(G.N.S) Dt. 19
Twenty-nine Rohingyas — 18 adults and 11 children — have travelled through three countries, covering over 5,330km over four months, to finally reach a Bengal village that they now call home. Welcome to the Rohingya Colony, a settlement in Kuruli village in Baruipur, some 45km from Kolkata, where the 29 refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State have settled down — for the time being — after fleeing their homes and passing through Bangladesh. The four-week-old settlement has found support from local villagers and an NGO that is active in the belt. The villagers have constructed two-room houses, made of tin, and two common toilets. They have also arranged for electricity, bought cookware and utensil and even arranged for food and clothing for the refugees.
So far, so good: the villagers are confident they will be able to keep their guests forever and ever. But the guests themselves, who have lived through four months of nightmare and have kept their eyes and ears open to the tug-of-war and the politics over their existence, are not so sure. “Yes, the past four weeks have been dreamlike after four months of nomadic life,” 22-year-old Momina Akhtar, a mother of three (the youngest one being two months old), said.
“But we are now scared of being optimistic,” she added. The past four months had taught them that they could not be sure of anything, not even whether they would live to see the next day, she said.
“Villagers here have been extremely helpful and have provided us with everything, from food to clothes, from a roof over our head to essentials like blankets and pullovers. It feels so much like home that we do not want to return to where we have come from,” Akhtar said.
The woman, who has picked up a smattering of Hindi and Bengali, said they were chased out of their home in Segambara village of Maungdow district in Rakhine after their house and agricultural land were set on fire. “My father-in-law has gone missing. I was pregnant but somehow managed to walk through forests and cross the Naf river into Bangladesh. We stayed there in refugee camps for a few days before moving to India after crossing the border at Bongaon,” she added.
The group then travelled to Delhi, where they stayed for three weeks and where they received their most prized possession now: refugee cards. But Delhi was tough and they got news that another branch from their village had travelled to Hyderabad. So to Hyderabad they moved. But there was no job in Hyderabad and there were too many people. So when “someone” helped them get in touch with the NGO from Bengal, Desh Bachao Samajik Committee (a unit of the All-Bengal Minority Youth Federation), they did not think twice before relocating to Bengal, Akhtar said. Akhtar’s family comprises husband Soyedul Islam, mother-in-law Amina Begum, brother-in-law Md Anwar and the three children, Shaiful (six years old), Tahidul (three) and the two-month-old Rumana.
Opposite her new home lives Hamida Khatoon (63), who fled Myanmar with her three-year-old granddaughter, Noor, after her two sons and daughters-in-law were hacked to death. “I was away at my brother’s home in another village when our home was attacked. I learnt the news of my sons’ death and fled to Bangladesh with the girl and other villagers,” Khatoon said in broken Bengali.
She had some relatives, who had come to India earlier, and she entered India through the Manipur border “with their help” after staying at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. She then went to Delhi. She was planning to move in with her relatives, who were working as labourers in Jammu, when she found help from the same NGO that brought Akhtar and her family here. Khatoon shares her room with 55-year-old Zubeida Khatoon, who has lost all contact with relatives apart from a daughter.
My organisation has constructed the colony on 15 cottahs that belong to my family, the NGO’s Hossain Gazi told to media on Thursday. “The colony has been set up with the help of other local organisations and donations. We are ready to accommodate more such refugees,” he added. Villagers were trying to help the recent arrivals get jobs as labourers and masons.
The local administration is aware of the colony’s existence and cops have already visited the camp to check the cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “We have submitted a report to the district administration. We have checked their UNHRC cards and have found that some of them have been to places like Delhi, Haryana and Hyderabad,” a Baruipur police officer said.
(G.N.S) Dt. 19