18, Jan 2023 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
On October 28th of last year, the Railway Protection Force arrested a group of migrant workers from Birbhum’s Kathia village at the Chennai Central Railway Station. The group included a minor boy, Sahib Rana, who claimed to be sixteen years old. As child labor is illegal in Tamil Nadu, the group was arrested and Sahib Rana was locked in a room overnight in a children’s home, while the others were reportedly harassed for a long time.
When the young boy’s father, Rezaul Islamc contacted me and asked for help, I immediately got in touch with Manisha Banerjee, State Editor of Bangla Sanskriti Manch. With the help of a friend Satya Babu, she was able to contact the Chennai Railway Police. Even when Satya Babu provided valid papers and documents to the Railway Department, they refused to release Sahib, keeping each one of them in the dark about the young boy. The workers’ continued to be harassed by the police and they seemed absolutely hopeless when I got in touch with them again. I contacted CJP, my organisation. With the help of my colleague Mohd. Adil and his friend Arnab Basu in Chennai – we were determined to rescue Sahib at any cost. It was only after that, that Arnab went to a lawyer to seek help. Together, they went to the Central Railway and spoke to the officials.
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But things couldn’t get more difficult, hereon. The Railway police immediately told them off. They said that the boy will be taken to court after 14 days and then his family will have to hire a lawyer to prove that he is their child. This sounded like a nightmare to us. It would take no less than 6 months to get Sahib back, if we follow their instructions and besides, it would be extremely difficult for his family to travel to Chennai from their distant village in Bengal. To a strange city and fight for justice. His family seemed devastated. We also came to know that many young children are still locked up in their premises, waiting to hear from their parents, along with Sahib. Some have been locked in for years. We did not give up. We kept pursuing the authorities and eventually, they agreed to leave Sahib if his parents showed up with all their legal documents and papers within two days. How does a family, who live on daily wages, manage to turn up to Chennai from a distant rural town in Bengal in two days? Let alone a flight, they haven’t even travelled much beyond Bengal. The airfares were absolutely out of their reach.
Arnab came to the rescue and arranged for three flight tickets for Sahib’s family completely free of charge. Along with his friends in Chennai, Arnab bore the entire cost of around INR 42,000. After that, the boy’s family travelled to the children’s home in Chennai with all the legal documents. The next day, 31st October 2022, when it was proved that he was indeed sixteen years old, Sahib was released by the Railway Officials. Arnab also spoke to the advocate in Chennai and made necessary arrangements so that the boy’s family wouldn’t have to go back to Chennai.
In the traumatised Rezaul Islam’s words, “We thought there’s no way we would get back Sahib so easily. It was a nightmare for us. But with Ripon, Adil and Arnab’s help and everyone that came forward for us, we went through these complicated paperwork and got him back. I’m so poor that it was beyond our imagination to travel and get these official work done but I’m beyond grateful for what they did for us.”
These migrant workers are being harassed repeatedly. Their fault – being a Bengali in a foreign state – not knowing the local language. Like always, my only appeal to state and central Governments is to look into the matters of migrant workers more seriously, make a help centre or support organisation for them and protect their rights, at any cost.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.