New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has not sent any “specific instructions” to Assam government to release those in the state’s detention centres after the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) but had “advised” the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government in early 2016 to look into such cases on religious lines, Minister of State for home, Nityanand Rai, told parliament early this week.
The advice, issued to Assam government in January 2016, was based on two notifications the Centre had issued to all states in September 2015, exempting on “humanitarian grounds”, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In the case of Assam, the advice can be read as one in favour of Hindus believed to be from Bangladesh, and lodged in the six detention centres of the state as undocumented foreigners.
Modi, as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 parliamentary elections, had promised at a rally in Silchar to the BJP’s Bengali Hindu voter base, to close down all detention centres. Bengali Hindus in Assam have been a strong vote bank of the BJP since the early 1990s.
The BJP-led government in Assam came to power in May 2016. Though no data is readily available on whether the Sarbananda Sonowal government had followed that advice of the Centre’s, there was a documented case of one Unomati Biswas, a Hindu, who admittedly had crossed over from Bangladesh with her son through Tripura and had reached Silchar in Assam.
The duo was arrested by police in May 2017 and lodged at the Silchar detention centre. However, a local court had taken cognisance of the central notifications and released them in 2018.
However, barely a fortnight later, they were interrogated by the state border police yet again and two fresh cases were filed against them. It led the duo to flee Assam. According to some reports, they fled back to Bangladesh.
On February 5, in a written statement issued in response to a query by Abdul Khaleque, a Lok Sabha member from Assam, Rai, also said that in pursuance of the May 2019 order of the Supreme Court, “the government of Assam has issued a notification on July 29, 2019, providing for conditional release of declared foreigners who have completed more than three years in detention centres”.
The apex court order, however, didn’t specify that its order would be restricted only to those religious groups covered by the two notifications.
The apex court order was based on a petition by rights activist Harsh Mander. According to a press note issued by Assam government on July 30, 2019, the detainees would have to furnish a bond of two sureties amounting to Rs 1 lakh each from Indian citizens, provide a verified address of stay post-release, besides giving the biometrics of their irises and fingerprints. A photo must also be provided, to be stored in a “secured database”.
The released persons were also asked to report to the local police station once a week and notify any change of their home address.
The local superintendent of police in-charge of the border wing would also submit a quarterly report on the regularity of their physical appearance in the police station. The notification added that the released person would be taken back into custody if found to be violating any of the conditions.