Diaries From the Detention Camps of Assam

What really happens inside a detention camp in Assam? The Quint meets detainees and their families.

Updated26 Feb 2020, 07:02 AM IST
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4 min read

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and detention camps – at this time, India is debating the utility as well as the futility of these three things.

The CAB, NRC and detention camps are all intertwined, as one can lead to the other but ultimately they all end in a detention camp. Both the NRC and the CAB aim to identify who is an Indian and who will ultimately be declared an illegal foreigner.

People who are declared as foreigners by the Foreigners Tribunal of Assam or arrested by the border police in Assam on suspicion of being a foreigner end up in one of the six detention camps in Assam. These detention camps are not stand-alone facilities but are run out of the district jails in Dhibrugarh, Silchar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Kokrajhar and Goalpara.

All the people The Quint met with in the course of the documentary ‘Diaries from a Detention Camp’ have some connection with the Goalpara detention camp.

Subrata Dey died in Goalpara Detention Camp in 2018.
Subrata Dey died in Goalpara Detention Camp in 2018.
(Photo: The Quint / Tridip K Mandal)

A Father Dies in a Detention Camp

“My daughter Shweta forgets sometimes that her father is dead. She thinks her father is still alive. When they brought his dead body home she refused to see it. She said that we just met him on Monday. He’s still in there. He was lovingly talking to me. He said he’ll come back. This is not my father.”
Kamini Dey, Subrata Dey’s wife

9-year-old Shweta’s father, Subrata Dey, died inside Goalpara Detention Camp on 26 June 2018. The postmortem said it was a heart attack. Just two months before that, Subrata had been arrested by the border police in Goalpara because he had missed eight summons from the Foreigners Tribunal.

Doubts still remain if Subrata was actually a foreigner. In 2005 a voter ID card was issued where his name was written as Subodh Dey. He was eventually marked as a ‘D’ or doubtful voter.

Shweta Dey sometime forgets that her father is dead.
Shweta Dey sometime forgets that her father is dead.
(Photo: The Quint / Tridip K Mandal)
“For seven years we were misled by our lawyer that my husband can vote with his wrong name. Suddenly one day we got to know that he was arrested by the border police for being a D Voter.”
Kamini Dey, Subrata Dey’s wife

Till November 2019, 28 people have died in the detention camps of Assam, according to an answer given in the ongoing Parliament session.

“I Lost 4 Years of my Life and My Hearing in a Detention Camp"

Ravi Dey underwent a gall bladder surgery while he was serving time in Goalpara detention camp. But post-surgery he lost his hearing in one ear. He was released in August, 2019 following a Supreme Court order, which said declared foreigners who have spent over three years in a detention camp are to be released.

Ravi gave us an insight into life inside a detention camp.

Ravi Dey was released from Goalpara detention camp after serving 4 years.
Ravi Dey was released from Goalpara detention camp after serving 4 years.
(Photo: The Quint / Tridip K Mandal)
“We were kept in a different block, separate from the regular prisoners. At 5:15 am our cells were opened and the count of inmates was taken. Breakfast was just tea and ‘roti’. At 10 am lunch was served. The day was spent sitting or idling around. Dinner was served at 5 pm and then we were locked up again. 80 of us had pooled in money to buy a TV. So in the evening we watched a lot of TV shows.”
Ravi Dey, released from Goalpara Detention Camp

The Long Wait for Freedom

The Supreme Court order has mandated that a detainee can be released after giving two sureties of one lakh each. His biometrics would be taken and every week he would have to report to the local police station.

But even these are tough conditions for people like Aatab Ali and his brother Habibur Rehman. In spite of being eligible for release, they are still languishing in a detention camp.

“We had sureties from two land owners but the jail authorities are refusing to accept them. They want sureties from a government employee. But we know no one.”
Azufa Begum, daughter-in-law of Aatab Ali
The new detention camp in Matia can accommodate 3,000 detainees.
The new detention camp in Matia can accommodate 3,000 detainees.
(Photo: The Quint / Tridip K Mandal)

Almost 1,000 people are currently interned in the detention camps of Assam. The numbers are likely to go up because the NRC has left out almost 19 lakh people. And if they can’t prove their Indian citizenship they too may end up in these detention camps.

To tackle this expected surge in numbers of detainees, one of India’s biggest detention camps is being built in Matia in Assam, which is supposed to be able to accommodate 3,000 people.

Here's how the documentary was shot in Assam.

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Published: 10 Dec 2019, 01:55 AM IST

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