New Delhi: In an incident that is bound to fuel fear and insecurity among people working outside their states, around 5,000 migrant workers from Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan among others, were rounded up by the police in Karnataka’s Kodagu district after a pro-Hindutva outfit alleged that they were “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.” Most of the migrants work in coffee plantations in the district.
The Superintendent of Police (SP) of Kodagu, Suman D Pennekar, on Wednesday evening had issued an order to all police stations in Kodagu, about 250 kilometres from state capital Bengaluru, to conduct a document-verification drive.
“Kodagu district has a lot of coffee estates and there are a lot of labourers coming from out of the state. So in this backdrop and also due to the latest backdrop of crimes which are taking place by these outsiders there has been a lack of knowledge about their whereabouts," Pennekar was quoted as saying by LiveMint.
However, according to The News Minute, the police acted on a complaint by a plantation owner affiliated to the Bajrang Dal alleging the presence of ‘Bangladeshi illegal immigrants’ and lined up the migrant workers, asking them to provide documents to prove their Indian citizenship.
The document verification drive in BJP-ruled Karnataka comes close on the heels of the razing down of an entire settlement of migrants on the outskirts of Bengaluru by the municipal corporation during an unauthorised demolition drive to evict ‘illegal immigrants”. This too followed a video tweeted by a BJP MLA.
Read Also: Assam, Tripura, Bengal Families Rendered Homeless in Bengaluru Drive to Evict ‘Illegal Immigrants’
According to TNM, “Deepu Devaiah, a coffee plantation owner affiliated with Bajrang Dal, said it all started when he approached a few migrant workers from Assam, who were residing in a lodge in Kodagu’s Napoklu, asking them to work for him in his plantation.”
The issue seems to have been triggered by a dispute over low wages. Deepu told TNM he offered to pay each worker Rs 250/day to work in his plantation on Tuesday morning. However, the workers, he alleged, wanted to be paid more.
As per the report, on Tuesday evening, Deepu, along with several Bajrang Dal members, allegedly tried to barge into the lodge where the workers were staying. They were reportedly stopped by Haris, an RTI activist, and around 40 to 50 protesters, who were shouting slogans against the profiling of migrant workers.
“We told them that they had no right to barge in and threaten innocent people and violate their human rights. We asked them to take it up legally,” Haris told TNM.
According to the TNM report, an argument broke out outside the lodge, after which the Napoklu police, located a few meters away, arrived to intervene. “It was then that Deepu complained to the police that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh were living in the lodge,” the report added.
The next day, the police rounded up the migrant workers and asked them to bring their documents for verification.
Later, Pennekar told some reporters that most of the migrant workers had documents, except around 500 of them, adding that these people would be scrutinised and the identities would be verified.
As fear gripped migrant workers in the state after two back to back incidents, especially after many of them rendered homeless during the municipal corporation demolition drive in Bellandur area even showed valid documents, such as Aadhar and voter ID cards and those from Assam produced NRC list with their names, the police claimed that the Kodagu incident had nothing to do with NRC.
“This had nothing to do with NRC. It is not the police’s job to do that. For those who did not have documents, we have given them time to produce it,” a police official told TNM.
The two incidents in Karnataka, targeting migrant workers, mostly daily wagers, comes amid widespread protests across the country against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).