Poverty, deprivation and inhuman living conditions-- these are the words that define everyday reality of as many as 150 families that provide workforce for menial jobs in in the upscale Mahagun Moderne in Noda, sector 78. They, just like us, are human beings but attempts are being made to label them as ‘illegal migrants’.
Located between Noida-Greater Noida Metro and high rise housing societies, is a dark and dingy settlement where these alleged Bangladeshi Ghuspathiyas live. Since they do petty jobs, speak a different language and in some cases, they look different from local residents, they seem to be easily branded as ‘outsiders.’
Their shelter appears like a giant tin shed that has been divided into hundreds of small cubicles measuring 6x8 feet each. Basic amentities such as potable water, electricity and clean toilets remain a distant dream for them. The settlement has only one handpump that provides drinking water to 600 people.
Most of them are migrants from West Bengal who have come to the city in search of employment. They outrightly refute the accusations that they are ‘Bangladeshis.’ In fact, they possess all the valid officials documents that establish the identity of an Indian citizen.
While showing his voter identity card, Enadul Haque--who is speech and hearing impaired--communicated through sign language as to how the police brutally beat him up last morning. He is one of the alleged ‘Bangladeshis’ who lives under the tin-shed and works in high-end societies like Mahagun to earn his living.
Parul came from Murshidabad (West Bengal) as her election ID suggests, some two to three years ago. She works as a house maid in as many as four houses to make both ends meet. Her husband is absconding since police raided her colony last night and picked up several people including Johra’s minor son.
“After hours of back-breaking hard work, I earn Rs 7,000 every month. Though it is not enough to run a family of 8 people but we have to manage somehow. Every month I have to transfer Rs 3000 to Rs 5000 to our family that lives in the village. Besides, we have to give Rs 700 hundred to the contractor for electricity and room rent,” she says, sitting on a wooden cot in front a small cubicle that is house to her family.
Like Parul, there are hundreds of women who came in search of jobs from West Bengal. Hasna Banu is one of them. A native of Ratinandan village in Cooch Behar, she came two years back and settled in ‘Bangladeshi settlement’. Showing her Adhar Card, she lamented how she is being branded as ‘Bangladeshi’.
“My family has been living in Cooch Behar for years. Here I work as house maid in eight houses. I earn Rs 16,000 on an average in a month. After the Mahagun incident, one of my employers asked me to bring my Aadhar Card with me because he wanted to ascertain my identity,” she said.
Showing her Aadhar Card and her husband’s voter identity card, an angry Nazeema asked, “Why is it that we have to bear the ‘Bangladeshi’ tag? Why are we asked to show our identity? We have all valid documents to prove that we are Indian citizen.”
It is not just the question of identity that has traumatised these people. Constant neglect has also played a role. Nine years ago, Riaz Ul Haq came from West Bengal in search of a job. Most of the time, he lived in Indirapuram, before he shifted to Noida-78. In a complaining voice, he says, if the government wants to take action against illegal ‘Bangladeshi’ migrants, it should. But those who are citizens of India should not be tortured.
What Riaz Ul said is a solid reflection of the anguish brewing under the surface against the system. He was fuming when he said, “Where should we go? No one listens to our grievances because we are poor.”
Sub-Inspector Rajendra Kumar, who is posted at Police Station – Sector 49, misled us, when we tried to get information about Johra. Initially he said Johra must be at her home but when contested, he expressed his ignorance. “We have arrested 14 people whom the society people are calling ‘Bangladeshis’ from that illegal settlement. Three cases have been registered against Johra and a case against her employer. None of them have been arrested so far. We are investigating the case on the basis of merit,” he said.
When this correspondent reminded him of the statement made by SSP Love Kumar that no one is an illegal migrant/‘Bangladeshi’, he disappeared inside the police station.
His turned back to a question related to the most marginalised section of the society is perhaps the best metaphor to understand how our system treats the poor.