Sanjoy Majumder


The life of nearly 350 Bangladeshi families on the outskirts of Jaipur has taken a further downwards dive since the bomb blast, which killed nearly 60 people,  reports Majumdar for BBC News.


Just a short drive outside Jaipur, the capital of the western Indian state of Rajasthan, lies Bagrana.

It’s just off a busy highway linking Jaipur with another city high on the tourist circuit, Agra, home to the Taj Mahal.


Bagrana is a transit camp for Bangladeshi migrants, the largest such settlement in the area. Some 350 families live here – almost all of them are Bangladeshis who have migrated to India over the years looking for work.  Since it’s a transit camp, its inmates are not allowed to build permanent homes. So they live in temporary houses covered with corrugated iron sheets or, at times, a thin plastic sheet or tarpaulin – little protection against Rajasthan’s fierce summers, with temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius.


Scapegoats: There is no proper sanitation and rotting bones from dead animals are piled high at one end of the camp, with children playing in the foreground.  At the best of times, life here is incredibly difficult. But it has just got infinitely harder. Last month, a series of bomb blasts shook Jaipur killing more than 60 people. It  was the first such attack in the city. All the blasts took place in the late evening, within 20 minutes of each other and all in the crowded old city, a big draw with tourists and local residents alike.  The bombs were placed on bicycles and set off one after the other. Soon after, the police and security agencies said they had strong evidence to suggest that the attack was carried out by Islamic militant groups based in Bangladesh but with cells in India.


Following a crackdown, many Bangladeshis or Bengali-speaking Muslims from the Indian state of West Bengal were detained by the authorities. Twenty-five Bangladeshis from Bagrana were among them. “We picked them up on the basis of their body language which we found suspicious,” the police officer in charge of Kanota police station, just outside the camp, said. “They were also roaming around late at night.” But this is strongly disputed by the families of those held.


“We are poor, daily wage labourers,” says Mohammed Noor Islam, whose brother-in-law has been detained. “Something happened somewhere else and the blame has fallen on us. We are being made scapegoats for no reason,” he says angrily, sipping a glass of milky tea in the camp’s little teashop.


Tears streaming: Others sitting nearby nod in agreement. Like most other residents in Bagrana, Comila and her husband, Musa, both earn a living picking rubbish off Jaipur’s streets. The day after the blasts, Musa was picked up by the police, leaving her behind to look after their family of eight.


“Every time I’ve gone to the police to speak to him, they’ve sent me back,” she says, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Even when we were both earning, it was difficult to make ends meet. Now it’s become that much harder and I haven’t been able to go to work for several days.  “Go and take a look at my house and if you find even a drop of rice, take me away.” The residents of Bagrana readily admit they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh who have settled down in India, some as long as 15 years ago. “We have proper identity papers, we’ve been living here for so long. Why single us out?” But already it’s becoming a hot political issue. Under pressure to act, the state’s Hindu nationalist BJP government, has ordered the police to carry out a survey of Bangladeshis.


At the entrance to Bagrana, a temporary police picket has been set up beside which police and officials in civilian clothing go through the paperwork. “Yes, yes we are checking their papers,” one policeman told me irritably, “and no you may not use my name,” as he scanned several frayed and yellowing forms.


“Hossains from Sirajganj, Rahmans – family of five – from Faridpur,” he read out, reeling out names of Bangladeshi districts as a subordinate painstakingly filled in a large register.


Needle in a haystack:  But human rights activists say that the administration is using the opportunity to target anybody who is a Bengali Muslim. “The violations against those arrested as being suspected illegal Bangladeshi migrants is so severe that the police need to be stopped immediately,” says a report published by the independent People’s Union of Civil Liberties. “With the crackdown on the Bengalis… suddenly every worker has become a suspect in the eyes of the law.” But the president of the BJP in the state, Omprakash Mathur, supports the move. “We need to identify illegal foreign nationals and we need to deport them – this cannot continue,” he says. Others say the administration is in a difficult position.


“We have a 4,000km [2,485-mile] border with Bangladesh which is so easy to cross,” says Chandan Mitra, editor of The Pioneer newspaper and a member of parliament. “Once here, they are able to merge easily with the local population. And there is strong evidence to suggest the militants and their leaders are also crossing in. How do you expect the authorities to find them?


“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.” But that’s no consolation to Bagrana resident Fatima, 23, who works in a Jaipur home as a domestic help. “They’ve taken away three of my family members – my husband and two of my brothers-in-law. “It’s so hard to work and look after my children. There’s no food to eat. “We’re poor people. We’ve done no wrong. Why were our men taken away for no fault of theirs?


(BBC News, Bagrana, Rajasthan, supplied by Rana Bose)

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