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Humans before citizens

Humans before citizens

Ramifications of boundaries drawn on political whims are clearly outlined in the plight of illegal migrants in the detention centres of Assam. While NRC has been the top-of-the-shelf debate pertaining to illegal immigrants or foreigners in Assam, sketchy per se, it has eclipsed the misery evident in detention centres. On Thursday, the Supreme Court, while hearing a PIL filed by activist Harsh Mander on the plight of foreign detenues in Assam, found the Chief Secretary's response over deportation and conditional release of undocumented foreigners "unsatisfactory". Criticising the Assam government for detaining only 900 foreigners when lacs roamed the streets, the apex court adjourned the hearing due to improper assistance on the matter. But, the heart of the argument – the plight of foreigner detenues – nevertheless, remains out there as an unfortunate reality. The indefinite detention practised in Assam outrightly contradicts human rights. Right from the outset of proceedings orchestrated by Foreigner's Tribunals, who work in conjunction with the detention centres, down to the procedure outlined for foreign detenues, there is a mismatch of justice. From declaring a person foreigner without their presence to putting the burden of the proof on the accused as per the Foreigners Act of 1946, the stringent norms have for long carried a contentious taste. Further, the documentation required for said foreigners to be released in itself a distant shot. As per Assam government, anyone who completes five years in a detention centre should be released if they furnish a bond of Rs 5 lakh and provide biometric details like an iris scan. Further, Chief Secretary's affidavit submitted to the SC highlights the norms of conditional release on the basis of length of detention, the conduct of the detenues, the existence of criminal proceedings with two Indian sureties and a bond of one lakh each. The existing, as well as the proposed procedure, both put the onus on the foreigners with no consideration over their state and obviously no compensation for their prolonged detention – some having spent more than a decade in the detention centres. Overlooking the fact that these detenues may not be able to afford legal counsel to appeal their detention in the high court – which is allowed once the person is detained – is another setback for them since this results in indefinite detention. And, indefinite detention outrightly contradicts Article 21 – Right to life and liberty. The condition of these detention centres is miserable than prisons with the petitioner Harsh Mander's report on them as a special monitor for the National Human Rights Commission outlining the abject misery. So, the foreigners are put in pathetic conditions with an indefinite period of detention with a callous procedure for release. Insensitivity is overflowing when one considers human rights. Treating these foreigners as prisoners for taking shelter within our boundaries and that too because of historic crises is indeed a lackadaisical way of dealing with a rather serious matter. But, even if the detention procedures are expedited, it might not yield anything since there is no formal agreement between New Delhi and Dhaka over the deportation of persons that India deems as Bangladeshi foreigners. Together, NRC and foreigner's tribunal stand helpless in this regard but are actively working to segregate foreigners from citizens, for what? There could not be anything worse than prolonged detention. We certainly cannot push them out of the country or make them run for shelter. The situation of Rohingyas is a case in point.

BJP in its manifesto talks of a nation-wide NRC and through its CAB it asserts selective Muslim persecution. Coming from a secular country, this sounds like an absurd argument. NRC has not been able to yield anything in Assam and a nation-wide application of same is just surmounting on the adversity that has no foreseeable solution. On the policy front, it also looks bizarre since when the H1B visa crises occurred last year ensuing apprehension of potential deportation of millions of Indians from the US, India's insecurity was heightened. Now the situation may not exactly be the same but the approach and mindset sure reflect hypocrisy. What if tomorrow other nations start with an exercise like NRC and oust Indians. Then we will cry Human Rights violation on the highest note. And, maybe then we will be reminded of the abject injustice directed towards foreigners in Assam. The situation demands remedy considering human rights, not just citizen privilege. Nations must put humanity before the citizenry, not in a dramatic manner of letting our boundaries open for foreigner but tightening them and appropriately dealing with those within.

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