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Handcuffed Like Criminals, Served Unpalatable Food In Detention Centre: Two ‘Declared Foreigners’ in Assam Ask Why They’re Being Mistreated in ‘Own Country’

Ratan Chandra Biswas and Krishna Sarkar are among the nearly one lakh people who have been declared “foreigners” by tribunals in Assam.

In an overcrowded hospital in Goalpara district of western Assam, two patients lie on a bed, tied with handcuff and guarded by armed police personnel. Ratan Chandra Biswas (52) and Krishna Sarkar (64) are neither dreaded criminals nor their names figure in the police’s most wanted list.  They are “declared foreigner” and live in the Goalpara detention centre.

Mr Biswas is one of those ill-fated whose citizenship rights were stripped without anyone bothering to hear his side of the story.  He hails from Gerukabari village under Manikpur police station of Bongaigaon district, around 170 kilometres from Guwahati.

Mr Biswas went to Bijni Bandhab Higher Secondary School and studied up to class VI before he had to drop out due to financial crisis. He engaged himself in income-generating activities at an early age to support his family after his father’s premature death. Mr Biswas, a hard-working man, toiled to his best to rebuild his life and the family once again. He got married and fathered — five children — two sons and three daughters.

For Mr Biswas and his family, November 7, 2008, was a joyous day. Their first daughter’s marriage was being solemnised. The happiness, however, was short lived as their lives soon turned into a nightmare when two policemen came to his home and delivered a notice asking him to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunal to prove his Indian nationality.

Wife and daughter of Ratan Biswas
Wife and daughter of Ratan Biswas. (PC: Ashraful Hussain)

The family realised that the police has registered a reference case — vide I/C Ref. No.52/2002 — but none of them had any clue over the course of five long years. “Similar notices were served to several people in our village during that time. No one has any clue how the cases were registered,” says his wife Kalpana Biswas (42). As per the procedure, the police have to conduct an enquiry before registering the reference case, but Mrs Biswas has categorically said that no such enquiry was conducted and no policemen had visited their home before 2008.

Entrapped by Stooge and Corrupts

The family, devastated by fear and anxiety, was first shown rays of hope by a local panchayat member who assured Mr Biswas that he would settled the case with the police, if he could pay a bribe of rupees five hundred. Mr Biswas trusted the panchayat member and paid him the money and requested him to settle the case.

However, for Mr Biswas, it took only few months to realise that he has been fooled by the panchayat member — another notice was served to appear before the tribunal. This time he decided not to take any further risks. He went to the Bongaigaon Bar Association and engaged a lawyer to fight the case in the tribunal.  But the lawyer too seemed to be cut from the same cloth. He continued to extract money from Mr Biswas, but didn’t fight the case in the tribunal.

Detainees meet their husbands or wife after more than a year later outside the detention centre.
Detainees meet their husbands or wives after more than a year later outside the detention centre. (PC: Ashraful Hussain)

As per his school leaving certificate Mr Biswas was born on July 27, 1969, but the Foreigners’ Tribunal declared him an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, who had allegedly entered Assam after March 25, 1971. Mrs Biswas claims, “My grandfather-in-law had a citizenship certificate and was enrolled in the 1959 voter list. My father-in-law had land documents of 1960. On the wee hours of May 16, 2016, Mr Biswas was picked up from his bed and sent to a detention centre. It has been more than two years. His sons now work as barbers to earn a livelihood.”

“We mortgaged land, sold out cattle and other household items, including jewellery to manage over one lakh rupees to prove his citizenship the course of last seven years. Now we are bankrupt,” a visibly distressed Mrs Biswas lamented.

Sl No Detention Centre Nos. of Detainees
1 Goalpara 253
2 Kokrajhar 160
3 Silchar 91
4 Dibrugarh 48
5 Jorhat 120
6 Tezpur 279
Total 951

As of 26/3/2018 Assam Government informed the State Assembly. 

Inhuman Treatment to Detainees

Over the course of his detention, Mr Biswas developed stomach ailment. Complaining about the quality of the food provided in the detention centres, he says, “Even cattle wouldn’t have such poor quality food which are served to us. I couldn’t have it, starved and thus the stomach problem started.”

In a letter vide no 28020/90/2009 T. III (Vol. IV) dated March 7, 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the state government to separate the detention centres from jail premises, and to ensure facilities like drinking water, beds, sufficient sanitary toilets and a well-trained staff to ensure the dignity of detainees.

Assam-based researcher Abdul Kalam Azad opines that the Assam government has grossly ignored the letter. “When I went inside the detention camp last January, I was shocked to see the conditions, especially the physical condition. The centres are not separated from jail premise, rather they are within the jail and administered under the Jail Manual and the detainees are treated worse than convicted criminals,” says Azad, who was part of an NHRC Mission to study Assam’s Detention Centres headed by Harsh Mander.

“Apart from the poor infrastructure, the detainees reported that even the mentally challenged detainees face physical abuses inside the detention centre.  Assam Jail Manual doesn’t even figure the words ‘mental health’, you can imagine how they are treated,” Azad adds.

When Mr Biswas’s health deteriorated in the last month inside the detention centre, he was admitted to the Goalpara Civil Hospital for one week. When no signs of improvement were visible, he was shifted to the Gauhati Medical College & Hospital, where doctors conducted a surgery. Mrs Biswas has been worried about her husband’s health. Last month, one of the declared foreigners Jabbar Ali died in custody.

Another detainee — Krishna Sarkar — is also languishing in the Goalpara detention centre. Recently, his photograph holding a dry roti (bread) with his cuffed hand went viral on social media.  Guwahati-based human rights lawyer Aman Wadud says, “This is a gross violation of fundamental rights. The act of handcuffing a person in hospital bed is patently illegal. There was not an iota of possibility of escape by the ‘detainee’; under such circumstances the police authorities cannot justify this illegal act.” Mr Wadud alleged that the police officials are provided absolute impunity by the State and demanded immediate action against the erring officials.

Detainee Krishna Sarkar in Hospital bed with a handcuffs photo- Hussain Ahmed Madani 2
Detainee Krishna Sarkar in Hospital bed with handcuffs. (PC: Hussain Ahmed Madani)

Mr Sarkar, who originally hails from Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal, lived in a rented house in the Serabbhati area of Guwahati city. He migrated to Assam in mid 1980s and started working as a daily-wage labourer and later opened a tea stall near the Shani Mandir in the same locality. He alleged that for the last two years, the border police from the nearby Paltan Bazaar police station frequently visited his rented house. He was also summoned to the police station without any reason and bullied for being an alleged illegal immigrant.

“I could hardly manage my livelihood and the frequent visit to police station severely affected by business and made me worried about everything. Gradually the police atrocity increased when they demand rupees 40,000, otherwise they threatened to make me Bangladeshi” Mr Sarkar recalls.

One day police came and forcefully took his fingerprints on a plain paper. He was scared, as was his entire family. Mr Sarkar says, “My wife works as a housemaid and took rupees four thousand advance and paid one of the police officer named Mr Dilip.”

He claims that there are ample documents that could very well support his claim to citizenship, including pre-1971 land documents, educational documents, and 40 year old bank loan documents from West Bengal. But before he could furnish any of those before the tribunal, on October 30, 2018, he was declared a foreigner and ordered to be kept in detention until he is to be deported to Bangladesh.

Sarkar has been suffering from asthma, diabetes and cardiac diseases. While transporting him from Guwahati to Goalpara — a distance of 150 kilometres — his health condition worsened midway. He was taken to a primary health centre as an outdoor patient, but noticing his deteriorating health condition, the doctor suggested the officials to admit him in the Goalpara Civil Hospital.

And while he was admitted to the hospital, he was cuffed to his bed like a dreaded criminal. On the hospital bed he sobbed and cursed, “I have been an alien in my own country and at this age I am being treated as a criminal, what is my fault? I want answer from the government?”

While everyone’s houses in Gerukabari village were decked with lights and lamps on the evening of Diwali, for the 12-year-old daughter of Ratan Biswas, the joys of festivals like Durga Puja and Diwali have become a distant dream, ever since her father has been detained.

After much outrage on social media, handcuffs of both Ratan Biswas and Krishna Sarkar have been taken off.

Mr Biswas and Mr Sarkar are among the nearly one lakh people who have been declared “foreigners” by tribunals in Assam; out of these, nearly one thousand are lodged in six detention centres across the state.

As per data shared by Assam Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary in the state assembly in September, the Foreigners’ Tribunals had declared 91,609 persons as illegal foreigners till March 31, 2018. In a quasi-judicial process, these people were declared foreigner without examining their citizenship credentials.

[Ashraful Hussain is an independent journalist based in Assam. He tweets @ashraful1947]

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