Inside India’s largest detention centre: ‘It is better to die than live with no hope’ (Scroll)

The Matia transit camp in Lower Assam currently holds 69 ‘foreigners’, along with 300 people arrested as part of the state’s crackdown on child marriage.


On the blindingly bright afternoon of February 27, a woman arrived at a small shop amid farmlands and sal and rubber plantations in Lower Assam’s Goalpara district and gave the person manning it Rs 20. In return, he filled up a photocopied form and thrust it in her hand.

Clutching it, Asiya Khatun proceeded to her destination, a few hundred metres away. She showed the piece of paper to the policemen at the entrance of the facility. It was the first of the three walls protecting the facility – it stood at around six feet, and was mounted with barbed wire fencing, CCTVs, and watchtowers.

The guards examined the form. It contained her husband’s name – Abul Kalam – and the address of their home by the Brahmaputra in a picturesque village called Ishwarjari in neighboring Bongaigaon district.

They let her pass, but seized the treat of paan-tamul (areca nut and betel leaf) she had got for her husband. Only dry items like puffed or beaten rice were allowed, the guard said.

Beyond it was a room where Kalam would shortly arrive. Khatun was not allowed inside. They would have to talk through the grills of a window – as they had on two occasions in the past.

After waiting for a couple of minutes outside the window, she saw Kalam approach, accompanied by a policeman. He was dressed in a maroon kurta and a lungi. A gamosa – the traditional Assamese hand-woven red-and-white towel – was wrapped around his neck.

When they saw each other, both broke down.

“Kiba koira hoileu amar a enthika bair koro,” Kalam said, sobbing. “Get me out of here somehow.”

A ‘transit camp’

Since February 9, Kalam, a 54-year-old daily-wage farm labourer, had been lodged in a hall that lay beyond two more gigantic walls: one 14 feet and the other 20 feet high.

This hall which he shared with 45 other people was part of the Matia “transit camp” – India’s largest detention centre for “illegal migrants”.

Spread over a sprawling 25 bighas or 15.475 acres of land, it was sanctioned by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government in 2018 at a cost of Rs 46.51 crore. Designed as a cluster of 17 four-storied buildings – 15 for detainees and the other two for wardens – it is supposed to house 3,000 inmates at full capacity.

The Matia transit camp was, to a large extent, built anticipating the deluge of people who would be rejected from the National Register of Citizens, a list of Indian citizens in Assam that was compiled in 2019 after several rounds of documentary and physical verification…

This story was originally published in Read the full story here

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