Print edition : April 04, 1998

After a delay of six months, the Bangladeshi children and the adults who were apprehended along with them in Bangalore are free to return home.

SEVENTEEN children and 16 adults from Bangladesh, who were apprehended by the Bangalore Police in September 1997, are now free to return home after having spend six months and seven days in the Bangalore Central Jail. The 10th Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bangalore, while convicting the adults, including five women, of various offences under the Foreigners Act and the Indian Passport Act on March 18, treated the period they had spent in jail as the term of the jail sentence for their offences. They have been handed over to the police for safe custody until their deportation.

The children, who were accompanied by the adults, were apprehended on September 14 at the Bangalore airport on the suspicion that they were being taken to West Asian countries to work as child jockeys in camel racing.

The detention of the Bangladeshis had attracted wide media interest initially. However, once they were remanded to judicial custody, their case was virtually forgotten. It was only after the local media highlighted the plight of the children, who were interned in the women's block of the Bangalore Central Jail, that the police were spurred into expediting the process of their release and deportation. The police filed a charge-sheet after a delay of nearly six months.

"I am hopeful that they will be sent home by the end of this month," H.T. Sangliana, Inspector-General of Police, Prisons, told Frontline. "I am thankful to the media for their role in speeding up the investigations."

Some of the children and adults in the police van in which they were brought to the court on March 18.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The process of deportation will, however, take longer than Sangliana expects. Rafiq ul Alam Khan, Minister in the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi told Frontline that it may take about a month for all the formalities to be completed. "We are expecting the court order, after which the Ministry of External Affairs will hand them over to us. We also have to issue group travel documents to them," he said.

He said that a group of women lawyers from the Bangladesh Lawyers Association, who were in Calcutta for a conference, would reach Bangalore shortly and "we would like to hand over the group (the children and the adult Bangladeshis) to them," Alam Khan said. When asked about the arrangements being made in respect of the group of Bangladeshi children and adults who were detained in Chennai, he said that their repatriation was "being processed". The women lawyers would, however, take charge only of the Bangalore group and a group of seven children who were in Mumbai, he added.

"WE want to go home," a chorus of high-pitched voices came from inside a police van that had brought the children and the adults to the court. While some of the children have both their parents in the group, many have only their fathers with them and they yearn to see their mothers. There was a perceptible sense of relief on the faces of the adults - most of them illiterate, poor victims of rapacious middlemen. "I want to see my mother and I don't like this van," cried Sohid, aged four. The children are aged between three and five years.

Charge-sheets were filed against four of the 16 adults under Section 3 read with Section 12 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 (overstaying without valid documents) and under Sections 468 and 109 (abetting crime) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The remaining 12 were charged under Section 12(1)(0) of the Passport Act, read with Sections 471, 474 (using a forged document as genuine) and 109 of the IPC.

Among the accused mentioned in the charge-sheet were three persons, Mohammad Tahir, Ramzan Ali and Shah Ahmad, who were believed to be the agents who accompanied the group to Dubai. Of them Tahir, who belongs to Chennai, was released on bail in October 1997. The other two, who are Bangladeshis, were released on bail in November 1997. As they were not present when the Magistrate passed the sentence, they would be tried separately.

"The families are mostly from villages near Dhaka," said Ruma Roy, a teacher who has been teaching the women and the children in Bengali on a voluntary basis. "Although they have nothing to go back to, they want to get back," she said.

"I am a television and radio mechanic with my own shop in Dhaka," said Abdul Malik, who was arrested along with his wife Aliya and two sons (another son, now 18 days old, was born in jail). Malik claims that a middleman named Shahid Hussain had offered to find him a job in Dubai and taken one lakh Bangladeshi takas from him.

Frightened faces peering out of the police vehicle.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

"We were lured because of our ignorance. We won't make the same mistake again," he said. His father, Mohammad Abdul Bari, was in Bangalore for the last four months. Abdul Bari claimed that one of the middlemen was also in Bangalore and he had threatened him with "dire consequences" if his name was revealed.

The absence of girls in the group suggests that the parents may not have been unaware of the fact that the children were to be used for camel racing. However, they were unaware of the risks and dangers involved. And once arrested, they were hopelessly trapped in legal and bureaucratic procedures, which they knew nothing about.

The media coverage resulted in a great deal of public support and help for them from the citizens of Bangalore. Sangliana said that he received offers of assistance from voluntary organisations and individuals. Voluntary organisations stepped in with clothes, toys, books and food for the children.

Many people also offered to spend their time with the children. Persons such as Ashima and Tony Aloysius of the St. Patrick's Family Welfare Project were helping the children and the women from the day they were detained, teaching them and providing them nutritional supplements.

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