TASLEEMA ALI is missing. The 16-year-old daughter of a
rag-picker was sleeping with her family in their two-room hovel in
East Delhi's New Seemapuri Colony when the policemen came. It was 2
a.m., and her father Azhar Ali had gone to sleep in his
rag-picker's shop nearby, to make way for a visiting grandmother.
That night in late September, policemen taking part in an
unofficial campaign that the press here has labeled "Operation
Push-Back" rounded up Tasleema and other "illegal immigrants" from
Bangladesh who live in this desperately poor section of the Indian
capital. Witnesses say the policemen came barging through the jute
curtains that screen the hovels' entrances and residents fled.
Tasleema and her grandmother were among the immigrants who were put
into police vans and taken away.
"My wife came running and told me what had happened," Mr. Ali
says. "I was sick with worry for my daughter and mother-in-law. I
asked around, and found that all my neighbors who had been caught
had been taken to a detention camp in Narela, in another corner of
He rushed to the camp, where he met many neighbors, but none had
seen his daughter. Now more than a month later, Ali does not know
if his daughter and mother-in-law are alive or dead, in India or
deported to Bangladesh.
Immigrants here assert Tasleema and the others were taken from
Delhi to Calcutta by train, then to the Bangladeshi border by
truck, and later forced to walk across by the Border Security Force
Allegations of brutality during the short-lived operation has
led to a diplomatic row between India and Bangladesh.
The Indian government admits that 132 men, women, and children
were deported from Delhi in late September. Some had their heads
shaved before being deported so that they could be easily
identified if they tried to return.
But India's Home Ministry denies that an Operation Push-Back was
ever a coordinated government program. The head shaving, a ministry
spokesman says, was an "abberation, and disciplinary proceedings
have been started."
In past years, as Indian newspapers and the parliament debated
how to handle the influx of immigrants, the Bangladeshi government
in Dhaka kept quiet. But politicians in the Bangladeshi parliament
reacted strongly to recent reports of the operation, calling the
Indian action inhumane. The Bangladeshi government officially
refused entry to the 132 persons, describing them as Indian
nationals. But the families of those immigrants say they are still
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister A. S. M. Mostafizur Rahman said
India's push-back was a unilateral action and "against
"Never before in Bangladesh's 21-year-old history has such an
unanimity been found on an issue involving India, both in
parliament and in the streets," wrote Haroon Habib, a Bangladeshi
Embarrassed by the press attention, the Indian Foreign Ministry
has tried to play down the border episode. But the issue was high
on the agenda during the Bangladeshi foreign minister's visit to
New Delhi Nov. 15.
Bangladesh officially maintains that there are no illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh to India, but diplomats from Dhaka
privately admit the influx is real. They note that it is difficult
to distinguish between Bangladeshi immigrants and ethnic Bengalis
from the Indian state of West Bengal. …