The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which would have corrected a grave injustice has now lapsed.
Samir Deb has a voter ID card which shows his father’s name as Satyajit Deb, a resident of Ashram Road in Maynaguri. But Samir’s actual father is Subhomoy Deb, and he was a resident of Panchagarh town in northern Bangladesh. Samir sneaked into India along with his niece Sanjukta in January 2011.
Sanjukta has also procured a voter ID card and in that, her father’s name is Kanai, son of Satyajit Deb of Maynaguri’s Ashram Road. Her biological father is Sudhangshu, who lives in Bangladesh’s Panchagarh. Sudhangshu is Samir’s brother, and their father is Subhomoy.
Like Samir and Sanjukta, almost all Bengali Hindus who have fled persecution, discrimination, atrocities and worse in Bangladesh have managed to procure Indian citizenship and other documents by submitting fake documents. Some have even changed their names and have assumed new identities.
Till a decade ago in rural Bengal, it was uncommon for people to register deaths. Hence, a lot of the Bengali Hindus have taken the names of dead people. In fact, a racket in procuring false documents and creating fake identities has been thriving, albeit very surreptitiously, for a long time in Bengal.
Sanjukta’s first cousins Parimal and Bishwambhar, who also sneaked into India in July 2014, have a ‘new’ father in Rabin Deb, a farmer from a village near Falakata town in north Bengal. Rabin Deb passed away in 2002, and the death was not registered. Hence, it became easy for touts operating in league with petty government officials, to tamper records and include the names of the two siblings (Parimal and Bishwambhar) as Rabin Deb’s sons.
Sanjukta’s aunt Mitali, who narrowly escaped being abducted, raped, forcibly converted to Islam and married off, has assumed a whole new identity. Her name is now Mitu Das, daughter of one Bedabrata Mondal of Mainaguri (in North Bengal). Mitali’s actual father was Kartick, Sudhanghsu’s elderly first cousin who was killed by a radical Muslim mob in December 1992. Bedabrata (Mitali’s father as per her current documents) had a daughter by the name of Mitu, but the latter died of a liver ailment in November 2006. As is common, the death was not registered in the official records and so Mitali assumed Mitu’s identity.
But Mitali, or Mitu, has never met Bedabrata and never intends to. And she is deeply unhappy about the subterfuge she has had to employ to stay on in India. “I had to agree to what the tout suggested in order to survive. Had I not got these fake documents and changed my name, I would have not been able to stay on in India and would have been detected and deported back to Bangladesh. That would have meant a life in hell for me,” she says.
After crossing over through the porous international border into India in April 2013, Mitali was taken to her relatives’ place at Belakoba where Samir and Sanjukta had also got shelter in January 2011. Her relatives in India tasked a local tout to get a ration card and other documents for her.
This took about three months and cost more than Rs 20,000. But no price is too high to pay to stay on in India. “The alternative is to take the risk of being detected, detained and deported to Bangladesh,” says Mitali, who is now enrolled in a undergraduate programme through a distance education facility. The touts who facilitate the illegal entry of migrants from Bangladesh into India also have close links with the ones who arrange for citizenship and other official documents.
“If, after entry into India, a person does not pay more money to another set of touts to get these documents, he will definitely get reported to the police and will be picked up. The network of touts is very strong and there is no way a person can disappear after entering India,” said Samir (Mitali’s cousin and Sanjukta’s uncle).
The case of the Bangladeshi Hindu refugees is quite different from that of the Hindu minorities fleeing persecution from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The minorities from those two countries usually come into India with valid passports and then apply for extension of their visas and refuge.
Their entry and presence is well-documented and monitored. Also, it is impossible for them to sneak into India through the fenced and the heavily-guarded India-Pakistan border. But the India-Bangladesh border is still porous, and not the least because easily negotiable rivers and streams form the border at many stretches.
The India-Bangladesh border, says the commandant of a Border Security Force (BSF) battalion stationed in North Bengal, is not a ‘hostile’ and ‘active’ border, unlike the India-Pakistan border. “Due to the terrain here, it is impossible to fence the entire stretch. How does one erect a fence through the middle of a river? And most rivers not only swell during the monsoons, but also change course frequently. All an infiltrator needs to do is slip into a river, swim underwater and surface on the Indian bank,” said the BSF commandant.
Also, the infiltrators have close kinship with people living on this side of the border who provide them immediate shelter. It is, thus, extremely difficult to detect infiltrators. On the other hand, few, if any, of the Hindus from Pakistan who have sought refuge in India have kinship ties with people living close to this side of the border.
Once a Bangladeshi Hindu is smuggled into India, the touts get working on creating a false identity for him or her. “Names (of the refugees) may not be changed, but parentage, place of birth, details of education etc, get altered to create fake documents that help the refugee get Indian citizenship.
The first official document is usually a ration card and a residence certificate (certifying that the person is a resident of an area) from a gram panchayat or a small municipal town. Then a driving licence (in the case of young adult males) is made, and on the basis of these (including fake education certificates), a voter ID card is procured. The Indian passport comes in last, and once this is in hand, a Bangladeshi becomes a ‘complete’ Indian citizen.
However, this subterfuge and resorting to lies and falsehoods is something that most of the Hindu refugees would rather do without. “It is adharmic to lie and resort to falsehoods. And falsehoods like declaring oneself to be the son or daughter of someone other than your own parents is quite sinful. But what can we do? If we don’t do all this, we will be sent back to Bangladesh and will either get killed, or be forced to convert to Islam,” said Gyaneshwar Biswas (the retired bank employee from Debiganj in Bangladesh) who sneaked into India in March 2014 and now stays near Fulbari in North Bengal.
That is why, they all say, they had hoped the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, would be enacted. The bill, they say, would have allowed them to be honest. The bill would have allowed them to retain their original identities and live proudly as Indian citizens. “All these lies, subterfuges, faking identities and the uncertainties would have been unnecessary had the bill become an act,” said Gyaneshwar.
The Hindu refugees also have another major grouse: all the opposition parties which opposed the bill have been happily patronising the Bangladeshi Muslims who come into India illegally. “When a Muslim comes in, he gets political patronage. A Muslim immigrant gets access to a strong support network that includes maulvis and local politicians. We Hindus do not, and have to rely on touts. That is because we do not become vote banks for the politicians, unlike the Muslims. We Hindus do not vote en bloc for any party, and so we are of no use to any party,” said Gyaneshwar.
The biggest irony, thus, is that while Bangladeshi Muslims who enter India illegally find it easy to become Indian citizens through the patronage of politicians belonging to the Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) and Trinamool Congress, the Hindu refugees fleeing persecution at the hands of Bangladeshi Muslims get no such political patronage. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which would have corrected this grave injustice has now lapsed.