Bengali Muslims are leaving the ‘high tech’ city of Bangalore in droves following the police and government’s crackdown on “illegal Bangladeshis.”
Known as the most modern metropolis of India, the underbelly of Bangalore is swarming with low-income Bengali speaking Muslims struggling to make ends meet.
However, given the crackdown, the men who worked in the garbage industries and women working as domestic help are out of jobs.
The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)-led government announced a similar procedure to the National Register of Citizen (NRC) being initiated in Bangalore.
Given that the NRC in Assam left out 1.9 million, throwing their citizen status into uncertainty, the announcement has incited much fear. Moreover, a detention centre for illegal foreigners is awaiting inauguration.
A spot visit to East Bangalore’s Thubarahalli slum showed thousands of Bengali Muslims in squalor and unhealthy conditions on either side of an expansive road lined up with shanties.
On one side of the road is the slum known as ‘Lal Mati,’ where those who work in the city’s housing industry.
Jamilur, a youth, from ‘Lal Mati’ said that they are “legal citizens,” most of them hailing from Malda-Murshidabad and Nadia.
On the other side of the road, the residents of ‘Kali Khatta’ slum, who is mostly known as ‘illegal Bangladeshis,’ work in the garbage industry. These people fear to speak out and many have left houses in droves.
The scenario is similar in other slums being abandoned by thousands of Bengali speaking Muslims, despite the fact that the Bangalore Waste Management or garbage segregation—separating metals, plastic etc from garbage—entirely depended on these workers.
Former Bangalore municipality counsellor K Venkatappa told Bangla Tribune that these workers were always available despite not getting paid on time.
“Municipality contractors used them and they were available despite not getting paid on time. Since they were branded as 'Bangladeshi', they didn’t dare cause a racket,” he said.
Meanwhile, a crackdown on these alleged illegal Bangladeshis started even before talks of NRC for Banglaore surfaced.
BJP leader Arvind Limbavali reportedly oversaw the eviction of slums with Bangladeshis personally along with the police.
“I have been warning Bangalore about the dangers of Bangladeshis even before the NRC. Not only are they taking a share of the local’s livelihood, but it’s also easier to pull them into terror activities with temptation for money,” he said.
He added that these people have become a threat to the national security of the country.
Even young BJP rising star Tejasvi Surya complained in parliament that the “illegal Bangladeshis were getting involved with different terror modules.”
Meanwhile, Bengali Muslim women working as domestic help are being fired without notice and several resident welfare societies have told their members to not hire them.
Arpita Basu lives with her family in Bangalore’s Samdhura Soham Society. Since both she and her husband work, two Bengali Muslim women looked after the house but they had to be fired immediately.
“We were told that it doesn’t matter whether they are Bangladeshi or Indian-just fire them if they are Bengali Muslims. Since we live in the society with everyone else, we had to let them go with two months’ salary,” she said.
Under the circumstances, these people have no other avenue other than packing up and leaving, especially after police picked up around 60 such people on allegations of being ‘illegal,’ from various slums.
Only those who cannot afford the train ticket to Kolkata are staying back amid fears of a police raid.
A rights organisation in the city, ‘Movement for Justice’ has been working on behalf of these Bengali speaking Muslims and providing them with legal aid for a long time.
The organisation’s founder Arkalimullah told Bangla Tribune that the situation was indeed dire. “We understand that terming them Bangladeshi is just an excuse. The BJP government is actually trying to target Muslims.”
He said that they are labelled as traitors when they speak for the Bengali Muslims. “They say that we are sympathising with terrorists. In a way, our hands are tied.”
On the other hand, Karnataka police during Diwali took 59 such alleged Bangladeshis to Kolkata after keeping them in detention for months.
However, on Nov 23, police were unable to directly hand them over to Border Security Forces (BSF) due to the interference of human rights activists. The West Bengal government was forced to shelter them at a guest house temporarily.
However, the relief lasted only a few days. Several Indian media later reported that the group was pushed into Bangladesh through the border.
These incidents have sparked panic amongst the people with the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore slowly becoming void of Bengali Muslims.