Concerned over the “indiscriminate detentions” of people in Assam on suspicion of being Bangladeshis, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has written to the Union Home ministry and the state government asking them to intervene.
NCM Member Farida Abdulla Khan visited Assam recently and was “appalled” to find as many as 97 women and 13 children – caught on suspicion of being Bangladeshis or Myanmarese – lodged with regular criminals in the Kokrajhar district jail in “total disregard of the rules”.
Generally, such people are kept in detention centres, but according to local officials, there is no facility in Kokrajhar and so the women and children have been put in a regular jail with hardened criminals.
In all, Khan said that close to 600 people were detained in Assam on suspicion of being Bangladeshis or Myanmar nationals. The overwhelming majority of such detainees are Muslims.
“During my visit, the issue of activity of the Foreigners Tribunals and the process of identifying illegal migrants on the basis of doubtful voters was repeatedly brought to my notice by the civil society groups,” Khan told news agency IANS.
Concerned over the indiscriminate detentions on mere suspicion – which she says is part of a systematic hate campaign – Khan wrote to the state government and has also formally sent a report to the Union Home ministry.
“The migration and movement of populations in and around Assam, Bengal and the Northeast has a long and complicated history and identifying legitimate citizens is not easy nor are the parameters clear cut,” Khan wrote.
“The ways in which the exercise is being carried out seems to be delegitimizing large sections of the population who have been living and working in Assam over generations,” she said.
She said the targets of this “vicious campaign” are mostly the poorest and the most marginalized who have scant means to defend themselves.
Those identified as doubtful voters are especially targeted and once they are identified as “foreigners” they are sent to specially created detention centres.
During her visit, Khan requested to be taken to see a detention centre, and was told that in Kokrajhar since the detention centre was in the process of being constructed, the “detainees” were in the district jail.
“On visiting the jail, which is housing the women and children I was appalled to learn that these detainees are with other prisoners and no special arrangements have been made for them.
“I obtained a list of the prison population which lists 97 women ‘Declared Bangladeshi/Myanmar National’ and 13 children ‘Declared Bangladeshi’ who are incarcerated in the jail amongst other prisoners,” she said.
Khan said that that often these are ex-parte orders where the victims are not given a chance to defend themselves.
“The fact that increasingly the orders are being challenged in courts and also being reversed after protracted legal battles and years in detention points to serious lapses in the process of identification and a need for a high level review,” the NCM Member observed in her report.