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Living in fear of the next raid

Residents of slums and shanties near Marathahalli are keeping their documents ready to show to the police who keep knocking on their doors

As he prepares to leave for work at 6.30 a.m., Amzal Sheik looks around his one-room makeshift house in a slum near Kundalahalli. It has two cots and a small kitchen. It’s where he raised his daughters and sent them to school.

“I have lived here for over 15 years, but never before have I been so anxious or fearful about our future,” said Mr. Sheik, who works as a construction labourer. He said he was one of the first migrants from West Bengal to settle in Kundalahalli near Marathahalli, home to one of the many IT clusters in the city.

On January 19, authorities razed over 150 makeshift houses in Kariyammana Agrahara, just a few kilometres from where Mr. Sheik lives, claiming that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants were living there. Sheik and others living in Kundalahalli wonder if they will be next.

“My daughters were schooled in this city. They speak good Kannada, and can also read and write the language. We are Indians, but people keep telling us to go back to Bangladesh,” he added.

Residents at Kundalahalli allege that in the third week of January, the police visited their shanty and threatened to evict them in hours.

Shafiul Mujanabin, who hails from Murshidabad district in West Bengal, said that the authorities who came to evict them, especially the police, did not listen to their plight. “They painted everyone as a Bangladeshi. However, human rights activists rushed to the spot. After their intervention, our houses were spared,” he alleged.

Residents of Munnekolala slum near Kariyammana Agrahara recently hoisted the Indian tricolour on a pole. “It’s to show everyone that we are Indians,” they said. But it didn’t stop the police from knocking on their doors.

A day after the eviction drive at Kariyammana Agrahara, a police team visited Munnekolala slum and detained over 10 people.

“They claimed we were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and took us to the police station. They only released us after verifying our documents,” said a resident.

Senior officials with the Whitefield police confirmed the incident.

The same day, the police tracked down three illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in a neighbouring settlement.

We possess valid ID cards, but will they help’

These settlements are slowly emptying out. While many people hail from West Bengal and North Eastern States, others have come from north Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Fearing detention after frequent visits by the police, several families have left for their native towns. Some had no choice as their employers in apartment complexes and companies asked them to leave.

According to Mr. Mujanabin, several companies and apartment complexes are now demanding a No Objection Certificate (NoC) from the police if they want to continue to work there. “It is impossible for us to get NoCs as the authorities are highly sceptical of us. They are doubtful of our ID proof. Due to this, many are planning to relocate to other parts of the State,” he said.

In Kundalahalli, which is close to Bellandur lake, there are over 200 makeshift houses, but already over 75 are empty. Most of the residents living in the shanties in Kundalahalli have multiple identity cards, including voter ID, Aadhaar card, PAN card and driving licence. A few even have documents of land they own in their villages.

“But will these help? Perhaps, I should apply for a passport,” said a resident.

Amzal Sheik’s most important possession is his land deed. “I learnt from people that land records are important if CAA-NRC is implemented. I have a small patch of land in my native place in Murshidabad. I brought the land records with me after a recent visit home.”

Mr. Mujanabin wonders if the documents would actually help them. Recalling the threats from the police, he said, “At the beginning, they claim we do not have any ID proof. Once we show them the ID proof, they say it is not original and ask us to vacate,” he said.

Activists file RTI after police commissioner’s comments

Recently, Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao said that there are as many as three lakh illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the city.

Zia Nomani, Youth President of Swaraj India, said that they have filed an RTI. “The statement by the Commissioner is irresponsible and baseless. He has not backed it with any documents. If there were so many of them, why did they not identify and book them under the Foreigners Act?” he said.

According to residents and activists, it’s the Bengali-speaking immigrants who are being targeted.

Devi S. who hails from Vijayawada and resides in the Kundalahalli settlement, said that the police did not question them after getting to know that they are Telugu-speaking people. “They did not disturb us, and did not ask us to go back. They have been warning only those who speak Bengali, or other language,” she said and added that they have all been living together without any language, regional or religious barriers.

Kaleemullah R., an activist and a member of Swaraj Abhiyan, who has been working for the immigrant community here for over six years, said that the Bengali community is being targeted. “Such attempts to paint them as Bangladeshis is nothing but a culture of criminalisation and dehumanisation. They are all Indians,” he said.

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