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Regular-article-logo Tuesday, 27 February 2024

Another Goalpara camp inmate dies

Police handed over Koch’s body to his family in Goalpara, urging them to ensure an early cremation

Sofikul Ahmed Goalpara Published 04.01.20, 11:06 PM
Goalpara district jail, which houses a detention centre

Goalpara district jail, which houses a detention centre Sourced by The Telegraph

Nareswar Koch, 50, a declared “foreigner” and a resident of Tinikonia under Mornai police station died on Friday at the Gauhati Medical College Hospital (GMCH), the third death from the detention centre in Goalpara since 2018.

Koch¸ a daily wage earner, was undergoing treatment at the GMCH for the last 10 days after he suffered a stroke. He was suffering from other ailments too.

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On Friday evening, police handed over Koch’s body to his family in Goalpara and urged them to ensure an early cremation.

His death at the Goalpara detention centre comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi has denied the existence of any detention centre in India, unmindful of construction of several such centres in Assam and the directives from the Centre to many states to open such facilities. At a meeting on December 22, Modi had claimed that there was no detention centre in the country, sparking a political storm and the ruling BJP had to face severe criticism from all corners.

Koch is survived by his wife and a son who is also a daily wage earner. Goalpara is 142km from Guwahati and the distance between Koch’s home and the detention centre is 13km. He was at the detention centre since 2018.

“We are very poor and do not have enough money to buy firewood and perform the rituals. We wanted to wait for our relatives to come from different areas, but the police insisted on performing the last rites hurriedly,” said Koch’s wife Jimi.

With the help of secretary of the local cremation committee Purna Ch. Banai and several others, the last rites were performed.

Jimi said her husband came to India in 1964 as a refugee from then East Pakistan and was settled in east Goalpara along with thousands of Koch and Banai people who had migrated along with him.

“We did not know about the ‘doubtful’ (D)-voter case against us and had no money to fight the case. One day the police picked him up from the road and lodged him at the detention centre,” added Jimi, her eyes welling up with tears.

This is the third death at the Goalpara detention centre in the last two years. The other two deceased were Subrata Dey of Krishnai Ashudubi and Nikhil Barman of Dudhnoi Tengaguri.

Dey, 38, died of post-cardiac arrest complications at Goalpara civil hospital on May 23, 2018. Barman, a middle-aged man, died at the GMCH on November 16, 2019.

With Koch’s death, the number of detention camp inmates who died since 2016 has risen to 29. In November, Union minister of state for home affairs Nityanand Rai said the six detention centres housed 1,043 foreigners — 1,025 Bangladeshis and 18 Myanmarese.

Poor living conditions inside the six detention centres of Assam inside the jails of Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Silchar came under severe criticism. Several detainees had lamented that their children, especially girls, had no access to school, although a tutor was sometimes available in the jail.

About 149 inmates of Goalpara detention centre went on a hunger strike last year from March 18 to 21 for poor living conditions and low-quality food.

They ended the agitation after then deputy commissioner Ghanshyam Dass promised to inform the higher authorities. All these detention centres are housed within district jails but the “foreigners” are kept separately from other inmates. The first detention centre was set up in 2009 following a Gauhati High Court order in a case dealing with illegal foreigners.

The state government, had around the end of last year, formed a three-member special review committee (SRC) to review the actual conditions inside the camps.

Asia’s biggest detention centre is under construction at Matia in Goalpara district, about 126km from Guwahati. It is spread over 25 bigha of land and the estimated cost of the project is Rs 46 crore. Ironically, some of the workers are the detainees themselves, who will spend their lives in the new detention centre.

The multi-storey building will lodge about 3,000 declared foreigners. The campus will have schools, hospitals and playground.

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