Kolkata/New Delhi: Rohingyas continue to infiltrate into India, settling in Sarberia and adjoining villages of the Sandeshkhali block of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. They spend a few days in the company of fishermen — for want of space, they may spend a day or two in trawlers — and then disperse to various locations. [Part I of the series]
Last Sunday (11 March), 27 Rohingya families had illegally entered the area. The local residents say Trinamool Congress workers are helping these infiltrators to cross the border of Bangladesh via Matla.
West Bengal’s Food Minister Jyotipriya Mallick denies the charge, however. “None of us is involved in this (helping infiltrators),” the minister says.
However, in the neighbourhood of fishermen in Sarberia, the head of the gram panchayat is heard addressing a crowd of Rohingyas and local Muslims, hailing Sheikh Shah Jahan as a farishta (angel) for having come to the relief of the infiltrators.
Sheikh Shah Jahan is the TMC strongman and trade union leader in Sandeshkhali. He shrugs off the allegation. “Anybody gets away levelling any charge against me. To allege that I am helping Rohingyas sneak into Bengal is not enough; prove it,” he dares a group of journalists who have reached this underdeveloped part of the State on hearing about Rohingya infiltration.
The locals do not wish to be identified in the media. Pleading with the reporters again and again to not reveal their names, they show the houses that have sheltered Rohingyas from a distance.
On approaching one of the houses, a young man emerges from it. He tries to shoo away the journalists even as another man is seen inside a room urging some inmates to go hide in the backyard.
Soon, some other men approach the house and ask the journalists to leave the village immediately.
People suspect Shah Jahan’s hand in the influx of Rohingyas also because he had recently visited Bangladesh to donate some cash to members of the clan in that country. The video catching him in the act had gone viral on social media. Shah Jahan does not deny the content of the video but says helping Rohingyas in Bangladesh and making them sneak into India are not the same. He pleads innocence, saying he is not guilty of the crime.
However, no less than a Member of Parliament of the TMC blows the lid off Shah Jahan’s cover.
Basirhat, where communal riots had broken out last year, is represented by infamous hooligan-turned-MP Idris Ali, infamous for inciting mobs for a riot in 2007 to demand the ouster of Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen from Bengal (he was then a member of the Indian National Congress). He says, “Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is steadfast in her support for uprooted Rohingyas. Inspired by her ideals, Shah Jahan is offering shelter to the Rohingyas. His social service is praiseworthy. I welcome his initiative.”
About 65 km away from Kolkata lies a point of entry from Bangladesh into India. This is the Sarberia village of the Sundarbans. The Rohingyas spend some days in this village before the TMC workers help them move to Hardah and other villages in Baruipur, a member of an NGO that is supplying food to these so-called refugees said.
The NGO member said a section of TMC was quite actively conniving with self-styled representatives of Rohingyas in the act. These workers have requested the State government to offer its land to build a makeshift camp for the illegal settlers.