India's Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has changed tack when it comes to dealing with illegal Bangladeshi immigrants nabbed by the Border Security Force (BSF) along the country's eastern border with Bangladesh. Instead of apprehending such persons, the BSF has been directed to hand them over to the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) as a goodwill gesture. This reduces complications later on.
Several hundred Bangladeshi nationals are housed in prisons across India (most of them in West Bengal) after being charged under the Foreigners Act. An illegal immigrant can face a sentence of up to five years under this Act.
"Earlier, the BSF would apprehend all Bangladeshi nationals attempting to cross the International Boundary (IB) between India and Bangladesh and hand them over to the police. They used to land up in jail. Nowadays, the BSF is simply checking whether an illegal immigrant has been involved in any crime in India. If not, the person is being handed over to the BGB. In many cases, Bangladeshi nationals caught while attempting to return home after spending several years in India are also being turned over to the BGB. Many of them are victims of trafficking. The touts involved are being apprehended though," a senior MHA official said.
What used to happen in the past was that such people would be prosecuted and spend years behind the bars (including women and children) in Indian prisons. Most of them try to enter India in search of a better livelihood, working as rag pickers, domestic helps or bar dancers and sex workers in far off places like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and even Srinagar, despite Bangladesh's claim that its economy is growing faster than India's.
Also Read | British-era policing over, now it should be technology-driven : Amit Shah
"In many cases, Bangladeshi nationals continue to languish behind the bars after serving their sentences as their country refuses to take them back. In West Bengal -- with the largest number of Bangladeshi nationals in prison/ such people are called 'Jaan Khalash'. Ultimately, the courts intervene and order the BSF to 'push them back' across the IB. This becomes difficult and another long drawn process starts involving the consular services of both countries. The BSF has to get involved and this compromises on its primary task of border management. Nowadays, any Bangladeshi national attempting to enter India or trying to leave -- even for a short visit home -- who has not been involved in any criminal activity, is handed over to the BGB," a senior BSF official said.
A few years ago, authorities in Karnataka sent several Bangladeshi nationals to West Bengal with armed guards, directing the BSF to send them across the IB.
Also Read | Bulldozer brings down 300-yr-old Shiva Temple in Rajasthan, triggers controversy
"This took some doing. After all, Bangladeshi authorities aren't ready to acknowledge that their citizens enter India illegally in search of livelihoods. It is better now. Anybody we apprehend along the IB is immediately handed over to the BGB. There is also a humanitarian aspect involved. We do not want an innocent person, even if he is not an Indian national, to languish in jail just because s/he was on the lookout for a job," a senior official of the BSF's South Bengal Frontier said.