Exclusive: Bengaluru: Falsely Labelled ‘Bangladeshis’ by Local BJP MLA and Police, 13,000 Slum-dwellers Face Eviction and Harassment
"West Bengal MP Mohammed Salim has contacted our Bangalore commissioner, confirming that all these people belong to West Bengal and has sought protection," said an AIDWA activist.
Bengaluru: Nargis, a migrant from Nadia district, West Bengal, has been living in the Kundalahalli slum for five years now. But on December 3, the mother of two school-going children who ekes out a living as a domestic worker in nearby apartments, was evicted from her hut in the slum, which was razed down along with 25 other makeshift houses.
On November 31, over 13,000 slum-dwellers who reside on a private land near Kundalahalli Gate in Bengaluru, were asked to vacate the land by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and police officials. Explaining the reason behind such a move, a BBMP official said, “Illegal garbage has been dumped and burnt in this area regularly and we have filed complaints against the landowners. The main aim is to keep the area hygienic and stop this activity of burning garbage and plastic.”
Since then, the water and electricity supply to the Kundalahalli settlement has been disconnected.
“The kids have stopped going to school and they have exams going on. We don’t even have a place to cook, the kids are hungry and we don’t have water to drink. I have not been going to work for the last three days, and the owners have been calling me, looks like I might lose my job too,” said Nargis.
Sub-inspector Santosh, from Varthur police station, said that action has been taken against the slum dwellers, who are from “Bangladesh”, as they are responsible for violence, robbery, burning waste and selling of marijuana. When questioned on how many cases have been filed so far, he said, “No FIR has been filed on any violence yet.”
Lal Bhanu, a slum dweller, said, “Strangers have been visiting in the middle of the night and banging on our house doors. With no electricity, it’s scary to step out in the dark. We have also been facing problems with toilets facility, due to no water supply.” Rajiya, another slum dweller, adds, “There are many pregnant women and babies. There are many old family members who have health issues – an old lady fainted due to low blood pressure. This sudden action has hurt and weakened us, even more without food, water and shelter.”
Jidaul Basha, a resident of the slum said, “I have been living here for seven years with my parents and brother. I am a school bus driver. We have never faced such problems, this is the very first time this is happening. There are a lot of people who have been staying here for more than 10 years.”
Dwellers’ resistance invited wrath, claim activists
R Kaleemullah, an activist with the Movement for Justice who has been supporting the slum-dwellers for years, said that they have been facing harassment based on false accusations of being illegal migrants from Bangladesh, despite having authentic documentation of West Bengal. He alleged that local men had raped helpless women residing in these slums and that the police would also falsely accuse slum dwellers of several crimes. “This has been going on for a few years now, these people are innocent and they have been living here for years,” Kaleemullah said. Along with other NGOs, he has been assisting the slum dwellers by providing counselling, education and offering moral support. He also asserted that only after the slum dwellers stopped giving in to the police’s bribe demands did this entire situation develop.
Kaleemullah further said that no action was taken by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Arvind Limbavalli or other political leaders when the men and women were threatened, abused or raped. Now, without focusing on the peoples’ problems, false accusations have been made about their citizenship, he alleged.
Activists are playing an important part in pushing for protection of the slum dwellers.
On December 3, when the slum dwellers received news that the BBMP would start demolishing their homes from 6 am, they contacted activists, who further connected with Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Gopala Gowda, social activist Gowramma of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), and R Kaleemullah. By 4.40 am, they, along with 50 other activists gathered to provide protection to the slum residents.
At around 7 am, officials from the BBMP, a deputy commissioner of police, Mahadevapura MLA Limbavalli, more than 40 policemen and few JCB machines arrived to start the demolition process. After demolishing 25 houses, a series of discussions took place between the BBMP officials and activists involved, after which an agreement was made to provide the slum dwellers three days time to vacate the premises.
This private land covers about 2.5 acres and belongs to Manjunath Gowda. Though empathetic towards the slum dwellers residing on his land, he is under pressure by the authorities – “If I don’t make my tenants vacate within 10 days, the police have warned about arresting me.”
BJP MLA declares dwellers ‘Bangladeshis’
Till 10.20 pm on December 3, Gowramma was at the slum with the residents who lost their houses. She said, “This place is very scary and it’s not at all safe for women and girls because it’s pitch dark due to no power.” She adds that “West Bengal MP, Mohammed Salim has contacted our Bangalore commissioner, confirming that all these people belong to West Bengal and has sought protection. He has also contacted H D Devegowda and will soon speak to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy for help.”
Gopala Gowda said, “I will talk to higher authorities. I have planned a meeting with BBMP Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun and am trying to reach Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara to make sure that justice is given to these people who have been treated badly. They all are daily wage workers. Just because they burn scrap and plastic, they can’t be asked to vacate the place, that too without prior notice.”
On November 30, BJP MLA Limbavalli had visited the slum, after which in a Facebook post, he stated that officials have “inspected the premises occupied by the Bangladeshi immigrants”, and that environmental task force members have been informed about the solid waste discharge in ITPL area and have been instructed to take “appropriate action”. On the same day, he also tweeted that illegal Bangladeshis were a threat to national security and that their numbers had drastically increased in Bengaluru. He threatened strict action under the Indian penal code against those found to be employing these “illegal immigrants”. He also added that a deportation centre has been set up by the state government in Sondekoppa area which would be functional within a few days.
(Amruta G and Lakshmi Bavge are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)