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India builds first detention center for ‘stateless citizens’, Arab News

Available at Arab News
07 September 2019

  • The detention center is being built at a cost of more than $6 million
  • This is the first time any state government in India has built an exclusive detention center

ASSAM: The northeastern Indian state of Assam is building a detention center to house thousands of stateless citizens.

On Aug. 31 the state released its final list of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an exercise in establishing the genuine citizens of Assam. Out of 32 million people, about two million were not on the list.

Those who have been left off have four months to apply to foreign tribunals and higher courts.

The detention center is being built at a cost of more than $6 million at Dudhnoi village in the Goalpara district of Assam to house stateless citizens who could not find a place on the NRC.

“This detention center will keep 3,000 people and this is the first of its kind in Assam,” said Rabin Das, the engineer who is overseeing the construction of the center.

The Goalpara building is one of 11 such detention centers being planned in Assam’s districts across the state. Currently, the state has six detention centers that are run out of district jails. More than 1,000 people have been detained and are living in very poor conditions.

This is the first time any state government in India has built an exclusive detention center to hold illegal immigrants.

Sipali Hajjang, a local from the Hajjang tribe of Assam, has a job as a construction worker at the site of the new detention center at Dudhnoi. Her name is not on the NRC list and if her appeal is rejected at the foreign tribunal she may be arrested and put in the same detention center that she is helping to build.

“I am scared to work here because I know this is going to be a detention center,” Hajjang told Arab News.

“I am a poor person, I survive on daily wages. I am clueless how to appeal to the foreign tribunal and list my name on the NRC,” Hajjang said.
Her friend Sarojini Hajjang may also face the same fate.

Members of the Hajjang indigenous tribe came from East Pakistan in 1966 at the invitation of the Indian government. Most of them are poor and illiterate and could not fill in the NRC form. As a result, many of them have been left off the list despite assurances from the state government.

There are many such as Sipali Hajjang in Goalpara district, whose name is missing from the citizenship list and who face an uncertain future.

Imrana Begum, from the Darrang district in Assam, is the only one from her ten-member family whose name is missing from the NRC list. A daughter of a local legislator, Begum is upset that her name is not on the list.

“Is the government more keen to put people in the detention center than give justice to the people whose names have been erroneously removed from the NRC list,” Begum told Arab News.

She said that “the original idea of the government was to put Muslims in the detention centers but now the reality of the NRC is such that the number of Muslims left out is less than what the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has expected.”

Ranjit Das, the leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam, refused to comment on the detention centers.

“My only concern is the NRC right now and how to correct the anomaly in it,” Das said.

Suhas Chakma, of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, a New Delhi-based human rights organization, questions the need to have a detention center in a civilized society.

“The government should wait for the NRC process to be completely over before going ahead with the detention center,” Chakma said.

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