Sunday, October 24, 2004

Diaspora:The "Bangladeshi Branch" of Mumbai Police


Between 2 am and 5 am, Inspector Dey and her team do the round of the bastis, arresting about ten migrants a week. They belong to what is known as the Bangladeshi Branch of the Mumbai police, whose sole job is to track down, arrest and deport Bangladeshis. The Bangladeshi Branch (also called the I Branch) has been particularly active this year—more cases have been registered in the first nine months of 2004 than in previous years.

Tracking migrants is Dey's work

SOMIT SEN

The Shiv Sena chief may be full of rhetoric but it is this police inspector and her team of 12 constables who actually knock on hutment doors in the early hours of the morning in their search for illegal immigrants.

They belong to what is known as the Bangladeshi Branch of the Mumbai police, whose sole job is to track down, arrest and deport Bangladeshis.

Over the last two decades, approximately 10,000 Bangladeshis have been deported. Many of them allegedly find their way back.

Between 2 am and 5 am, Inspector Dey and her team do the round of the bastis, arresting about ten migrants a week.

"I can identify a Bangladeshi easily," claims Dey. "I have the advantage of knowing the language. I can tell a Bangladeshi accent from an Indian one."

Dey, a Bengali, was put in charge a few months ago. Sources in the department allege that before this, officers who did not have an understanding of the language often picked up Bengali-speaking persons, mistaking them for Bangladeshis.

Identifying a migrant is one thing, proving it in the court is another. "If there is political will, we can drive away every illegal immigrant from Mumbai. But sadly, even those deported come back," she states.

Recently, Dey arrested 14 illegal immigrants from Govandi, all of them with political connections.

"There were several calls from a certain politician to release them, but I hung up," says Dey. "The accused had forged documents to show they were Indians. This is a common modus operandi."

Dey is not especially interested in Thackeray's Dussehra rally speech on the Bangladeshi issue.

"The problem existed even when the Shiv Sena was in power. What politicians should understand is the problems faced by the police. We are a team of 32 tracking down lakhs of Bangladeshis," she says.

"We are short of vehicles and short of funds. My officers, who have to travel to West Bengal to verify documents have to pay from their pockets. Reimbursement takes a long time."

The Bangladeshi Branch (also called the I Branch) has been particularly active this year—more cases have been registered in the first nine months of 2004 than in previous years.

"The deportation process takes about six months to one year because of legal procedures. There is also the risk of our policemen being beaten up," Dey says.

In 1998, a group of policemen from the Local Arms branch escorting migrants to the Indo-Bangladesh border was beaten up by a mob allegedly instigated by a Muslim politician from West Bengal.

The West Bengal police now provides protection to the Mumbai police who escort Bangladeshis to the border.

Dey says that the Bangladeshi population in Mumbai is "alarming" but she does not have any figures. She states that "lakhs" of Bangladeshis are coming here as cheap labour.

While there is no official survey of the Bangladeshi population in Mumbai, a fact-finding report in 1995 by Shama Dalwai and Irfan Engineer, put the number at 20,000 persons.

At that time, Gopinath Munde, then deputy chief minister, claimed that it was more than a lakh.

"They are either cooks or casual labourers," says Dey, adding that on Reay Road, there is a colony of eunuchs from Bangladesh.

She exposed a Bangladeshi impostor, who was masquerading as amaulana at a madrassa. He was arrested for raping a minor. "His wife was a bar dancer. Many Bangladeshi women, if not cooks or housemaids, are dancers or commercial sex workers here," says Dey.

While the 'I' branch has its informers, Dey gets most of her tip-offs from "slum dwellers who find their Bangladeshi neighbours a nuisance or those having an enmity with any Bangladeshi".

Prominent places of residence in the city are P D'Mello Road, Antop Hill, Govandi, Dharavi, Wadi Bunder, Malvani and Charkop. Several Bangladeshis have also set up colonies in Vashi, Mira Road and Vasai.

TOI 24/10/2004