Skip to main content

Assam’s detention camps for foreigners: Where hope "fades", time "stands still"

Counterview Desk
The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), in a detailed note, has likened Assam’s detention camps, created in Assam to lodge “declared” foreigners, with “purgatory”, which, in Catholic theology, is an intermediate state after physical death in which some of those ultimately destined for heaven must first "undergo purification”.
Calling the detention camps as “dark, dank and dreary modern day purgatory like limbo lands, where those who are Declared Foreigner (DF) by Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) are condemned to spend their time till they are able to either secure bail or have the FT judgment overturned by a higher court", CJP, which is led by well-known human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, claiming to draw from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, has decided to step in with a "multi-faceted team of lawyers and volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 18 of the worst affected districts."

CJP note on the detention camps:

There are several horror stories related to Detention Camps in Assam. Sixty one-year old Jobbar Ali died under unexplained circumstances at the Tezpur Detention Camp in October 2018. Earlier, in May 2018, Subrata De died under mysterious circumstances in Goalpara. And then there are instances where just spelling your name differently on two documents can land you in a Detention Camp! Take the case of Saken Ali, who was forced to spend five years in a Detention Camp just because some of his documents showed his name spelled with an extra ‘H’ or as Sakhen Ali. The sick are handcuffed to their hospital beds as we discovered in the case of a shivering and emaciated Ratan Chandra Biswas.
Even pregnant and elderly women are not spared! Rashminara Begum was thrown behind bars despite being three months pregnant. The Supreme Court ordered the release of 50 year old Sofiya Khatun on a Personal Release Bond in September 2018. Her experience was so traumatic that even 15 days after coming back home, she could not utter a single word!
Over four million people have been left out of the NRC draft, most of them from socio-economically backward communities. CJP, drawing from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, will step in with a multi-faceted team of lawyers and volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 18 of the worst affected districts.
Today, Detention Camps operate out of make-shift facilities in six local prisons across Assam; Dhibrugarh, Tezpur, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Jorhat. The detainees are lodged here till they are deported to the country of their origin or are able to secure their release. As per a submission made before the Assam Assembly on March 26, 2018, over 900 people are detained at these detention camps and close to 30,000 people have been deported since 1985.
Condition of inmates in detention camps
When Debabrata Saikia, Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly, visited the Kokrajhar Detention Camp in June 2018, he spoke to some of the women inmates. “They told me how they had two toilets, two bathrooms and four taps for over a hundred women. They also said they were forced to share space with hardened criminals,” says Saikia. “They meet their family from behind bars of a gate. Their families are allowed to offer them dry food like fruit and snacks. Sometimes they also give them money, but never more than Rs 500,” he adds.
This is particularly interesting because while hardened criminals like dacoits and murderers are allowed to work in prison and earn money, detention camp inmates do not have the same rights. Some inmates also allege that the prison guards, often encourage the hardened criminals to bully the detainees to keep them under control and in perpetual fear. “There were four murderers in my cell block and they would roam free terrorising every one. The guards would just look the other way,” says Rashminara Begum who was dragged away to the Kokrajhar detention camp in November 2016 and released on bail only after her daughter was born.
Ratan Chandra Biswas
But what is also deeply disturbing is how inmates are treated even when they step out for medical treatment. Ratan Chandra Biswas, a Bengali Hindu from Gerukabari Village under Manikpur Police Station of Bongaigaon District, has been languishing in a Detention Camp for over two years. At the time of detention, he had no health complaints. His condition however started deteriorating soon after detention. Finally after prolonged illnesses he was admitted to the Goalpara Civil Hospital. He was handcuffed throughout his treatment.
A shivering and traumatised Ratan Chandra Biswas said, on video, to CJP’s sister concern Sabrang India, “I have studied up to class six. My grandfather’s name is in the 1966 Voters list. There is a small piece of land in my father’s name. Though I am an Indian Citizen, I have been forced inside a detention camp for the last 2 years and five months.”
Laws governing functioning of detention camps
According to the submission made before the Assam Assembly on March 26, 2018, Detention Camps have been set up under the provisions of section 3 (2) e of the Foreigners Act 1946 and paragraphs 11 (2) of the Foreigners Order 1948. As these Detention Camps operate out of make shift facilities in jails, their affairs are conducted as per the Assam Jail Manual. However, detainees have fewer rights than even convicted criminals serving sentence. The entire submission may be read here:
Several human rights organisations, activists and media reports have highlighted the inhuman conditions under which people are held at such facilities. Human Rights activist Harsh Mander who was Minorities Monitor with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the infringement of rights of inmates under article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The petition demands a redress of fundamental rights and asks for humane treatment of inmates. The petition may be read here:
Relevant international statutes
There are several international agreements, conventions, statutes and guidelines as to how to treat stateless people, be they refugees, asylum seekers, migrants (legal or otherwise), undocumented residents or people with questionable claims to citizenship. These may be read here: 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
  • Article 7: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment… 
  • Article 10(1): All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. 
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Article 2 
  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 
  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. 
  • Article 11: Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture. 
  • Article 16 (1) Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article I, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. 
Assam's detention camps: March 2018
Some other related international conventions:

  • Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners 
  • European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 
Given how Assam has allocated 20 bhigas of land in Thakurbhita in Goalpara district for the construction of a Detention Camp with the capacity to lodge 3000 inmates, and two more Detention Camps are being planned in Silchar and Tezpur, it is important that the provisions of these international statutes are adhered to in letter and spirit.

Comments

TRENDING

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Now, top Gujarat "litterateur" close to Modi says: Godse was patriot, so was Gandhi

By Rajiv Shah
A little over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Thakur for calling Nathuram Godse a patriot saying he would never forgive her for the remark, a top Sangh Parivar ideologue, known to close to Modi in Gujarat, has supported her, saying her statement should be seen “within a context.” Thakur won from Bhopal by more than 3.5 lakh votes defeating her nearest rival, veteran Congressman and ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Opposition refuses to legally challenge EVMs amidst plans of "back to ballot" protest

Counterview Desk
Even as opposition to the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) allegedly to rig polls is growing, a group of prominent citizens who have come together to form the EVM Virodhi Rashtriya Jan Andolan has controversially called for a national protest against EVMs on May 30, demanding future elections should be held only on ballot paper.

When a Pak scribe said Modi has 'proved' Jinnah’s two nation theory right...

By Zafar Agha*
It was around nine in the morning on May 24, 2019, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed the Lok Sabha with 300-plus MPs. It was a call from a journalist friend, Muzamal Suhrawardy, from Lahore, Pakistan. I ignored the call. We liberals had a depressing day the previous evening as the opposition to Modi and BJP collapsed. The results belied reports from the ground and even assessments made by colleagues.

It's now official: Akshay Kumar has not been conferred honorary Canadian citizenship

By Our Representative
It is now official. Super-star Akshay Kumar has not been conferred any honorary citizenship by Canadian authorities, as claimed by him ahead of the 2019 elections. In reply to a query by Roshan Shah, who is a Canadian citizen living in Waterloo, Ontario, and belongs to Ahmedabad, the country’s authorities dealing with issues related with immigration, refugees and citizenship in Canada have said that only six persons have so far been granted honorary citizenship.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Govt of India overestimated GDP by 2.5%, must restore reputational damage: Ex-CEA

By Rajiv Shah
Top economist Arvind Subramanian has said that changes brought about by the Government of India in data sources and methodology for estimating the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 “has led to a significant overestimation of growth”. While official estimates place annual average GDP growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at about 7 percent, the actual growth may have been 4½ percent, ranging from 3 ½ to 5 ½ percent during the period, he adds.

If EC's credibility is under question, shouldn't one "assume" EVMs might be tampered?

Counterview Desk
Gauhar Raza, scientist, documentary film maker and poet; senior human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi of the Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD); military veteran Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury (retd); and Sucheta De and Sandeep Saurav of the All India Students' Association (AISA), have asked “individuals, organisations and people's movements” to send their endorsement to an appeal they have prepared on Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Common thread of Modi, political Hinduism, nationalism? 'Contest' of ideas isn't over

By Salman Khurshid*
Losing the 2019 election and that too in a somewhat extreme manner has confronted us with unexpected challenges: Our leadership has naturally taken it very hard and to heart but with suggested options that we cannot imagine or contemplate. Hopefully the emotions will settle soon and give us the direction to pick up the pieces and march again.

Will minorities in India be 2nd class citizens? Wake up call: Be a 'communicating' Church

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
India today is at a defining moment of her history. There is so much that has taken place in the past five years (and particularly in the last ten days)- that several citizens of the country are genuinely concerned about the future of the country! Will democracy survive? Will key elements of the Constitution be changed?