Other States

308 ‘foreigners’ released from Assam detention centres

A majority of those who fulfil conditions of release set by Supreme Court set free, officials say

A court directive to decongest Assam’s infamous detention centres for preventing COVID-19 infections has led to the release of 308 “declared foreigners” so far.

Prison officials said most of those who fulfil the conditions of release set by the Supreme Court on April 13 have been released. The remaining few would be released when formalities such as securing sureties are completed.

“Till Tuesday, 3,396 prisoners were released from jails across Assam according to the Supreme Court’s March 23 directive to decongest jails. We have also released 308 of the 802 declared foreigners from the detention centres,” Assam’s Inspector-General of Prisons Dasarath Das told The Hindu on Wednesday.

A declared foreigner, or DF, is a person marked by any of 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) in Assam for allegedly failing to prove their citizenship after the State Police’s Border wing detects him or her an illegal immigrant.

There are six detention centres operating from as many Central jails in Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Jorhat, Silchar and Tezpur. A standalone detention centre for accommodating 3,000 DFs is being built at Goalpara district’s Agia.

Mr. Das said the release of DFs has been a continuous process that gathered momentum after the Supreme Court had, on May 10, 2019, ordered the conditional release of those who completed three years in detention. The conditions include two sureties of ₹1 lakh each, recording the biometrics of the iris and fingerprints, and periodic reporting by the released DF at the nearest police station.

More than 300 inmates who had completed three years in the detention centres were released between May 2019 and April 13 this year when the Supreme Court reduced the detention period to two years and the surety amount to ₹5,000. The revised order was based on a petition by Justice and Liberty Initiative, a Guwahati-based collective of human rights lawyers and activists.

“There are very few DFs left to be released according to the SC’s conditions. They will soon go home after the sureties are received and other formalities completed,” Mr. Das said.

Mukesh Agrawal, Special Director-General of Police (Border), said the action-taken report would be submitted to the Gauhati High Court “within a day or two”. Following up on the SC directive, the High Court had on April 16 given the Border Police 10 days to submit its report.

Emotional reunions

One of the first DFs to be released was carpenter Asgar Ali, whose family has been living in Kolkata for generations. Deemed a foreigner in July 2017, he was sent to the Goalpara detention centre after he was called to a police station in Guwahati.

Hunti Ali and his wife from eastern Assam’s Golaghat thought detention was only for the so-called Bangladeshis, not for indigenous Assamese Muslims like them. “Who will compensate the humiliation we went through for being made foreigners in our own country?” he asked.

Bongshidhar Rajbongshi, from western Assam’s Chirang district, too thought he was insulated because of his indigenous tag. His community, the Koch-Rajbongshi, is one of six that has been agitating in Assam for Scheduled Tribe status.

Abdul Khalek of eastern Assam’s Mariani, marked as “foreigner” in 2015, walked out of the Jorhat detention centre on bail on May 13. “I have lost precious years but at least I am back with my daughter,” he said.

Among the released were tea seller Harimohan Barman and widow Purnima Biswas, both from Chirang district, and Zubeda Khatoon of Nagaon district, who left a seven-year-old son at the mercy of her neighbours, when she lay low before the police caught up and lodged her in a detention centre.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 6:17:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/308-foreigners-released-from-assam-detention-centres/article31632918.ece

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