50-year-old 'foreigner' dies in Assam detention camp

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A 50-year-old man, who was lodged in a detention camp in Assam after being declared a foreigner by a tribunal in March 2019, died in a hospital here on Friday night.

Police said the deceased, Naresh Koch, was a Hindu and belonged to Koch Rajbongshi community. He was admitted to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital 10 days ago after he fell sick at the detention camp. 

Koch hailed from Mornoi in western Assam's Goalpara district was declared a foreigner by a foreigner tribunal as he failed to prove his Indian citizenship. A person is served a foreigner notice after either a complaint questioning the person's citizenship or based on suspicion by border branch of the state police. Those failing to prove citizenship in the tribunal lodged in the detention camp. 

Organisations representing the Koch Rajbongshi community have many times questioned why citizenship of the community was questioned despite being indigenous in Assam.

"Government has declared many Koch Rajbonghsis as D (doubtful) voters, foreigners and put them in detention camp whereas the BJP government is trying to give citizenship to Hindu Bengali foreigners through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Even more than one lakh Koch Rajbongshi people were left out of the NRC despite being an ethnic community. Our demand to release all Koch Rajbongshis from the detention camp has also been neglected," said Biswajit Ray, general secretary of Koch Rajbongshi National Convention. 

He demanded Rs. 10 lakh as compensation to the family of Naresh Koch. 

Reacting to Koch's death, Congress MP from Assam, Gaurav Gogoi tweeted, "Often the poor and marginalised bear the brunt when they are forced to showcase documents to the satisfaction of the administration. It doesn’t matter which religion you belong to."

The family members are, however, allowed to challenge the tribunal's order in Gauhati High Court and in Supreme Court thereafter. 

Nearly 900 "declared foreigners" are still lodged in the six detention camps inside district jails in Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Silchar in Assam. The state government recently informed the state Assembly that 28 of them, like Koch, died in a detention camp. The government, however, released nearly 100 such people on the condition that whoever completed more than three years following an order of the Supreme Court. 

The death in the detention camp, 29th so far, occurred days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's claimed that there was no detention camp in the country, which in turn triggered a political storm with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accusing Modi of speaking lies.

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