61 Bangladeshi waste pickers begin their journey for deportation

Escorted by a team of 40 security personnel, they set off in a specially quarantined sleeper coach aboard the Howrah Express from Puttaparthi in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh on Friday (November 22) morning.

The Federal travels with 61 Bangladeshis who were detained by Bengaluru police in raids on October 26, and are now being ferried to Kolkata to be deported to Bangladesh. The Federal in a series of stories in October and November had reported how Muslim Bangladeshi rag pickers, who have been the backbone of the waste segregation industry in Karnataka for years, were treated as soft targets by the BJP government to send out its message against illegal immigrants. 

The undocumented Bangladeshi waste pickers, who were nabbed in police raids across Bengaluru on October 26, have finally been put on a train to Kolkata from where they will be taken to the border and deported.

Escorted by a team of 40 security personnel, they set off in a specially quarantined sleeper coach aboard the Howrah Express from Puttaparthi in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh on Friday (November 22) morning.

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“It wasn’t possible to rent a special coach in Bengaluru. So they had to be taken to Andhra Pradesh,” said Deputy Commissioner (Bengaluru East) SD Sharanappa. He said that in Kolkata they will be handed over to the West Bengal police who in-turn will transfer them to the custody of the Border Security Force (BSF). It will be the BSF’s responsibility to ensure that they are safely handed over to the Bangladeshi authorities.

Among the Bangladeshis on the train are 10 children, 25 women and 22 men. Of the total 61 who were detained in the October 26 operation, the police have filed cases of human trafficking against four men who are not on the train. They will have to be in India until their case is disposed of. They could face an extended jail term if the police manage to secure a conviction.

Those on the train are only marginally better off. The police have not filed any cases against them for crossing the border illegally. However, their safe passage from here on to their homes in Bangladesh is far from certain.

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There is no clarity on what procedure will be followed for the handover. None of the senior police officials, whom The Federal approached repeatedly in the month since the raids, were in a position to say for sure if the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) will accept them.

“We have created the necessary paperwork which has specific details such as the address of the Bangladeshi residents and the names of their relatives back home. We are not sure if this is going to be enough for the BGB to accept them,” said one senior police officer. Asked what happens if they are not accepted, the officer said, “Then it is the responsibility of the BSF.”

As bad as jail

We made a couple of visits to the Bangladeshi women and their children at the state-run women’s shelter where they had been lodged for the past 26 days. The women told The Federal that they were living in miserable conditions.

Their biggest grievance was personal hygiene. They were wearing the same clothes as the day when they were picked up by the police. The women said that the police scoffed at them when they requested them to bring them clothes from their huts. They said that they had no clue what happened to their belongings after the police took them away. Many women also complained that it took a week for the authorities at the shelter to supply them with sanitary pads.

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The shelter was swarming with mosquitoes even during the day, exposing them to the threat of dengue and malaria which has reached epidemic proportions in the city. They also found the food unpalatable and said that the milk being given to the children was highly diluted.

A group of human rights activists eased their misery somewhat on Saturday (November 16) by donating clothes, packed baby food, and mosquito repellent.

During the second meeting on Monday, the women said they were grateful for the donations but are worried about the larger question: when will they return home. They said that no official had briefed them about what was to happen. They also hadn’t been informed about the condition of the men who had been kept in a different facility.

One woman was particularly inconsolable because her 15-year-old son had been kept in a state shelter for minor boys. He was not allowed any contact with the mother throughout the 26-day stay.

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The women said that they were asked to be prepared to move on Friday (November 15) but the plans were cancelled by the police at the last minute. Subsequent enquiries by The Federal revealed that the West Bengal police and the BSF were not satisfied with the paperwork created by the city police for their transit.