Woman dies at detention centre for ‘declared foreigners’ in Assam

She is the 27th such person to die in captivity since 2009

Updated - April 07, 2020 04:20 pm IST

Published - April 07, 2020 04:08 pm IST - Guwahati

File photo of an under-construction detention centre at a village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam.

File photo of an under-construction detention centre at a village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam.

A 60-year-old woman lodged in one of Assam’s six detention centres for ‘declared foreigners’ has died. Going by official records, she was the 27th such person to have died in captivity since 2009 and the second this year.

Officials of Kokrajhar Central Jail, which doubles up as a detention centre for women declared foreigners, said Rabeda Begum died of cancer on April 5. Kokrajhar is about 225 km west of Guwahati.

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

Begum was lodged in the detention centre on February 22, 2018, after a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Central Assam’s Hojai district adjudged her a non-citizen who entered India illegally.

“She was from Krishnanagar in Hojai district and had been undergoing treatment for cancer and other ailments for a long time. She spent some time at the B. Barooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati and the Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed Medical College and Hospital in Barpeta before her death at the Kokrajhar Civil Hospital,” Dasarath Das, Inspector-General of Prisons, told The Hindu on Tuesday.

Also read | Why does Assam need more Foreigners Tribunals?

He said Begum’s 45-year-old daughter was beside her at the hospital during her treatment.

“We expect to get the deceased’s medical history after the post-mortem is done at the Barpeta medical college today (Tuesday),” Mr. Das said, adding that the local administration had arranged transport for the body to be taken to her village for burial.

Also read | A pandemic in an unequal India

Aman Wadud, who has been taking up the cases of declared foreigners and doubtful voters pro bono, said only five people marked foreigners through the legal process have been deported.

“Detention is not a sentence. A declared foreigner is detained to deport to the alleged country of origin. If you cannot deport, why at all detain?” he said.

The Justice and Liberty Initiative, a forum of which Mr. Wadud is a member, on March 25 wrote to the Supreme Court seeking the release of the declared foreigners from Assam’s detention camps on humanitarian grounds in view of the COVID-19 pandemic .

According to a statement by Minister of State for Home, Nityananda Rai in the Rajya Sabha on March 11, there were a total of 802 declared foreigners in detention centres at Dibrugarh, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Jorhat, Silchar and Tezpur.

Also read | Hell, not detention centre: Assam ‘foreigner’ after PM remark

The existing 100 FTs – 200 more have been readied but yet to function – declare such people foreigners after their cases are referred by the Assam police’s border wing, which is tasked with detecting “suspected non-citizens” or “Bangladeshis”. Some are either too poor to pursue their cases in higher courts or have their appeals turned down.

Data provided by the Assam government in the Assembly in November 2019 said 25 declared foreigners died in the detention camps since 2009, when they were established. The government also said 335 such people, having served three years in detention, were set to be released conditionally, in deference to a Supreme Court order on May 10, 2019.

Naresh Koch became the 26th declared foreigner to die in captivity. The first “non-citizen” to die in 2020 – on January 1 – he belonged to the Koch-Rajbongshi community, which has been demanding Scheduled Tribe status, along with five other indigenous communities in Assam.

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