The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Terror on the tree top
Midnight knock for intruders

Krishnaganj, April 20: As mason Subal Das of Aditya- pur dozed off atop a mango tree a few nights ago, he fell and nearly killed himself.

'I could not maintain balance and slipped, injuring my left leg,' Das said.

Why would a man with a proper home spend nights on trees'

'I have nowhere else to hide, unlike the others,' he said.

Das is just one of scores of people from Nadia's border villages ' such as Krishnaganj, Kotwali and Dhantola ' who are fleeing their homes or hiding in the jungles, sleeping on the branches of mango and sal trees.

They all fear the midnight knock from police ' and being dragged to the lock-up on the charge of being an illegal Bangladeshi settler.

Like Dilip Pramanik and his wife Mira of Purnaganj, who woke up on April 17 night to find policemen waiting outside their home. The couple had moved in from Calcutta's Bagha Jatin a few years ago to open a salon in the village.

'They voted in the last election. They have ration cards and the electronic photo-identity card. How can they be arrested' asked an in-law, Mithu Pramanik.

The administration says photo I-cards are no proof of nationality, for many had been issued 'erroneously' in the past to Bangladeshis.

The police have warrants for about 1,000 villagers who, they say, came from Bangladesh after 1971, the cut-off year.

So people are fleeing to other villages or towns, neighbouring districts or even outside the state.

Among them was Krishnapada Dutta of Majdiha, who ran away with his new bride as he learnt that warrants were out for him and five others from his family.

The couple spent eight days at a place near Krishnagar and returned only after procuring anticipatory bail.

Dutta, who runs a phone booth and a gift item shop, has a photo I-card (No. WB/11/074/534698) and claims his late father, Satyacharan, had migrated to India in 1948. His ration card proves that, he says.

'Why was a photo I-card issued to me if I am a Bangladeshi' My family has been living here for over five decades and I have been voting since 1991.'

'Photo-identity cards had been erroneously issued to these people, that's why their names appear on the electoral rolls,' said Nadia district magistrate Rajesh Pandey, without spelling out that it's the vote-hungry political parties that are responsible for the fraud.

Nor will ration cards do, Pandey said. 'They must produce land deeds, birth certificates or school certificates.'

There's a racket in issuing false school certificates, too, and villagers rarely procure birth certificates.

Nilkanta Bala, thus, may not be able to prove that his son Nripen was born in Nadia's Nagata village on February 2, 1986. He studied in Maidan Railbazar High School and has a voter card. 'How can my son be a Bangladeshi' Nilkanta asked.

Nilkanta, a clay-modeller, is penniless after spending his life's savings on wife Sabitri's treatment. He fled to Orissa after learning the police were looking for him but has returned now.

His daughter Seema, who gave up studies after her mother fell ill, has been hiding at her aunt's place, about 65 km from their home in Nagata, for a month.

Will they be pushed back into Bangladesh if caught' That's for the government to decide, the district magistrate said. He would refer these people to the government once the elections are over.

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