At least 50 Muslim migrant labourers from Bengal and their family members, totalling more than 200 people, fled Gurgaon by boarding a train to their home state on Thursday night, allegedly following threats from Bajrang Dal activists in the wake of communal violence in Haryana.
“We were forced to lock our rented homes in Gurgaon and flee with our families to save our lives.... Local Bajrang Dal activists had given us a clear warning that if we didn’t leave the area, they would cause bodily harm to us and set our dwelling units on fire,” said Samim Hossain, a 26-year-old migrant worker from Gangarampur in South Dinajpur who left Gurgaon on Thursday night with his wife and two-year-old son. The Dal activists had also allegedly ordered landlords to evict Muslim tenants.
Communal violence broke out in Haryana’s Nuh district on Monday when Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists took out a procession through a sensitive area after an objectionable video posted on social media by a Bajrang Dal activist surfaced. The conflict soon spread to Gurgaon.
Though Nuh — the epicentre of the violence — is at least 40km from the area where the Muslim migrant workers and their families were settled in Gurgaon, several of them told this newspaper over the phone that they were too scared and did not want to risk their lives in a communally charged environment.
“There are around 200 people travelling back to our state on the (Delhi-Malda) Farakka Express. Several others had fled the area in the past two days and boarded different trains back home.... I know some people who are in the process of booking tickets to return home,” Hossain said.
Hossain, who had been working for an online food delivery platform, had been living in a rented accommodation at Sector 70A in Gurgaon’s Badshahpur for the past two-and-a-half-years. He took the decision to return to Bengal after his landlord asked him to vacate his room on Wednesday night, he said.
The Farakka Express left Delhi at 9.45pm on Thursday and is scheduled to reach Malda town on Saturday morning. Most of the migrant workers and their families are from districts like North and South Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad.
According to Hossain and his fellow passengers, they had no option but to leave after groups of youths on motorbikes began roaming the area three days ago and asking landlords to give marching orders to Muslim tenants.
“My landlord was helpless... He did not want me to leave, but he was scared of his own safety besides that of mine and urged me to go. The story is mostly the same for the others. My landlord promised that he would keep my belongings in his custody and give me accommodation once again after the situation turns normal,” said Sakirul Rahaman, a resident of Tapan in Malda who worked at the house of a trader in Gurgaon.
Hossain and Rahaman said they had to buy Tatkal tickets — priced around twice the original fare — with the aid of some social workers, who also helped them leave strife-stricken Gurgaon. They alleged that the local police did not extend any help to them.
While both Rahaman and Hossain said they expected the situation to return to normal soon, they added that the incidents of the last 72 hours would remain etched in their memories for life.
“We grew up in Bengal and had always seen amity between Hindus and Muslims.... This is the first time we saw such communal clashes. Homes were being burnt because of religion. Places of worship were attacked. Four of my colleagues were beaten black and blue in front of my eyes because they were Muslim. I never thought that such things could take place in a modern city like Gurgaon,” Hossain said.
While the migrant workers heaved a sigh of relief as the train left Delhi, some of them are worried about their livelihood as most work as delivery boys on different e-commerce platforms, help at bunglows, drivers and construction workers, and earn Rs 700 to Rs 1,000 daily.
“I did not want to leave my job at the bungalow as I used to earn a decent sum.... I don’t know whether he will employ me again after the situation becomes normal. I am worried about how to sustain my family if I fail to return to Gurgaon,” Rahaman said.
The Bengal government on Thursday opened a helpline for migrant workers from the state in distress in Haryana and its adjoining areas. The West Bengal Migrant Workers’ Welfare Board has announced that it will extend all possible help to migrants returning to their homes.
“We will reach out to those migrant workers returning from Haryana or other places because of communal violence as soon as possible. We will help them to get jobs in different sectors like construction and hotels. We have a database of vacancies across the state in different ongoing private and government projects,” said Samirul Islam, the chairman of the board.
Trinamul Rajya Sabha member Saket Gokhale on Thursday evening wrote to the Gurgaon police commissioner seeking protection for migrant workers.
“I asked the Commissioner, Gurugram Police, to urgently furnish an action-taken report regarding steps being taken to protect and treasure these (migrant) families as well as the status of the arrest of mobs who have been allegedly threatening them,” Gokhale tweeted.