Indian torture cells in Assam

  • India has puts its own citizens in detention camps


India’s nationalist government has trampled human rights by taking away the special status that the territory of Kashmir has held for many years. Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that the President had signed an order cancelling Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 permitted Kashmir to have self-rule in all issues except foreign affairs, defence and communications. The new law also removes rules that barred Indians from moving to the area, buying land and holding local government jobs under Article 35A.

Human rights organisations have been shocked by the Indian action which was preceded by a reign of terror on the hapless Kashmiris, including the use of cluster bombs to kill and maim innocent Kashmiris. The deployment of additional 38,000 Indian troops to the Valley, already swarming with 700,000 Indian soldiers, was spelling impending doom.

It is ironic that Indian has been criticising arch-rival China for allegedly incarcerating the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang autonomous Uighur Region and placing them in torture cells. The United Nations Committee on Human Rights sent a special team to investigate, which found no trace of the alleged torture cells or illegal detention centres in Xinjiang. Contrarily, there are confirmed reports of Indian torture cells in Assam.

There are several indigenous separatist movements going on in the state of Assam. The deplorable condition of Assamese detention camps and the stories attached to them expose the real fascist face of democratic India which is radicalising against Muslim populace and ethnic Bengali refugees

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the database of Indian citizens living in Assam. The Indian Supreme Court has given 31 August 2019 as the deadline for the publishing of the final NRC. People whose names will not appear in the upcoming NRC would be declared as foreigners, and they will be kept in detention camps which are not less than torture cells. Presently, Assam has six detention camps but as the Supreme Court Order limit draws nearer, the Assam government has declared the setting up of 10 more detention camps, creating an uneasiness amongst the already oppressed Muslim residents of Assam. Over 900 people are so far detained at these detention camps and approximately 30,000 people have been deported since 1985.

“Sabrang”, in its report Assam’s Detention Camps: Purgatory or Hell? discloses the dismal and gloomy state of Assam’s Detention Camps, which are dark, dank and dreary centres, where those who are Declared Foreigner (DF) by Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) are condemned to spend their time till they are able to either secure bail or have the FT judgment overturned by a higher court. However, given how most inmates end up there only because of minor discrepancies in their paperwork and no actual ‘crime’ or ‘sin’, Detention Camps are worse than Purgatory, or even Hell.

There are several horror stories related to Detention Camps in Assam. 61-year-old Jobbar Ali died under unexplained circumstances at the Tezpur Detention Camp in October 2018. Earlier, in May 2018, Subrata De died under mysterious circumstances in Goalpara. And then there are instances where just spelling your name differently on two documents can land you in a Detention Camp! Take the case of Saken Ali, who was forced to spend five years in a Detention Camp just because some of his documents showed his name spelled with an extra ‘H’ as Sakhen Ali. The sick are handcuffed to their hospital beds, as in the case of a badly emaciated Ratan Chandra Biswas.

Even pregnant and elderly women are not spared. Rashminara Begum was thrown behind bars despite being three months pregnant. The Supreme Court ordered the release of 50-year-old Sofiya Khatun on a Personal Release Bond in September 2018. Her experience was so traumatic that even 15 days after coming back home, she could not utter a single word.

Today, Detention Camps in Assam operate out of makeshift facilities in six local prisons across Assam; Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Silchar and Jorhat. The detainees are lodged here till they are deported to their country of origin or are able to secure their release.

When Debabrata Saikia, Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly, visited the Kokrajhar Detention Camp in June last year, he spoke to some of the women inmates. “They told me how they had two toilets, two bathrooms and four taps for over a hundred women. They also said they were forced to share space with hardened criminals,” says Saikia. “They meet their family from behind bars of a gate. Their families are allowed to offer them dry food like fruit and snacks. Sometimes they also give them money, but never more than Rs 500,” he adds.

Some inmates also allege that the prison guards often encourage the hardened criminals to bully the detainees to keep them under control and in perpetual fear. “There were four murderers in my cell block, and they would roam free terrorising everyone. The guards would just look the other way,” says Rashminara Begum who was dragged away to the Kokrajhar detention camp in November 2016 and released on bail only after her daughter was born.

But what is also deeply disturbing is how inmates are treated even when they step out for medical treatment. Ratan Chandra Biswas, a Bengali Hindu from Gerukabari Village under Manikpur Police Station of Bongaigaon District, has been languishing in a Detention Camp for over two years. At the time of detention, he had no health complaints. His condition however started deteriorating soon after detention. Finally, after prolonged illnesses he was admitted to the Goalpara Civil Hospital. He was handcuffed throughout his treatment. A shivering and traumatised Ratan Chandra Biswas said, on video, to CJP’s sister concern Sabrang India, “I have studied up to class six. My grandfather’s name is in the 1966 Voters list. There is a small piece of land in my father’s name. Though I am an Indian Citizen, I have been forced inside a detention camp for the last 2 years and five months.”

According to the submission made before the Assam Assembly on 26 March 2018, Detention Camps have been set up under the provisions of section 3(2-e) of the Foreigners Act 1946 and paragraph 11(2) of the Foreigners Order 1948. As these Detention Camps operate out of makeshift facilities in jails, their affairs are conducted as per the Assam Jail Manual. However, detainees have fewer rights than even convicted criminals serving sentence.

Several human rights organisations, activists and media reports have highlighted the inhuman conditions under which people are held at such facilities. Human rights activist Harsh Mander, who was Minorities Monitor with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the infringement of rights of inmates under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. The petition demands a redress of fundamental rights and asks for humane treatment of inmates.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. There are several indigenous separatist movements going on in the state of Assam. The deplorable condition of Assamese detention camps and the stories attached to them expose the real fascist face of democratic India which is radicalising against Muslim populace and ethnic Bengali refugees.