Video: Fishing for a refuge: Rohingyas say living in Bengaluru is largely peaceful; except for the occasional trouble from ‘Bangladeshis’


Rohingyas say living in Bengaluru is largely peaceful — except for the occasional trouble from ‘Bangladeshis

On a cold winter Bengaluru evening, Yasmeen Razia is readying for ‘bhuna’, a spicy fish delicacy from Myanmar. For this state-less Rohingya refugee, this is not just a taste of home but something fiery to counter the chill outside. The new tarpaulin sheet that the NGO attached to the United Nations has given her to put on her thatched roof is hardly enough. Her dish will be slow cooked, not because it’s a fancy culinary method but out of desperation. “A 17-litre gas cylinder costs Rs 1,250 while a 12-litre cylinder costs Rs 750. I prefer to cook with firewood as much as possible to save some money,” she says.

Her husband, a ragpicker, earns anywhere between Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per month, from selling waste to scrap dealers, says Razia.

Money is scarce. Life is hard. The weight of historical conflicts between Rohingyas and Bangladeshis still casts its shadow on this refugee camp in Dasarahalli, near Kempapura in Hebbal. There are around 40 to 45 Rohingya families here, about 100 children and 200 adults. They live along with 600 to 700 Bangladeshis who are also settled in camps close by. There are some migrant labourers from North Karnataka who have opted to stay in and around these settlements due to the low rents and the possibility of finding work.

Since Rohingyas and Bangladeshis are illegal immigrants, they only have the Right to Live and cannot be employed anywhere officially. Employing an illegal immigrant is a punishable offence, says R Khaleem Ullah, an activist from Swaraj Abhiyan.

So the 300 Rohingyas and over 600 Bangledeshis are into full-time ragpicking. A majority of them have the UNHCR identity cards. A lot of their children were born after they came to India from Myammar in 2012 and are yet to get these cards, says Khaleem added.

Mohammed Liton (29), a Bangladeshi who married a Rohingya woman Fathima (25) and the couple has a 4-year-old son who earns Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 monthly

Noor Hussain (28) like many Rohingyas and Bangaldeshis, leaves home in his three-wheeler cycle to collect trash before the pourakarmikas start their shift. He collects discarded bottles and tetra packs from bins. “I also collect plastic, metal items, choir and sponge which we sell to our scrap dealers,” says Hussain. He earns about 10,000 and can barely look after his family of four. A third child is on the way.

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Karimulla (41), a Rohingya, lives with his wife Faruso Begum (34), and his son Rizwan (16) in one of the shanties. He is the go-to person in his community for everyone since he has contacts with NGO members associated with the United Nations. It is because of his efforts, his community got rations, medicines, tarpaulins, old clothes and other necessities during lockdown.

Both Hussain and Karimullah came to Bengaluru after migrating from Myanmar and going to other states. Karimullah says, “It’s very competitive here as there are more Bangladeshis than Rohingyas. The pie is small and there are many ragpickers. Scrap dealers have exploited us. Recently, Bangladeshis with a criminal background have turned police informers and often targeting Rohingyas.”

Life in the camp is hard, especially for women, Farooq (50) one of the Rohingyas says three Bangladeshi men gang-raped his daughter when they were staying in another refugee camp. One of the accused was arrested but his associates ganged up and killed Farooq’s son Abdul Khadar in 2015. The Kothanur police arrested the culprits.

The Rohingyas and the Bangladeshis in the refugee camp pay the owner of the land on which the camp exists Rs 45,000. This amount is split between seven camps.

The camps are basic but they have set up an eco-system of essentials – rations, phones, basic electrical equipment. At least one or two members in each family owns a phone. And the top-up for talktime and data is vital to their existence. They breed chicken for meat and eggs.

Hygiene, nutrition and a sense of permanency is missing. The conflict between Bangladeshis and Rohingyas is many years old and this is excess baggage for the state-less Rohingyas who are already living out of a suitcase.



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Sagar Biswas

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