POST TIME: 4 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM
‘I won’t die before I prove my citizenship’

‘I won’t die before I prove my citizenship’

Some 1,000 people have been sent to detention centres in India's north-eastern state of Assam after being declared illegal citizens. BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava reports on what life has been like for some of them, reports BBC.

Ajit Das, 33, fears he may never recover from the three months he spent in a detention camp in the city of Silchar.

He was granted bail a few weeks ago to help his wife care for their four-year-old daughter, who is autistic.

During his time in the camp, Mr Das lost his job, his health deteriorated and his wife spent a large portion of their savings to visit him regularly.

"I lost 5kg in three months. The food was awful and often half-cooked," he says.

Mr Das was sent to the detention camp after he was declared an illegal citizen by a special court set up to identify illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Since 1985, these special courts have heard some 85,000 cases of people suspected of being foreigners by India's border police. They have reached decisions on the cases of at least 1,000 people, who are now in six detention centres across Assam.

The government is yet to release information on the status of the remaining cases.

Illegal migration from Bangladesh to India's north-east, including Assam, has always been a serious concern. Estimates of illegal foreigners range from four million to 10 million - and they have a sizeable presence in at least 15 of Assam's 33 districts. Most of them are engaged in agriculture.

Mr Das says his parents arrived from Bangladesh in the 1960s and they died a few years ago. He says he was born in India but the court classified him as a "doubtful Indian citizen", claiming that his documents did not prove it.

Although the citizenship of Mr Das's wife has not been questioned, their two children have been found to be illegal citizens. The couple have hired a lawyer to challenge the government's decision but Mr Das says that is costing them a lot of money.

Although those who have been declared foreigners can appeal the decision, it will be a lengthy process that could take months or even years. Until they get a final decision on their legal status, Mr Das and his family will have to live in limbo.

However it is unclear what will happen to them even if they lose the appeal as India has no official treaty with Bangladesh in relation to cross-border illegal immigration.

Earlier this month, the Indian government published a list of Assam's proven citizens, which left out the names of some four million people. This has complicated the situation further as the government is yet to clarify if the two processes overlap in any way.

Meanwhile, Mr Das is afraid that his bail might be cancelled at any time, forcing him to return to the camp.