kiriti Roy, secretary of Masum, also asked if the detention was a camouflage process of NRC initiated by the BJP-led Karnataka government and duly supported by the TMC-led West Bengal government.
On October 26, as many as 59 Bangladeshi waste collectors, were apprehended by police in raids across Bengaluru. On November 22, they were put on a train to West Bengal, to be deported to Bangladesh from there. Due to apparent loopholes in the deportation plan, Indian officials haven’t been able to send them across the border. For the migrants, who haven’t even had a change of clothes since their detention a month ago, the wait could be a long one.
Here is a copy of the letter by Masum:
25 November 2019
National Human Rights Commission
Manav Adhikar Bhawan
Block-C, GPO Complex, INA
Here I want to draw your kind attention over an incident of apprehending and illegal detention of 60 Bengali speaking persons accused of being Bangladeshi nationals, who entered India and was working in various places of Bangaluru in Karnataka. These persons, working as rag-pickers and manual scavengers in the outskirts of Bangaluru in Karnataka were taken in police custody by the BJP government of Karnataka, with the allegation of illegal immigration on 27 October 2019 and detained them in a government-run shelter home in Bangaluru for 26 days. The group consisting of 29 male, 22 females and 9 children were then deported to West Bengal by train on 22.11.19 with the purpose of sending them back to Bangladesh. They all were stranded at Howrah station for hours due to paperwork. Though we thank the Karnataka government for not putting any criminal charges against these persons being trafficked, yet the question of following pursuing proper legal procedures while conducting repatriation sustains.
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 the 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 nether Karnataka government, nor West Bengal government knowingly violated well-settled procedure as laid down in Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1961 and 1963.
Today, on 25.11.19 our fact-finding team visited the Nischinda police station in the morning with the purpose of finding out the victim’s present condition but they were not allowed to meet them. As we entered the building we were stopped by a constable of Nischinda police station who was posted behind a locked gate. After we described him the purpose of our visit, he unlocked the gate and let us enter the building premises stating that the victims are kept on the first floor of the building. But soon we were stopped again by the Inspector-in-Charge of the Nischinda police station, Mr Biswajit Saha, who started screaming at the constable for letting us enter the premises. He didn’t allow us to meet the victims and asked us to get permission from the BDO, Bally Jagachha. We also heard the IC, Nischinda police station asking the constable to lodge a complaint against us for breaking into the restricted premises, which will be a false allegation as it was impossible for us to go inside a locked door unless the police opened the lock and let us in.
After we visited Mr Asit Baran Ghosh, the BDO, he 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. Therefore we are totally confused as the police are directing us to the BDO and the BDO is shrugging off all responsibilities on the matter. Our questions on the whole event are listed under –
- How did the apprehended persons get into the country crossing the international border and work in Karnataka for years? Who are responsible allowing them to enter our territory?
- Were these victims produced before in court? If yes, then where is the judicial order for their repatriation?
- How were the detainees identified as Bangladeshi nationals?
- Was the Bangladeshi government intimated about the repatriation?
- Why are the accused not being handed over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ India office?
- Why High Commission of India in Bangladesh and High Commission Bangladesh in India were not consulted?
- Is this a camouflage process of NRC initiated by BJP-led Karnataka Government and duly supported by the TMC-led West Bengal Government?
- How dare Karnataka Police and West Bengal police to detain persons for 348 hours without producing before a judicial court?
India does not have a domestic law on the matter of refugees as it didn’t sign the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, which has 140 signatories. The Bangladeshi nationals apprehended in West Bengal under the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 are treated as criminals by the police and even judiciary in most of the cases and sent to jail custody. For decades, MASUM is battling against the phenomenon demanding proper legal initiatives for the victims and their proper repatriation.
This incident of illegal detention of these victims are 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 the police of Karnataka and thereafter, the police of West Bengal.
Under such circumstances we sincerely urge your urgent intervention and request for under mentioned action to extend justice to these victims.
- Civil Society members, human rights groups should be allowed to meet those helpless people.
- A neutral, urgent and proper investigation of the above incident;
- The actions of the police should be transparent and in line with the law of the land
- Police should not act as the judge and only execute judicial order from a court
- Both the centre and the state government should contact the Bangladeshi government if a need for repatriation arises
- The police and administrative officials involved in the violation must be brought to book
National Convener – PACTI