25 'declared foreigners' died in Assam detention centre

 Four Bangladeshi nationals being escorted from the detention centre, at least 25 persons have died (PTI Photo)

At least 25 persons have died in detention centres inside jails in Assam, where they were lodged since they were declared foreigner by tribunals.

Assam parliamentary affairs minister, Chandra Mohan Patowary told the state Assembly on Monday that seven of them died in the current year. He said they were admitted in hospitals where they died. 

The minister also informed the Assembly that another 1,1145 persons, who were similarly declared foreigners were lodged in six detention centres.  They were declared foreigners after they failed to prove in the foreigner tribunals that they or their forefathers lived in Assam before March 24, 1971, the cut-off date decided in 1985 to detect illegal migrants from Bangladesh living in Assam.

The information furnished by the minister led some opposition MLAs question on why bodies of such persons were not sent to Bangladesh since they were declared foreigners or illegal migrants from the neighbouring country. "In case of such death, the nationality of the deceased is not taken into consideration. But when the family denies accepting the body, their last rites are performed as per norms meant for unclaimed bodies," Patowary replied.

This comes amid ongoing update of the NRC, which aims to detect illegal migrants from Bangladesh living in Assam. The NRC is being updated with March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date. This means those failing to prove their/forefather's stay in Assam on or before March 24, 1971, would not be included in the updated NRC and be subsequently declared "illegal migrants" for deportation.

The cutoff date was decided in the Assam Accord of 1985, which was signed following the six-year-long Assam Agitation or anti-foreigners movement. The NRC exercise is being carried out as the "indigenous" population fears identity crisis from the "illegal migrants."

Although the minister claimed that the 25 detainees died due to illness, some family members alleged that they died due to lack of basic facilities and harassment inside the jails. There are six such detention centres inside district jails in Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar and Goalpara.

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