The police in Bengaluru have renewed their efforts to identify and detain illegal immigrants in the city, prompted by news reports which stated that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were staying in migrant settlements in the city, particularly in Whitefield and Bellandur. This comes days after around 100 huts were demolished by the BBMP over allegations that Bangladeshi immigrants were living there, though the action was unauthorised.
"Now, people want data on how many Bangladeshi immigrants are staying in Bengaluru so we will be filing FIRs and registering cases under the Foreigners Act," DCP Whitefield, MN Anuchet told TNM.
On Tuesday, police officials from Marathahalli police station arrested three people belonging to a family in Munnekolala village in Whitefield alleging that they are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. In addition, Marathahalli police also detained four other Bengali-speaking migrants and later released them after questioning.
Police in the Whitefield division stated that they have identified four migrant settlements — Munnekolala, Kariyammana Agrahara, Thubarahalli and Devarabeesanahalli — where illegal Bangladeshi immigrants are staying. In all four places, clusters of tin-and-tarpaulin sheds are seen in which migrants from across India have been staying for over a decade.
Thousands of Bengali-speaking migrants, including a large number of Muslims, stay in these settlements and are employed in informal sectors of waste recycling and construction work in the city.
On Tuesday, police officials at Marathahalli police station, acting on a tip-off from informants, arrested Mohammed Lokman, 55, his wife Jasmin Begun, 35, and their son Raseel, 22. According to the police, the family arrived in Bengaluru eight months ago from Pirojpur district of Barisal division in Bangladesh. The trio was charged under section 14 of the Foreigners Act and police stated that they admitted to travelling from Bangladesh to India.
"One of them has a national identity card from Bangladesh and others have birth certificates which show they are from Bangladesh. They were produced before a magistrate and will be sent to judicial custody if they are not given bail. If they are given bail, they could be kept in a detention centre," Whitefield DCP MN Anuchet told TNM.
The arrested family may also be taken to men, women and child welfare hostels in Bengaluru on the basis of an order issued by the court.
‘Police asked migrants to sing national anthem’
In addition to the three arrests, Marathahalli police detained four more Bengali speaking migrants from Munnekolala on Monday. They were identified as Azizul Mondal, Tanzil SK, Saheb and his son, Bappan. Azizul and Tanzil are involved in waste recycling work while Saheb and Bappan manage a small shop that sells clothes in Munnekolala.
Migrant settlement in Munnekolala, Whitefield, Bengaluru
"We had voter IDs proving that we are from Nadia district of West Bengal but we were taken to the police station and questioned for hours," says Tanzil.
Basawa Prasad, an advocate working with Alternative Law Forum (ALF) in Bengaluru, who accompanied the four detained migrants, stated that the police officials in the station asked the migrants to sing the national anthem. "We tried to explain that singing the national anthem is not a criterion to decide one’s identity," Basawa said.
The four migrants were released around 8 pm on Tuesday night.
Migrant settlement in Munnekolala, Whitefield, Bengaluru
Distinguishing Bangladeshi immigrants
Distinguishing Bangladeshi immigrants is proving a task for police officials in the city. "Through informants, we are identifying suspected Bangladeshi immigrants. We will search for documents which show they are from Bangladesh. But we won't detain people who have identity cards showing they are Indian," Whitefield DCP MN Anuchet said.
"Also, we won't detain people who don't have identity cards because we have also found many Indian migrant workers that do not have identity cards," MN Anuchet added.
However, police say that several illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who enter India destroy identity cards that may show that they are from Bangladesh.
The arrests this week come three months after suspected Bangladeshi immigrants were detained in Ramamurthy Nagar, Bellandur and Marathahalli police station limits in October 2019. 60 Bengali-speaking migrants were identified as Bangladeshi immigrants and were detained in hostels in Bengaluru and subsequently taken to the Indo-Bangladesh border via train to be 'pushed back' into Bangladesh.
The Karnataka government has also told the Karnataka High Court that it plans to open 35 detention centres across the state to detain illegal immigrants. One such detention centre has been constructed in Nelamangala, 40 km outside Bengaluru.
In the October 2019 case, the accused persons were not sent to judicial custody since they were considered victims of human trafficking, Basawa Prasad stated.
BBMP's demolition drive
The arrests and detentions in Munnekolala also come just days after the BBMP ordered a demolition drive in a migrant settlement in Kariyammana Agrahara and Devarabeesanahalli on the suspicion that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were sheltered there. Demolitions were carried out on Saturday and Sunday, and hundreds were rendered homeless.
However, it emerged that those affected by the demolitions were from different states in India including Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and even from Karnataka.
The BBMP Commissioner Anil Kumar admitted that the demolition was unauthorised and was conducted on private land without permission from higher authorities in the civic body. An Assistant Executive Engineer, who carried out the demolition after complaints were raised by residents of nearby apartments, was relieved by the BBMP after an inquiry into the incident.
In the week prior to the demolition drive, a video reportedly taken in Bellandur, had been shared widely on WhatsApp and was even shared on Twitter by Mahadevapura's BJP MLA Arvind Limbavali. In the video, it was claimed that Bangladeshi immigrants were illegally staying in Bellandur. A news report by Suvarna News in the previous week had also claimed the presence of Bangladeshi immigrants staying in the area.