On 12 August 2015, at around 1 am, 38-year-old Kismat Ali and six of his family members were asleep in their house, in the Sonajuli village of western Assam’s Udalguri district, when they heard people aggressively banging on their door and calling out, “Kismat! Kismat!” He opened the door to discover that the border police of Assam had surrounded his house. The officers forced Kismat to leave with them for the police station, without answering his questions about why he was being taken away. On their way, the police picked up Ashraf Ali, a 40-year-old resident of the same village. At the Udalguri police station, the police officials wrote a statement and coerced them to sign it. Kismat read the statement: “Main Bangladeshi hun”—I am a Bangladeshi.
“Main Hindustani hun”—I am an Indian, Kismat recalled telling the police. “Mujhe Bangladeshi kyun bana rahe ho”—Why are you making me out to be a Bangladeshi? He said the police threatened Ashraf and Kismat into signing the statement, following which they were taken over 200 kilometres away to the detention centre in Goalpara district—one of six in the state. The detention centres hold those D-voters, or “doubtful voters”—residents of Assam suspected of residing illegally in the state—who have subsequently been declared foreigners by the state’s quasi-judicial Foreigners Tribunals. As of 25 September 2018, a total of 1,037 declared foreigners were being held in detention centres across Assam, according to a recent report by the human rights organisation Amnesty International.
Amnesty released its report, titled, “Between Hate and Fear: Surviving Migration Detention in Assam,” on 23 November this year, in the wake of the approaching deadline for the Supreme Court-mandated project to revise the National Register of Citizens—a list of Assam’s Indian citizens. In the latest draft of the NRC, released on 30 July, around 40 lakh residents of the state were left out. Earlier this month, the apex court extended the deadline for claims and objections against the list for inclusion in the NRC, until 31 December. Those who will be left out are likely to face detention, as seems to be the default in Assam’s NRC project.