For over a year now, two girls aged eight and nine, the daughters of a woman accused of being an illegal immigrant, have been living in a children’s home in Bengaluru, while their mother is imprisoned in the Parappana Agrahara central jail. The question of the long separation of the children from the mother came up in the Karnataka High Court last month.
“What happens if children are separated from parents (accused of being illegal immigrants) in the process? Grown-up children will be okay, but what if children are small, and what happens if their education is affected?” the single-judge bench of Justice K N Phaneendra asked, while hearing the bail plea of 15 Bengali speakers, who were arrested in Bengaluru last year and charged with being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Among those caught in the net last year were an infant (four months old) and the two sisters, aged eight and nine. While the infant was sent to judicial custody along with the mother Taniya (20), the sisters were separated from their mother Kakili (42) and sent to a children’s home — where they have remained since.
Like many Bengali working-class migrants in the city, the accused worked in the city’s waste collection business as ragpickers, according to police. They were arrested on the night of Eid-ul-Adha last year from their homes in a settlement in Kammasandra, east Bengaluru.
“They were arrested on August 22, 2018, on the basis of credible information that they were illegal citizens. They were arrested under provisions of the Foreigners’ Act, Arms Act and the Aadhaar Act — the latter because their identity cards were found to be fabricated,” said Bengaluru Rural Deputy SP Nanjunde Gowda.
Lawyer for the accused, Muhammad Pasha, who brought up the question of the sisters, said they moved the high court three months ago, when the plea for bail was rejected by the lower court. “The maximum punishment under the Foreigners’ Act is three years. They have already served 15 months. In such a case, even the Supreme Court says that bail should be granted. Besides, one of the accused is inside prison with an ailing child; one has been separated from her daughters. To keep them in prison is a violation of their human rights,” Pasha said.
“Such long periods can become difficult for a child. In these cases, when their parents are in prison, we send the children to the prison to meet the parent once in three months,” said district child protection officer B Usha, who is the administrative head of the children’s home where the two sisters have been kept.
The HC, while hearing the bail plea, has repeatedly raised the question of how and where alleged illegal immigrants should be housed before they are repatriated.
Among those arrested in August and currently in Bengaluru’s central jail is Mohammad Arif (18), according to the police. Speaking to The Indian Express over the phone, his father Abu Qalam said, “It was qurbani (Eid-ul-Adha) that day and Arif had gone to our friends’ place. And he was caught in the raid. We last saw him five months ago. Since then, we haven’t had the money to go to the jail.”
Qalam said he had been living in Bengaluru for nine years, working in the waste segregation business. “Arif is 15 years old. He also worked as a ragpicker. We didn’t have money to send him to school. A few days ago, because of the raids, we ran away from Bengaluru,” he said, speaking from a location in Tamil Nadu he did not identify. “Our son is in jail. How can we leave him?”
The lawyer for the accused said, “If they can be deported, the government should make arrangements. If not, they should be allowed to apply for citizenship.”
The court has directed the government to file its response on the protection of children of illegal immigrants by December 4.