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Bangladeshi women: More instances of 'no effort' to probe human trafficking angle

Counterview Desk 

Revealing more instances on how security forces in West Bengal are seeking to turn Bangladeshi women and children as victims of human trafficking into accused under the Foreigners Act, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), has said that the authorities do not seem to be interested in initiating proper investigation.
In a second letter to the chairman (click here for the earlier one), National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), within a span of few days on the subject, the Hooghly-based activist said, "Cross border trafficking is very organized crime where touts or middlemen are operating this crime in connivance with border guards of both sides, India and Bangladesh", hence women and children crossing the border should be treated with a human approach.

Text:

I am writing this complaint regarding detention of Bangladeshi women in West Bengal and accusing and treating them as criminals under Foreigners Act, 1946. For a long time MASUM has been trying to bring this systematic violation of laws by the BSF and police administration into light by making numerous complaints to the NHRC and other relevant departments.
The authorities including police and Border Security Force are not at all concerned to initiate proper investigation into whether the persons including women and children crossed the border from Bangladesh to India were the victims of human trafficking or not. Here I am appending two case details for your perusal.

Case 1:

In connection with Swarupnagar Police Station Case no. 282/2022 dated 26.03.2022 under section 188 IPC and 12 PP and 14 of Foreigners Act, the following Bangladeshi women with children were arrested:
1. Ms. Safiya Akhtar Sekh, wife of Late Akhtar Haldar, Aged- 45 years, residential address:- Village – Kalkini, Post Office and Police Station – Kalkini, District – Madaripur, Bangladesh
2. Ms. Rukaya Khatun, wife of Nahid Sardar, Aged- 22 years, residential address: - Village – Boladanga, Post Office – Jhaudanga, P.S – Satkhira, District - Satkhira, Bangladesh along with her two children 1. Musammad Tabiya Khatun, Aged - 8 years, 2. Rafi Seikh, Aged – 2.5 years.
Ms. Safiya Akhtar is a Bangladeshi national, who was trying to enter India from Bangladesh on 26.03.2022 at around 08:05 a.m. when she was apprehended by BSF personnel attached with D coy of 112 Battalion, Bithari BOP and on the same day at 23:15 p.m she was handed over to the Swarupnagar Police Station. For more than 15 hours she was under BSF custody whereas the distance between the said BOP and the police station is only 15 kilometers.
For this reason she could not be produced before the concern court within 24 hrs. General rule is BSF has to inform the concerned police regarding the apprehension of any accused as early as possible after the apprehension. According to the requisition letter of FIR of the BSF, Ms. Akhtar lost her husband 20 years before.
In 2018 for the first time she came to India by illegally crossing the IB and went to Mumbai in search of a job. However, she managed to find a job and worked as a domestic helper in Null Bazar, Mumbai. Before one year she returned back to Bangladesh to meet her relatives. 
On 26.03.2022 she tried to cross the border illegally to reach Mumbai to re-join her work as she was not able to find a job in Bangladesh. On 27.03.2022 the victim was produced before the Basirhat Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court. The magistrate sent her to the Dum Dum Central Correctional Home for 14 day jail custody.
As per the Article number 2 under II definition MOU of between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Bilateral Cooperation for Preventing of Human Trafficking especially trafficking in Women and Children; signed by both countries on 30th May 2015, trafficking in women and children shall mean selling, buying, recruitment, receipt, transportation, transfer or harbouring of any person for the purpose of sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery servitude or the removal of the organs or any other form of exploitation. Then how was she treated as accused?
Rukaya Khatun along with her two children are the Bangladeshi nationals, who were trying to enter India from Bangladesh on 26.03.2022 at around 01:00 p.m they were apprehended by BSF personnel attached with D coy of 112 Battalion, Bithari BOP and at around 11:15 p.m handed over them to the Swarupnagar Police Station. According to the requisition letter of FIR of the BSF, in 2003 Rukaya along with her parents illegally entered India in search of a job. Her father worked as a daily labourer for livelihood in Kalyani, Nadia.
At that time, she got married to a Bangladeshi man and with the help of a local tout illegally went back to Bangladesh. On 26.03.2022 she along with her children tried to enter India to meet her parents. Here the incident occurred and apprehension of those accused persons by the BSF on 26.03.2022 at about 1:00 p.m but BSF informed the police after 10 hours i.e, at 23.15 hrs dated 26.03.2022.
For more than 10 hours these victims were under BSF custody whereas the distance between the said BOP and the police station is 15 kilometers. General rule is BSF has to inform the concerned police regarding the apprehension of any accused as early as possible after his apprehension. On 27.03.2022 the victims were produced before the Basirhat Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court.
The magistrate sent them to the Dum Dum Central Correctional Home for 14 day jail custody. Tabiya khatun, daughter of Rukaya is a minor girl, Aged- 8 years. According to the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act every child who comes in contact with law under the juvenile justice system is a child in difficult circumstances who has fallen out of the protective net at some point and has been robbed of an opportunity of a safe and secure childhood.
Children in conflict with law should be treated as children in difficult circumstances and the approach of the juvenile justice system should be aimed at addressing the vulnerabilities of children and ensuring their rehabilitation. According to Section 10 of JJ Act, As soon as a juvenile in conflict with law is apprehended by police, he/she shall be placed under the charge of the special juvenile police unit or the designated police officer, who shall produce the juvenile before the Board without any loss of time but within a period of twenty-four hours of his/her apprehension.
Then why Tabiya was not produced in JJB instead of ACJM Basirhat court. Rafi Seikh, son of Rukaya, only 2.5 years old. According to Section 82 of the Indian Penal Code, it says “Nothing is an offence which is done by a child under seven years of age”. Under the age of 7 years, no infant can be guilty of a crime; for, under that age an infant is, by presumption of law, doli incapax, and cannot be endowed with any discretion. Then how can the police register an FIR on him? Moreover, how the magistrate gave order to send these two minors to Central Correctional Home.

Case 2: 

In connection with Swarupnagar Police Station Case no. 302/2022 dated 01.04.2022 under section 14 of Foreigners Act, the following Bangladeshi woman along with her grandson were arrested:
1. Ms. Khadija Begum, wife of Late Churab Biswas Aged - 45 years, residential address: - Village – Piprai, Post Office – Jamribazar, P.S – Phooltala, District - Khulna, Bangladesh along with her grandson namely Jishan Sheikh, Aged – 4 years.
The victims were the Bangladeshi nationals, who were trying to enter India from Bangladesh on 31.03.2022 at around 12.05 hrs. when they were apprehended by BSF personnel attached with 'A' Company of 112 Battalion, Tarali BOP and later handed over to the Swarupnagar Police Station. The victims were produced before the Basirhat ACJM court on 01.04.2022 and sent to the Dumdum Central Correctional Home for 14-day jail custody.
The victims, including the child, should be transferred to an appropriate home from the correctional home at the earliest
Here the incident occurred and apprehension of those accused persons by the BSF on 31.03.2022 at around 12.05hrs but BSF informed the police after more than 12 hours i.e, at 00.05 hrs dated 01.04.2022 but reason behind this delay was not mentioned in anywhere. For more than 12 hours that woman, including her minor grandson, was under BSF custody.
In this case the age of the minor victim is 4 years then why people registered an FIR against him? This approach is violating Section 82 of the Indian Penal Code. Here also the magistrate of ACJM, Basirhat court gave order to send the minor to Dumdum Correctional Home.
According to the office memorandum of the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) Government of India Dated 1st May, 2012 it clearly instructed about the procedure of dealing with the victims of trafficking. The memorandum stated that if the women and children victims were found without a valid passport or visa then they have to repatriate to their country of origin through diplomatic channels.
Till the repatriation they must be kept in an appropriate children’s home, or “Ujjawala” home or appropriate shelter home. In reality, police or BSF personnel or the concern court never attempt to initiate to investigate whether those Bangladeshi persons are the victims of human trafficking or not. Additionally, the victims are kept in the correctional home.
From other several instances it also found that the people of Bangladesh illegally enter India for the purpose of medical treatment as they have very limited facilities in their native place. Cross border trafficking is very organized crime where touts or middlemen are operating this crime in connivance with border guards of both sides, India and Bangladesh. These helpless Bangladeshi persons enter India for better livelihood or for medical treatment purposes but when they are arrested; they are treated as accused under the Foreigners Act.
This approach is also violating the Article 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 of the MoU between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Bilateral Cooperation for Preventing of Human Trafficking especially trafficking in Women and Children; signed by both countries on 30th May 2015.
The incidents are not only violating the advisory of Government of India but in violation of Goal Number 16 of Sustainable Development Goals of UN, Government of India is a party to set the goals and obliged to adhere to the same.
Under the circumstances I request your urgent intervention in this case to bring justice to the victims by taking the necessary actions:
  • The police or BSF personnel or the concern court must initiate to investigate whether those Bangladeshi persons are the victims of human trafficking or not
  • The victim persons including the child should be immediately repatriated to their own country and the criminal charges against them must be withdrawn at the earliest
  • The victim persons including child should be transferred to an appropriate home from the Dumdum correctional home at the earliest
  • Government should initiate a series of sensitization programs for police personnel, BSF personnel and other legal authorities in the area of human rights, trafficking, repatriation and restoration and JJ Act.
  • The matters must be handled by the police or the BSF personnel with care

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