Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the Name of Justice

Immigrants from Bangladesh become fodder for the police after the Jaipur terror killings.

The bomb blasts in Jaipur on May 13 are still under investigation, yet in the minds of the police the perpetrators are already known – from among the Bangladeshi immigrants in the city. Immediately after the blasts, the state government officials and particularly the union minister of state for home, Jaiprakash Jaiswal, came out in front of the media and made some assertive comments on the purported culprits of the blasts and pointed the needle of suspicion to neighbouring countries, without any concrete proof. With claims of possessing evidence linking the blasts to the terrorist outfit Harkat- ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), the state government has gone about identifying “Bangladeshi immigrants” as the actual culprits.

Many Bangladeshi immigrants have since been rounded up for detention in Rajasthan. The state police has used strong arm tactics in detaining Bengali Muslims by terming them as “illegal settlers” in the state. In the name of investigation, a large number of people mostly from extremely poor backgrounds have been subjected to traumatic interrogation methods of the state police. They include migrants from West Bengal, Bihar and others (as a recent People’s Union for Civil Liberties report points out). Even those with voter identity and ration cards and other identification papers have been rounded up and subjected to police harassment. There have even been newspaper reports about lawyers of the bar in Jaipur passing resolutions to not plead for those who have been detained in the blasts case.

Many of those who were rounded up for detention were brought in from ghettos, termed “transit camps” for such migrants. People in these camps have been living in abysmal conditions with hardly any facility such as water supply or safe shelter. Many in these camps say they have migrated to India a long time ago or have moved from some other states. The blasts case has been used as a ruse by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government to raise the bogey of “swarming immigrants” from Bangladesh into the state. It is well understood that large numbers of Bangladeshis cross the Indian border to seek livelihood due to extreme poverty and because of the frequent occurrence of disasters such as floods at home. There have also been reports linking extremist organisations such as the HuJIB with infiltration across the border.

But the BJP has seen it necessary to carp on the immigration problem as a major issue everywhere. In the name of stopping “illegal migration” into the states where the party has been in power, the BJP has been callous in its approach towards people belonging to the minority communities and those speaking Bengali. The current actions by the BJP government in Rajasthan remind us of similar moves by the BJP-Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra against Muslim workers in Mumbai city, branding many of them as illegal settlers and forcing them to be deported, before a high court in Kolkata stayed deportations.

The complete disregard of human rights and the lack of a due judicial overview of the process of identifying immigrants is one part of the problem. The other issue pertains to the callousness involved in investigation of a crime of the nature of the Jaipur blasts. A large number of poor labourers and unorganised workers have been targeted and subjected to harassment by linking them to the Jaipur blasts case. The statements made by the Rajasthan chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, have also hinted at enactment of new legislation, similar to the rescinded Prevention of Terrorism Act, which would further preclude any due process of law, and which has always been misused by parties such as the BJP when in power. As it is, the BJP has already tried to link the Jaipur blasts with the allegation that it has continually harped upon – that the central government has been lax on “national security”, thus preparing the grounds for using this as a major issue for the forthcoming state assembly elections in Rajasthan.

A humanitarian way of handling the migration issue would involve the governments of both India and Bangladesh, with sufficient judicial safeguards to be provided to those whose residency is in question. The BJP’s indiscriminate linking of the issue of immigration with terrorist attacks and the subsequent harassment of various people on the suspicion that they are “illegal immigrants” goes against the grain of such a humanitarian approach.

Editorial written for Economic and Political Weekly

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