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North 24-Pgs a safe haven for fleeing Bangladeshis

North 24-Pgs a safe haven for fleeing Bangladeshis

Author: Kaushik Ghosh
Publication: The Statesman
Date: November 18, 2001

Sutia (N 24-Parganas), Nov. 17. - Hiralal Sarnakar travelled for three days, mostly on foot, from Tetulia village in Jessore in search of "safety" in a foreign land.

For hundreds of hapless Bangladeshi Hindus fleeing their country, villages just across the border in North 24-Parganas serve as a safe haven. They come here, spend a day and leave for "safer" districts like Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura and Purulia.

Once in Indian territory, they know they have friends - BJP workers and monks of Bharat Sevashram Sangha.

Sarnakar and 30 others, including women and children, reached Charuigachchi village in Bongaon early yesterday. "It's easy to cross the border because the BSF men cannot spot us at night," Sarnakar said.

The group passed through Sagardari, Lakshmipur, Dhanyakhali and Giba villages in Jessore and Satkhira districts and entered India through Jayantipur, Charuigachchi, Tangra and Boira checkpoints in Bongaon.

Rajendranath Barui, staying at a BJP camp in Sutia, said: "BDR jawans allow us to cross the border. They don't stop us when they see we are Hindus fleeing the country."

Indian families living along the border don't disclose the identities of the infiltrators lest they are arrested by the police or BSF. For the same reason, they can't take the risk of keeping these people in their homes for more than 24 hours.

Those who cannot cross over at night run the maximum risk if they cannot find a safe house. Monoranjan Biswas from Faridpur said: "We'll be sent back if we are caught by the police. But we'll be killed if we return to Bangladesh."

His daughter was raped by some youths because "we refused to convert to Islam." Others have tales of arson and loot to narrate.

Police have already arrested around 90 Bangladeshi nationals and remanded them in jail custody, a district official said. But he couldn't explain the presence of others in camps set up by the BJP near the border at Chagharia, Charuigachhi, Tangra, Sutia Lakshmipur, Kulanandapur, Jamtala and Gangulia. There are at least 2,000 Bangladeshis in these camps.

Mr Sankar Nandy, a local BJP leader, said: "We are collecting subscriptions from residents to provide food for the Bangladeshis. Our party is supplying food and clothes for these people."

The BJP is also providing three quintals of rice every day.

"We have directed our workers to protect the Bangladeshis and take care of them till they decide to return to their country," Mr Asim Ghosh, state BJP president, told The Statesman.

In view of the rapid influx, Bharat Sevashram Sangha has decided to open a camp at Garapota in Bongaon where people can stay, Subhas Maharaj, who is running a camp at the organisation's Bongaon office, said. Sangha functionaries met senior district officials in Bongaon yesterday.

The North 24-Parganas DM, Mr HK Dwivedi, said: "The infiltration problem in North 24-Parganas isn't alarming. The administration has been directed to arrest infiltrators and push them back to Bangladesh in a legal manner."

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