Bangladeshis Sneak Into India for Free Medical Check Ups

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Case A :

Muhammad Jamil Rehman, a trader, who had come to India to get his mother treated was one of those, who preferred to stay back, for thorough health-check-ups of his mother in India, where medical facilities are both cheap and the best in South Asian countries. “I am not willing to take the risk in my country, where medical aid is very poor quality and not sustainable or proper for each and every disease. It’s true that our Indian visas are valid for only the next 7-days more, but, I have no way, I will go back to pavilion only after my mother’s treatment is over (in fact, until and unless my mother becomes come round fully) not before that”, said Jamil.

After he entered India through the International Border Check Post (IBCP) at Mahadipur in Malda district of Indian West Bengal State (IWBS), he stayed in a lodge at Malda, the district headquarters town. While waiting for his mother to be cured in India, he had gotten in touch with his family regularly. He had spoken over the telephone with his wife and child in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, saying that in future he will come to India for anybody …

Bangladeshi Health 01
A Bangladeshi civilian shows his passport and visa at Indian West Bengal State Police Force’s Indian Immigration Check Post at Chengrabandha, in Coochbehar district of Indian West Bengal State, who comes to India for medical purposes.

Photo: Shib Shankar Chatterjee

Case B :

It is an everyday picture on the India-Bangladesh International Border, where many people like Muhammad Ashraful Rezzak, a Bangladeshi citizen with his family, are in a queue of 40 to 50 people and waiting for clearance to cross over to the Indian side for better treatment. Muhammad Ashraful Rezzak has brought his ailing wife, Rubina Biwi and daughter, Rukaiya Khatun.

The Rezzak family always keeps in mind that the India-Bangladesh international border is always controversial and sensitive, on issues like immigration, smuggling, aggressive religious fundamentalism, trafficking and insurgency activities. Therefore, they do not want to stay long after completion of their treatment and they hope to cross quickly to avoid the possibility of the international boundary being sealed due to any escalation of violence.

Case C :

A good number of Bangladeshi foreign nationals have stayed in India illegally in the name of better medical treatment. Muhammad Rukun Zaman, resident of Rajsahi District of Bangladesh, came to a private hospital in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, for the treatment of his eight-year-old son, who suffers from respiratory problems. They were forced to return home in Bangladesh through Mahadipur IBCP, as their visa had expired.

“My son’s treatment is incomplete, but 65% (per cent) has been cured, doctor advises me, ‘I must come here once again and complete the treatment as well as the course of medicine simultaneously’. So, I have decided that I will definitely come to India for the sake of my son’s better life. Here, the physicians are very good”, Muhammad Zaman said, emotionally.

Bangladeshi Health 02
A view of Chengrabandha, the authorised International Border Check Post on the IndiaBangladesh International Border in Coochbehar District of Indian West Bengal State. Bangladeshi people always use this land-port route to enter into India with a valid passport and visa for health therapeutic reasons.

In India, now-a-days, ‘Infiltration’ (whether legal or illegal) is one of the most burning and sensitive problems. It has been taking place in diversified ways. The recent Government and Non Government Organisation report shows that many Bangladeshis illegally sneaking into India through various authorized International Border Gates, come as patients to receive ‘free medical treatment’ from the Indian states. This has been seen not only in government hospitals and medical health centres, but also private medical institutions. Some of these foreign nationals go back to their country after staying for days, months or years.

The most astonishing fact is that the hospitals or medical units, which are run by Indian Central or State Governments, not only supply the medicines to the foreign nationals but sometimes arrange for their food and lodging. In this context, the foreign nationals admitted that they’re getting this help from the medical units with the help of below poverty line certificates and this happens because of some touts and elected representatives, who help them a lot in an illegal way. The legal and illegal infiltrators enter India, often offering a bribe to receive these opportunities.

Bangladeshi Health 03
View of international landport at Banglabanda in Tetulia Upzila in the Panchagarh district of Bangladesh, which touches the Siliguri in Darjeeling district of Indian State, West Bengal and lies on the India Bangladesh international border. Bangladeshis use this port to enter into India legally, for health check-up purposes.

R. P. Singh, the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the Border Security Force of India (BSFI) of the international border areas remarked, “This is quite untamable and disgusting. Every day, a good number of Bangladeshi people illegally enter Indian territory in the guise of patients with fake medical certificates as a document and create unnecessary problems and headaches”.

He further added, “Many Bangladeshi foreign patients carry Below Poverty Line (BPL) certificates, and get this opportunity of free medical treatment. The certificate is provided only when the candidate’s yearly income does not exceed Rs. 2,000. Certificates are obtained from a local Member of Legislative Assembly of Bangladesh (MLAB)s or officers of Block or District level in Bangladesh”.

Supporting this fact, one of the local physician at Agartala, the capital of the Indian Northeastern State, Tripura averred, “In my health-centre, 25 to 30% of patients are Bangladeshis and they hide their real identity and enlist their name and addresses in the registered book as an Indian to avail of better treatment. But, if you can see them, anyone may easily guess that their colloquial language and dress indicates their real identity, while as doctors and as people of India, we take care of them on humanitarian grounds, while International Border Security Force (IBSF) – BSFI and the Indian Police Force (IPF), including the people also behave sympathetically towards them”. This is because India has a culture of Atithi Debaya Bhaba, which means : ‘Guest is God and we should take care of them properly’.

“It is true that Bangladeshis come to India for better medical treatment. Bangladeshi patients are seen in the Indian Tripura State’s hospitals like – Agartala Government Medical College Hospital, and Sonamura Hospital, both are in West Tripura district, while in North Tripura District – Kailasahar Government Hospital, et cetera”, affirmed one of the renowned senior journalists of Agartala town, Manas Paul.

Bangladeshi Health 04
A view of International Border Check Post in Sylhet district of Bangladesh that connects the Indian land at Sutarkandi in Karimganj district of Indian State, Assam, which lies on IndiaBangladesh International Border and the authorized entry point for Bangladeshi nationals.

“Around 50,000 Bangladeshis come to India every year for better medical treatment. If you go to the Indian High Commission offices at Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi of Bangladesh, you will see more than 50% of Bangladeshi nationals are in a queue for visa purpose for medical treatment to India, apart from tourism and pilgrimage, study, business, cultural activities, visiting relatives, weeding or funeral purposes, et cetera”, emphasized an Indian Research Analysis Wing (RAW) official, who was deputed in Bangladesh around 10-years to 12-years back.

“It is fact, indeed statistics have indicated that. If you also go to each and every IBCP that lie on the Indo-Bangla international boundary on both sides, you will find that most of the IBCPs are full of Bangladeshi peoples, who are waiting to enter India and to return from India with valid passports and visas for and after medical treatment. Not only that, from India, many doctors come to Bangladesh to heal our country patients through better medical diagnosis”, confirmed one of the officials of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI).

These reports indicate that more than 500 Bangladeshi nationals receive free medical treatment every one to three months. However, only 15% of them belong to this BPL category. There is no law, nor any agreement that allows foreign nationals to have free treatment in India. Yet it goes on.

Enquiries show that BSFI sources indicate 20 to 30% of the Bangladeshi infiltrators arrested in the India Bangladesh International Border areas or IBGs entered Indian land with a view to getting free medical health treatment, but without valid documents.

“You see, it is a serious matter for us. We do not know the exact motive of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

Only a few illegal infiltrators disclose their intensions openly, that they’ve entered into India for better medical treatment facilities, because they are very poor, while the intentions of the rest are unknown.

Therefore, it is difficult to say that every day, how many Bangladeshi nationals come to India only for better medical purposes, but, we will look into the matter seriously”, says Biswanath Chowdhury, IWBS Minister for Jails & Social-Welfare (of Revolutionary Socialist Party [RSP] Member of Legislative Assembly [MLA] from Balurghat Assembly Constituency of South Dinajpur district, earlier known as – West Dinajpur district of IWBS).

“Indeed, Bangladesh has a lack of good health service. There is neither any Hospital nor any Health Centre (Public), Maternity Home that has been well equipped. Therefore, whenever anybody falls ill or becomes the victim of any serious disease, he or she is sent to a nearby health-centre in India. Specially, the populaces of the International Border Village (IBV)s that lie on the Indo-Bangla international boundary. The Bangladeshi inhabitants even use foreign currency to buy their good health service from India.

The most awful situation is that in some Bangladeshi village areas, there is one or two small health-centres but these are often in very poor condition. Here, doctors are quite helpless and instead of giving medicines, they offer only prescriptions. The lack of ambulance many times forces the patients to face many troubles”, admitted a physician of a Bangladesh government sanatorium at Tamabil, an International Border Town (IBT) in the Sylhet Division of Sylhet district of Bangladesh, who doesn’t want to disclose his name.

“Even Bangladeshi children do not have any good opportunity of vaccination or anti diseases injection for want of facilities or medical help of any sort, so the child death rate is very high. As a result, sometimes, these children fall victim to ‘Polio’ and such other diseases”, said a Bangladeshi doctor from a Public Health Centre (PHC), who came to India for better treatment for his children and doesn’t want to disclose his name.

He further added, “Sometimes, most of the ailing patients die of diseases like, diphtheria, typhoid, Haam or Haambasanta (that is, measles), Dhanustankar (that is, tetanus), cholera, pneumonia, Kala-Azaar (that is, black-fever), diarrhea, dengue, chronic dysentery, Jaundice, et cetera”.

Saahid Mamun, an eminent social observer, who lives in Bangladesh’s district headquarter Naogaon’s Pouro Bazar area acknowledged, “Treatment in India is easier and cheaper compared to other places in the world”. While BSFI officials stated, “It is fact that through the International Border Immigration Check Post (IBICP) at Hili in South Dinajpur district of the IWBS, most of the Bangladeshis visit India for ‘medical treatment’. Because, the healthcare facilities in their nation are of substandard quality and costly”.

Supporting the facts, local journalist-cum-observer, Majidur Sardar, who lives in Bolla village in South Dianjpur district of IWBS maintains, “If you come to our (Indo-Bangla) IBTs like Balurghat, Raiganj and adjoining areas, which are under South Dinajpur District administration, you will find lots of Bangladeshis (who have every-now-and-then caught red-handed or sometimes have escaped from the clutch of the BSFI), come to our areas for better medical treatment purposes. I estimate around 20% to 25% of Bangladeshis enter India, especially through this district, for medical reasons each year”.

Bangladeshi Health 06
A view of IWBS’s South Dianjpur district hospital, Balurghat (that near the IndiaBangladesh International Border), where most of the poor Bangladeshis come for better treatment.

Apart from this, “Some places in Bangladesh have no maternity homes or such other institutions like that and so the childbearing mother often dies a premature death. Specially, the inhabitants of Bangaldeshi villages have no alternative but to take help of either medical compounder or untrained country physicians known as – Kabiraj or locally called Ojha (that is, exorcist) and also the quack, who (on failure to cure serious diseases,) treat these unfortunate women and their children with country made medicines or empiric cure”, affirmed Sabana Khatun, Muhammad Shaukat Mondol, Muhammad Anisur Rahaman, who are living in the villages like Chenchra, Hili (presently known as : Bagiar) and Haripukur (presently known as : Daudpur) in the Dianjpur district of Bangladesh (which are on the zero-line as well as on the opposite side villages – Ujjwal-Part-I, Ujjwal-Part-II and Haripukur of IWBS’s South Dinajpur District) and come to India for their better treatment or medical purposes.

“Indeed, in Bangladesh, the population is growing at a high rate. The reason is the Government of Bangladesh has no concrete effectual family planning scheme and the iron-grip of the Mullahs (Muslim priests) over the poor people, who preach that family planning is against the dictates of the Muslim religious scriptures.

Specially, the inhabitants of the village areas, especially, have no idea about ‘Family Planning’. The girls of the villages get married early due to the threat of Bangladeshi ‘Mullah Culture’. It happens when they are 12 or 13-years-old, which also compels them to attain early motherhood and premature death”, stated Muhammad Fazlul Rahman Sarkar, a resident of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh and a member of the Bangladesh Astronomical Society (BAS).

This leads to superstitions throughout the country in the name of the control of diseases. During rainy season or any other critical conditions, the patients, who live on especially India-Bangladesh International Border areas bound to go to the international borders and request to the soldiers of the BSFI for help.

“There are no chemist-shops, dispensaries or pharmacies, which compels Bangladeshis to believe Village Kabiraj (that is, quack) occultists. The absence of doctors, compounders, hospitals, pharmacies, Primary Health Centres or Public Health Centres, or any type of treatment in the village areas situated in the riverine Char (that is, Island) areas cause untold harassment. As a result, the patients suffer and die a premature death, when any epidemic breaks out there. This happens during floods, typhoons, other natural disasters and unnatural calamities”, revealed 20-years-old, Apel Mollah (20) who lives in the International Riverine Border Village (IRBV) Khewarchar in Kurigram District of Bangladesh. Muhammad Mahidul Islam (19) and Muhammad Jainal Abedin (18), both of IRBVs Daikhowarchar in the same district of Bangladesh agreed.

The Indian Central Government decided to set up an All India Institute Of Medical Science (AIIMS)-like hospital at Raiganj, in North Dinajpur District (earlier known as – East Dinajpur district) of IWBS. This has not only made poor people in the International Border Towns and Villages proud but also the poor people in neighbouring Bangladesh are delighted.

This news has come as a relief to many Bangladeshi nationals, who often cross the international border for specialised treatment in India, as much as the Indian populace. The Government of India may look into the matter sincerely and take action before this ‘Medical Tourism’ situation gets out of hand.

References :

Shib Shankar Chatterjee is a former BBC, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Statesman & The Telegraph Contributor-cum-Correspondent from Northeast India, who specializes in investigations of important issues affecting the people of South Asia, specially, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Myanmar.