After Baby Dies in Detention Centre, Rohingya Family Brought to Last Rites in Handcuffs

While the family and other refugees allege that the baby died due to teargas fired by authorities at the detention centre, the Jammu and Kashmir government has denied this.

Srinagar: Forty-year-old Numina Begum and her husband Muhammad Saleem, Rohingya Muslim refugees lodged in the lone detention centre in Jammu and Kashmir, were brought in handcuffs on July 19 to attend the last rites of their infant child. While the Rohingya living in Jammu claim that the 40-day-old baby died after inhaling teargas fired by the police during clashes between detained refugees and the detention centre staff on July 18, the J&K authorities denied the allegation, saying the baby had not been keeping well since her birth.

However, the authorities have not denied the use of teargas in the centre where the baby and her parents were.

This is the second death of a Rohingya person in the Hira Nagar detention centre in Kathua district, Jammu.

Brought in handcuffs

In several videos which have gone viral on social media, Numina Begum and her 17-year-old son can be seen being brought in handcuffs to attend the baby’s funeral in Jammu city.

In one of the videos, a policewoman is seen escorting Numina Begum in handcuffs, while a few women from the Rohingya community are consoling her. “We were shocked to see them in handcuffs. Saleem and his elder son were handcuffed even at the time of offering funeral prayers for the baby,” said an elder community member from Rohingya refugees, who asked not to be named.

“They were kept handcuffed here for nearly one hour and then take back to the detention centre.”

He said that even hardcore criminals are not treated like this. “Aren’t we (Rohingya) humans? We had never imagined that we would be subjected to such an inhuman treatment in India. We couldn’t even protest against their maltreatment,” he said.

He said the infant’s body was brought to the house of Saleem’s brother on Wednesday night.

“After performing ablution and funeral prayers, the baby was buried at a graveyard here,” he said.

A former official of the J&K Prison Department told The Wire that Rohingya refugees kept in the holding centre cannot be treated like prisoners. “Their movement is restricted in a particular area till they are repatriated to their native country, but they cannot be treated like prisoners. Even prisoners are handcuffed only when there is apprehension of their escape or if they are dangerous,” said M.S. Lone, former DIG Prisons.

Even Jammu and Kashmir’s Juvenile Justice Rules, 2021 prohibit handcuffing of a child alleged to be in conflict with the law. This raises question on the handcuffing of the Rohingya couple’s elder son, who is said to be 17 and is thus a minor as per Indian law.

The baby’s death

The Rohingya living in Jammu claim that the baby died due to teargas canisters fired by the police after clashes between refugees and prison staff on July 18.

The police fired teargas shells to quell protests by Rohingya refugees who were seeking their release from the detention centre or their immediate repatriation to Myanmar, despite the persecution there.

“There is no truth in the claims that the baby died due to inhalation of teargas canisters,” said superintendent district jail Kathua and in-charge holding centre, Koushal Kumar. However, officials have not denied that teargas was used against the refugees.

Saleem arrested in 2012

According to the couple’s relatives, Saleem along with his brother Fareed Alam came to India after fleeing Myanmar in 2012, when it saw large-scale violence against the Rohingya. “The forces in Myanmar were killing and torturing us. We ran away from our homes to save our lives,” said Fatima Begum, Saleem’s sister-in-law.

Saleem, she said, started doing menial jobs in Jammu to eke out a livelihood for his family.

“We felt safe here and were content. But there was no end to our miseries as Saleem was arrested by the police in the same year. He did not have a refugee card at that time,” she said.

“We immediately went to Delhi and got refugee cards,”she continued.

A refugee card is issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

In 2021, Fatima said the police detained Saleem’s wife and elder son along with more than 150 refugees living in Jammu after summoning them for verification.

All the Rohingya refugees detained were sent to Hira Nagar jail, which was notified as a holding centre on March 5, 2021.

The J&K government had then said in a notification that “all illegal immigrants detected by law enforcement agencies will be lodged in the said holding centre and it shall be ensured that these persons are physically available at all times for their expeditious deportation as soon as travel documents are issued after due process of their nationality verification”.

According to Saleem’s relatives, the couple reunited in the Hira Nagar detention centre in 2021.

“Saleem was lodged in the district jail Jammu. He was shifted to Hira Nagar detention centre nearly two months after Numina was detained,” Fatima said.

The couple had two more children at the detention centre, including the baby who died on July 19.

In Jammu, several rightwing groups including the Bharatiya Janta Party have been campaigning for the ouster of Rohingya refugees, claiming that they are a threat to demography of the region.