In a late-night pre-Independence Day crackdown at Nizamuddin Basti, the Delhi police vans dreaded as Bangladeshi "gadi" (vehicles) by locals picked up more than 13 suspected Bangladeshi migrants.
Taslima Begum, 35, and her 3-year-old son, Sujan, were among the detainees. Her husband, Md. Saleem, pleaded that they were Indian citizens.
“The police 'wala' (man) at Vasant Vihar police station asked for 10,000 rupees,” Saleem said. “I could arrange only two.”
Along with other suspects, Taslima and her son were arrested late Tuesday under the Foreigners Act, 1946 with an imposing clause of ‘onus on the accused’ – meaning, the liability of proving that a person is Indian citizen lies on the suspect.
She had recently acquired a unique identification card as a part of Delhi government’s homeless identification program. Saleem also showed the ration card, according to which she is a valid resident of Delhi.
Recalling the assault, Saleem said that the police dragged them out of the shed, in the middle of the night. Police allegedly refused to accept Delhi proof as any kind of substantial evidence.
Saleem, a Hindi speaking laborer, married Taslima six months ago. “With a distinct Bengali lineage, Taslima turned out to be an easy prey,” Saleem said. “I escaped because I’d a certificate from the local administration in the village.”
Apparently, Indian Muslim Bengali and Bangladeshi Muslim Bengali are from the same ethnic culture. The xenophobic streak against illegal immigration from Bangladesh continues to threaten Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nizamuddin.
Home to Islamic mysticism and migrants who have escaped poverty, Nizamuddin has been earmarked as one of the Bangladeshi ghettos by the Delhi Police.
Early Tuesday, the chief secretary of Delhi, P K Tripathi, was on an inspection round. Visibly upset about the illegal settlements in the Nizamuddin area, he paraded scores of Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Delhi police officials.
“We are on a drive to secure the heritage area in and around Nizamuddin,” said additional commissioner of police (south-east) Ajay Chaudhary, who accompanied Tripathi.
The chief secretary talked about pushing the homeless in the night shelters, broadening the road and securing the area.
What was not talked about was the harsh expulsion of Bangladeshi migrants overnight.
Similar reports have been pouring in from other parts of the city which includes Khanpur, Tughlaqabad and Sarai Rohilla – inhabited by mostly Bengali-speaking migrants. In each case, the local police shift the liability on the special operations group, which detains suspected Bangladeshi nationals.
Every year, the surveillance is heightened ahead of Independence Day, on Aug. 15. The theory that migrants allegedly work as sleeper cells for terror groups has become conventional wisdom for Delhi police. Subsequently, the drives to eradicate people from the streets go unabated.
In south Delhi, a special cell for Bangladeshi migrants operates from the second floor of Vasant Vihar police station. Guarded by policemen, the place is impenetrable for visitors. Only close relatives or associates with money are allowed secretly.
Md. Shafiq, 60, a scrap dealer was lucky to secure a release of 10 of his employees, though he denied paying any bribe. He said that his men were Assamese and that he went with proofs. However, he admitted having paid bribes on other occasions.
Saleem doesn’t have a patron. He works as a construction laborer. “The notice was too short. I couldn’t arrange for the bribe money,” Saleem said. “The policemen at Vasant Vihar say that the matter is out of their hand.”
Taslima has been handed over to Foreigners Regional Registration Office – an agency that handles the duty of verification of suspected migrants as illegal foreigners. It is also responsible for subsequent deportation.
She is presently at Barat Ghar in Sarai Rohilla, a detention center for Bangladeshi migrants, monitored by FRRO. From here the illegal immigrants are sent across border in batches of 60 people or more by train.
The family fears separation. Taslima is the mother of four children. Besides Sujan, the other three are Noor Aalam, 13; Rafiqul, 8, and Bilkis, 10.
Saleem appears resolute to support his family.
On phone, Taslima wailed. While talking to Saleem, she asked him to bring clothes and urged him to arrange for some money.
“They are likely to send me to Bangladesh on August 12th by train. I’ll try to cross the borders with that money,” said grief-stricken Taslima. “Meet me at the station,” she added while talking to her husband on phone.
Meanwhile, with the voluntary help of a lawyer, Saleem contested her nationality at the FRRO.
“I was informed the inquiry will take a month,” he said while clutching Rafiqul in his arms who escaped the police raid on that fateful night.
“If you call us foreigners, where are these kids supposed to go?” Saleem asked.