Other States

Last eligible ‘foreigner’ freed from detention centre in Assam’s Silchar

He was picked up by Border police in 2018

Siddeque Ali had paid the price of not being able to read the notice he was served more than 2 years ago.

Also read: 30 ‘foreigners’ dead in Assam’s detention centres

Ali is unlikely to be the last declared foreigner in any of Assam’s six detention centres. But on Thursday, he became the last to be released from the only detention centre in southern Assam’s Barak Valley as the beneficiary of a Supreme Court order.

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

The 69-year-old Mr. Ali, an illiterate daily wager, did not know why the Border police picked him up from his residence at Hatikhali in Hima Hasao district on June 5, 2018, and lodged him in the Silchar detention centre in the adjoining Cachar district.

It was too late when he learnt that an FT in Dima Hasao district headquarters Haflong had on April 20 that year declared him a foreigner in a one-sided verdict. He was accused of not responding to a notice the Border police had pasted on the wall of his house, a notice he could not read.

“It is difficult to believe I am free, alive. I had died every day all these months trying to find out what my crime was,” Mr Ali said after walking out of the Silchar Central Jail with his wife Rabeya Begum, suffering from a cardiac disorder, who had come to take him home.

Also read | Forum seeks release of ‘declared foreigners’ from Assam detention centres

The jail houses the Silchar detention centre. The other five – Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Jorhat and Tezpur – are also in jails.

Mr. Ali, originally from central Assam’s Hojai, had shifted to Katlicherra in southern Assam’s Hailakandi district with his parents in 1965. Work had subsequently taken him to Dima Hasao district.

Dasarath Das, Inspector-General of Prisons, said 339 DFs had been released from the detention centres till June 10. A Supreme Court order on April 13 requiring the conditional release of all DFs who had completed two years in captivity had earned them their freedom. The conditions included the payment of two sureties of ₹5,000 each and keeping their biometric records.

More than 300 DFs were released before April 13 after the apex court, in May 2019, ordered the release of all inmate who had completed three years in detention, with two sureties of ₹1 lakh each.

“Siddeque was the last of 44 DFs who were released from Silchar after the SC reduced the detention period to two years, primarily to decongest the jails because of COVID-19. During the period when the three-year rule was applicable, 68 were released,” Silchar-based social activist Kamal Chakraborty told The Hindu. His organisation had facilitated the travel of Mr. Ali’s wife to the jail and the journey of the couple home to be with their two children.

The Silchar detention centre now has only four DFs – Dipali Das and Manindra Das of Cachar district, Suman Das of Hailakandi district and Munna Malakar of Dima Hasao. They will complete two years in 2021.

“More than 95% of those dumped in detention centres are Indians. But the foreigner-declaring industry has to harass people to justify the expensive set-ups, which will be augmented by a stand-alone detention centre for 3,000 people at Agia (western Assam’s Goalpara district),” Mr Chakraborty said.

The government should turn the Agia centre into a hospital to deal with health crises such as COVID-19 and not use it to kill poor Indians by branding them foreigners, he added.

Thirty DFs have died in captivity since 2009.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 3:51:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/last-eligible-foreigner-freed-from-silchar-centre/article31806208.ece

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