"There isn't much to do inside a detention centre. Most of the times we were crying. We prayed to Allah. But even Allah doesn’t listen to our prayers," said 55-year-old Hasina Bhanu after being released from a detention camp in Assam's Tezpur.
Hailing from Durrang district, Bhanu was declared a 'foreigner' in March 2020 after a referral from the Assam Border Police in 2017, on the suspicion of her being a Bangladeshi national.
However, the same tribunal had declared her an Indian in 2016.
Bhanu walked out of detention on 16 December, after an intervention by the Gauhati High Court.
Rotten Food, Inadequate Medical Facilities
"They gave us tea in the morning and served rice around 10 am, but the quality wasn’t very good. It was difficult to eat that. Even the vegetables weren’t good. We would throw away such rotten vegetables at home but at the detention camp we had to eat stuff like that," Bhanu said.
"Everyone’s plight is the same. Like me, everyone else was sad. We were crying most of the time. They used to take us for medical check-ups. The doctor used to give us medicines, but they hardly worked," she added.
Bhanu was declared a foreigner by the tribunal despite her possessing an Aadhaar card, a PAN card and papers of the ownership of her land.
"The government that is detaining people is answerable. When I entered home after being released, it felt like I had walked out of fire. I was finally at peace. As if I had taken a dip in cold water to get rid of the burning," she said.
'Fought Legal, Financial and Emotional Battles'
The case scarred Bhanu emotionally and drained her family financially as they had to sell off their farm to gather funds to fight the case.
"My whole family was never involved in any legal case. My whole family is Indian, and I was called a Bangladeshi. How can one live in this world?" she asked.
Bhanu said that although free, she is now a "beggar".
"We fought the case and won. Yet, I had to spend 2 months at the detention centre. We had to spend so much money on the case. The people who are inside and suffering, nobody listens to them. The government doesn’t care. They keep praying to Allah but even the gods don’t answer their prayers. I have been released, but I am a beggar now. I have no money left," she said.
Bhanu's husband said that the authorities at the detention camp demoralised them.
"The authorities at the detention centre asked me to approach the high court. They would say things like "she may stay inside for at least six months to a year. They were trying to scare us. I told them that we had the Foreigners Tribunal verdict in our favour first, then why should she stay at a detention centre for so long? They would just say that it’s the government's decision," he said.
Bhanu lashed out at the government and the tribunal.
"The government authorities, don’t they have their own families? They kept us imprisoned like animals. Why should we vote for this government?" she asked.