BENGALURU: There was chaos and violence at Cantonment Railway station on Tuesday after 208 Muslim boys, mostly from Bihar, and some adults accompanying them, were forcibly detained for nearly five hours by the Government Railway Police (GRP). The group that had alighted from the Guwahati Express at 11.40am was detained till 5pm, a move driven by paranoia and rumours that the children were being trafficked from Bangladesh to Kerala. It was later found that the boys, aged between 9 and 19, were madrassa students heading towards their schools across Karnataka, after annual vacation.
The incident created high drama on Platform No.1 all day with RSS workers, Muslim bodies, representatives of NGOs and anti-child trafficking groups trooping in and presenting their versions of the train passengers. It also culminated in violence, with some from the group thrashing three anti-trafficking activists with sticks.
Mohammad Haroon, teacher at Amlapur Madrassa in Tumakuru, said, “The boys were returning to the city from their villages in Bihar after their annual 6-week Ramzan vacation. They boarded the train at Kishanganj station in Bihar.”The children were onboard S6 and S7 coaches with their madrassa teachers when drama first ensued at Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada railway stations on Monday which ended in their detention at Cantonment for inquiry.
The paranoia began after a phone call made by a Bengaluru-based anti-trafficking activist on the train to the GRP as it neared the Vishakapatnam railway station around 3pm. Many boys were made to alight at Visakhapatnam, where there is a 45-minute stoppage. “The teachers pleaded with the police to let them move as the train was about to leave. Cops agreed but TTE asked all the boys to produce their ID,” a teacher said. The same drill was repeated at Vijayawada station. At Cantonment station, TV channels and policemen received the group.
R Kaleemullah, activist at NGO Movement for Justice, said, “The education in South India is better. That is why boys from Bihar, UP and West Bengal are sent here. Moreover, they belong to poor families and the free food and accommodation goads parents to send them here.”Advocate D Anas said the police had no copy of complaint and detained the boys based on a call.A local trust supplied food and water for the children. Angry words were exchanged between a few volunteers working against child trafficking who insisted that children should be accompanied by parents.
3 anti-child trafficking activists beaten up
Three city-based anti-child trafficking activists, who were part of a volunteer group, were beaten outside Cantonment railway station. Volunteer M Danush with two others lodged a complaint about the boys being trafficked from Bangladesh at GRP police station. “Even as we are filing a complaint, three members of our group, including Nagaraj and Govind Singh, were attacked in the parking area opposite Cantonment station by a 15-20 strong group,” he said. “I have filed a complaint at High Grounds police station,” Danush said. Nagaraj was hit on the head and had to get 10 sutures.
What were top Railway officials doing?
With so much drama unfolding at Cantonment railway station, top railway officials were caught napping. Only an official from the Commercial Department was sent to look into it. Neither the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), the Additional Divisional Railway Manager nor the Senior Divisional Commercial Manager (SDCM) were spotted at the railway station.
When asked about it, SDCM N R Sridharamurthy said, “Do you expect the entire division to go there and stand when any incident takes place? One person from our department is there.”