When Salim (name changed) crossed the border to join his family in Bangladesh on Sunday after he inadvertently spent nine months in Kerala, he was a happy man.
What sets his tale apart from that of other migrants awaiting repatriation in Indian prisons are the crucial cogs in the machinery that took him home. The 42-year-old from Kishoreganj district in Bangladesh was found by fishermen off the Alappuzha coast in October last year.
“They took him to the Thottapally police station in Alappuzha from where he was produced before the judicial first class magistrate as he was found at high seas without travel documents,” said T. Sagar, Superintendent of the Government Mental Health Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, where Salim was taken when he was suspected to be mentally ill.
“Nobody knew how he reached Alappuzha. He was reportedly trying to go back to Bangladesh on a raft made of plastic bottles when the fishermen spotted him,” said Dr. Sagar. Salim would talk agitatedly and gesture to himself and was diagnosed with psychosis.
Sandhya Janardhanan, a lawyer, was brought in from the District Legal Services Authority’s legal clinic at the hospital. “We figured from the language that he might be from Bangladesh, but couldn’t understand what he was saying,” she said.
She approached Benoy Peter at the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development in Ernakulam, who, along with Indu Varma in Dhaka, has been helping to repatriate Bangladeshi nationals. Dr. Peter took the matter with the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi and their Consular Minister visited Salim in February this year.
“When he was spoken to in his own language, Salim gave a telephone number that connected us with his brother-in-law in Kishoreganj,” Dr Peter said.
“The phone number hastened the verification process and the consulate could arrange a travel permit for Salim,” said Ms. Varma.
When Salim left Thiruvananthapuram on June 13, he was completely cured of his illness. “An NGO based in Bangladesh met him at the Petrapole check-post and helped him meet his family on Sunday afternoon,” said one of the policemen from Alappuzha who escorted Salim to the border.
“It was a concerted effort that brought these organisations together and took him home in spite of the difficult process,” said Ms. Varma.
This is not an isolated case, said Dr. Peter, who has helped repatriate two other mentally ill persons from Bangladesh.
“They come looking for work but the mentally ill may board trains not knowing where they are going,” said Dr. Peter.