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Thirty dead in Assam detention centres


All but four of the 30 ‘declared foreigners’ who have died in Assam’s detention centres till date, were Bengali speakers. Of the others, two each belonged to the Adivasi and Koch-Rajbongshi communities, according to State government records.

The official list shows 16 of the declared foreigners (DFs) who died in detention were Hindus and 14 Muslims.

Six detention centres in as many central jails were established in 2009, four years after the contentious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983 was scrapped for suspected foreigners to be tried under the Foreigners’ Act of 1946.

Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Jorhat, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Tezpur have one detention centre each.

“There is no surprise in the fact that they are Bengalis. Most inmates are supposed to be from neighbouring Bangladesh [who migrated after the creation of the country in 1971] and some from Nepal, who find some protection under the Indo-Nepal Treaty (1950),” scholar and social scientist Hiren Gohain told The Hindu.

However, the records tabled in the Assam Assembly in November 2019 say only three of the 30 deceased DFs had addresses in Bangladesh.

Bhulu Sadakar of Taikangi village in southern Assam’s Hailakandi district was the first declared foreigner to die in a detention Centre on March 17, 2016. The second, Dulal Miya was recorded as a resident of Marak village in ‘Samarganj’ district of Bangladesh. There is no district by that name in the neighbouring country.

Two other fatalities — Nagen Das and Basudev Biswas — were shown to be from Bangladesh’s Paushal in Mymensingh district and Faridpur in Dhaka district respectively. The address column against the name of Abu Shahid, who died at the Goalpara centre on October 22, 2017, was left blank.

All the 30 were either illiterate or barely literate and economically weak; most too poor to prove their citizenship at the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) that declared them non-citizens after the Assam police’s Border wing made cases against them.

Three women

Rabeda Begum, a 60-year-old woman from Krishnanagar in central Assam’s Hojai district, was most recent person to last to die on April 5 this year. Two other women — Kabutor Basfore of Borbongia in Sonitpur district and Prabha Roy of Kalash Bhanga in Barpeta district — are among the dead.

Ms. Basfore was an Adivasi, as was Puna Munda, a 65-year-old man of Simlitola Tea Garden in Goalpara who died in June 2019.

Naresh Koch, the first DF to die in 2020, was a Koch-Rajbongshi. He was from Mornoi area of Goalpara district. Another Koch-Rajbongshi, Nikhil Barman of Tengabari in Goalpara district died in November 2019.

“Putting a set of people in detention camps is understandable. But declaring those believed to belong to indigenous communities or settled from other parts of India not affected by Partition in 1947 shows the system of declaring foreigners is flawed,” said Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, a senior lawyer.

Mr. Munda, for instance, was a tea plantation worker whose family traced their roots to Sekai village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district.

The “system” was tested when the family of Dulal Paul, a 65-year-old mentally-challenged person who died at the Tezpur detention centre on October 13, 2019, refused to accept his body and asked the State government to send his body to Bangladesh “as you might punish us later for cremating a non-India”.

It was only after Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal intervened that the family accepted his body after a nine-day impasse.

Biased administration?

Organisations such as the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) and All Assam Bengali Youth Federation said the religious and linguistic bias of officials reflected in the profile of those detained as foreigners, some of whom had died in captivity.

“When a 100-year-old is dragged into a detention camp, there is an emphasis that all Bengalis are seen to be Bangladeshis,” said Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, former vice-chancellor of Assam University in the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley.

Dr. Bhattacharjee was referring to the detention of Chandradhar Das of Borai Basti in Cachar district. He was 102 years old when he was released on bail in June 2018 after spending three months at the Silchar detention centre.

However, many in the Assamese-majority Brahmaputra Valley disagree. The AAMSU said more Bengal-origin Muslims could be at the receiving end if the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) is applied while deciding the fate of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh.

Dr. Gohain said it was safe to infer that most Bengalis in Assam have found their citizen status confirmed in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on August 31, 2019. The bulk of the 19.06 lakh people left out of the NRC are said to be Bengalis with Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma having claimed CAA would at most benefit five lakh of Hindu Bengalis deemed non-citizens.

“As for the rest, there are in place procedures to vindicate one’s claim to citizenship. But under the present government’s management and reported bias of some FT members, these processes might yield bizarre results. This needs looking into,” he said.

Although the quasi-judicial FTs do not mention ‘Bangladesh’ in their orders, it is presumed that the declared foreigners are from that country. There are 100 FTs in Assam and the tenure of those who head them — retired judges and administrative officers besides advocates with at least seven years of legal practice — allegedly depends on their rate of declaring foreigners.

Courtesy – The Hindu

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