Assam residents fear wrongful detention in citizenship drive

Assam, which borders Bangladesh, is the only Indian state to have a National Register of Citizens to sift out undocumented immigrants.
Mr Bassu Ali, 39, who spent more than three years at a detention centre, with his children. They are also not on the NRC and could end up being detained too. Villagers at a public meeting on the National Register of Citizens in Narsingbari village in
Villagers at a public meeting on the National Register of Citizens in Narsingbari village in Assam state’s Baksa district. The poor and uneducated are being helped by local voluntary and political organisations. One activist told The Straits Times that the majority of those excluded from the NRC are poor and illiterate, and they often have little idea of the documents required.ST PHOTO: DEBARSHI DASGUPTA

Over 1.9m people left out of citizens' register face being detained, branded as foreigners

Behind the grille door guarding entry to the district jail in Goalpara, situated around 150km from the Assam state capital of Guwahati, is a note in fading white paint. It appropriates the voice of prospective inmates: "Dear Lord, I regret the wrong I have committed. Help me rebuild a new life now."

It is a note Md Kismat Ali, 42, did not have time to read when he was whisked - harried and helpless - through that door one August morning in 2015. He had been accused by the police of being a foreigner. By the time India's top court reinstated his citizenship and granted him freedom, he had spent two years, two months and 17 days - Mr Ali remembers the exact length of time clearly - in the lock-up.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2019, with the headline 'Assam residents fear wrongful detention in citizenship drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe