ASOTA Testimony: Iqbal Bahar

Iqbal Bahar spent 18 months in a detention centre in Assam.

*All names and personal details have been changed or beeped to protect the survivors’ identity.

Q. Where were you born?

A. I was born in 1986. My name was enlisted in the voter list in 2005. From 2006, I started voting.

Q. Do you remember any memorable incidents regarding your place of birth?

A. My place of birth is [REDACTED]. In that same place my father built a residence. That was the place of my birth; I don’t know why I had to be in Detention Camp.

Q. When did you learn about NRC?

A. I learned about NRC when I was in jail.

Q. How is NRC disastrous for you and your family?

A. NRC was disastrous for us. We have spent more than Rs 20-30 thousand for hearing. They asked about where we live. I replied, [BEEP]. My name is also in the NRC, but people did not inform me about it. I also did not know the details. When I was inside Jail, then I got to know our names were enlisted in the NRC.

Q. How has the NRC affected you and your family?

A. During the process of hearing, we have spent a lot of money for transportation. We had a hearing on the 27th. They were calling us for a hearing after every 10-15 days. This was disastrous for us; we had to spend a lot of money.

Q. When did you learn that you have to go to Detention Camp?

A. 3-4 years passed about that incident.

Q. Can you recall the exact date?

A. I can’t remember the exact time. 1 year and 3 months have passed since I was released.

Q. For how long were you in the detention centre?

A. 18 months.

Q. How were the foods and medical facilities inside the detention camp?

A. There is a medical [centre] inside. We were given tablets and injections if we had any problems. I used to drink a lot of water. People can’t survive eating the food served there. I survived only on water. I drank a lot of water. I ate a little bit of rice, but that didn’t make me feel full in my stomach. This was a matter of trouble.

Q. How were the sanitation facilities?

A. Toilet, bathrooms were made in concrete structures. For 15-20 people in a room, we had one toilet and bathroom within the room.

Q. What was the condition of your family members and your parents when you were in the detention centre?

A. They were very sad. For 3-4 days, they left eating. My father’s uncle left eating thinking about me. Jalil, my uncle, died one month after I was released from jail. He developed cardiac problems thinking about me. I also started developing cardiac problems from excessive stress. Some policemen tried to motivate me. They say, Nur Hussain, do not worry much, if you develop cardiac problems then you will not ‘last’ long. We will speak with you from time to time, don’t worry much, if you need any medicine, inform us, we will help. Don’t worry.

Q. Did your parents meet you when you were in the detention centre?

A. My mother didn’t go to meet. She used to cry so much. Perhaps, she couldn’t bear seeing me in such a condition. My uncle, brothers, and sisters went to meet me.

Q. What are the intervals of their visit?

A. They visited in intervals of 15 days to 1 month. They visited at least twice a month. A lot of money was spent. They were in stress thinking that I had to be in such a place. Our forefathers died in this land, they never saw jail. I never thought that I would have to spend time in a detention camp. Different types of thinking came to my mind while staying in such a dangerous place, though I have not done any mistake in my life.

Q. How did you come out from there [detention centre]?

A. [BEEP] helped me in cases at the High court and Foreigner’s Tribunal. He provided us with financial assistance, helped us in collecting documents.

Q. Can you recall any memorable incident when you were in Detention camp?

A. I think that if I had to stay there for more than 6 months, perhaps I would have died. Somehow, I survived. The flames of fire that are burning in my heart can never be extinguished. I never thought I would be held captive in such a prison. It felt like I was burning in hellfire.

Q. When did you know that your name is not listed in the final NRC list?

A. I learnt about it after I came out from Jail.

Q. Can you recall any memory associated with NRC?

A. I do not remember so much. Some people said that if there is any mistake in your name-address, maybe you have to go to Jail. I never thought so.

Q. When you went for an NRC hearing, how was it difficult for you?

A. That was a very difficult time. We rented a vehicle for Rs. 7000. It was around 6-7 PM when we returned from the hearing. My sisters also went for the hearing. Me, my elder brother, and all our family members went for a hearing.

Q. What were your total expenses approximately during the process of hearing?

A. Rs. 30-35 thousand.

Q. Did you get help from any NGO or an individual?

A. I did not get any such help but people of my village assisted me.

Q. Who helped you in getting out?

A. [BEEP] helped so much. [BEEP] told us that we will bring him out by providing some assistance. He helped in collecting documents which were necessary for my release. We had a sigh of relief when we visited a lawyer. We left [BEEP] lawyer because his fee was Rs. 15000-20000. As I was unable to pay such a huge amount, by offering Rs. 5000, I went to jail as police arrested me. Thereafter, [BEEP] sir took up the case and said that he is poor and from Udalguri district. Why does he have to be in Detention Camp just because of his financial weakness? We will provide financial assistance and help him in collecting documents, which are necessary for his release. He helped collect documents from the election office and helped us at the High Court and Foreigner’s Tribunal.

Q. How has your life changed after you were released from Detention Camp?

A. My life changed to a large extent with increased trouble. I have experienced a huge financial loss. Currently, I am undergoing a loss of Rs. 1-2 lakhs. Dream of building my own house remains unfulfilled. I own 30 lecha land, but I couldn’t build my own house. We were sanctioned a Government house in my mother’s name 15-20 years back, but I have not got any house till now. So, I stay away from home and work as a daily wage labourer. I never thought that I would have to stay in Detention camp. Such is the misery of my life.

Q. How are you living these days?

A. Presently, I am going through a difficult time. The works I was engaged in earlier are not available now. After searching, I found some work and that is how I am earning my livelihood these days. But, this life is easier to me as compared to life in jail. I’m operating at a medium, what else?

Q. How has Coronavirus affected you?

A. During the Coronavirus pandemic, my family members were not allowed to visit me. They were returned from outside. They spent a lot of money on transportation to see me, to give or help me with some things, but were returned back. The authorities told us that we will not be allowed to meet during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Q. Are you vaccinated?

A. Yes, I am vaccinated.

Q. Is it free of cost?

A. Yes, it was free. We were also vaccinated against Malaria so that we may not get infected by mosquito biting. I also have the vaccination card. People from Delhi came for our TT injection.

Q. How was your case framed?

A. I don’t know whose conspiracy it was. I was extremely tense.

Q. How did the police arrive?

A. Police arrived in my room and took a note on my address then returned. Again, after 15 days, the police arrived and asked me to appear in the police station where I submitted my photos and fingerprints. After 1 month, a Foreigner’s notice was served, one copy in my hand and another copy in my home in Udalguri district. It was written in notice that I came from the Bangladesh/Pakistan border and did not have any documents, therefore, police arrested me. I never thought that something like this would happen to me. I had all the documents, but they neglected them.

Q. How were you arrested?

A. Police arrested me at 5:30 pm and took me to [BEEP]. At around 6:30-7:00 pm, I was presented before FT court at [BEEP]. My spouse [BEEP], along with my children, was kept inside the lockup. I was brought back to the police station where I was kept at first when I was arrested. Again, in the morning, at 7:00 am, they brought me to FT court. My sisters were already there as I earlier told them to bring all the documents to save me in any way. My sisters, uncles all were there, but I was not released. Though we have shown all the documents, they didn’t accept any and sent us to remand. When the police arrested me, there were some 4-5 army officers but still the police arrested me. I had no chance to flee and also I am not such a person. My rickshaw was also taken by the police, but they gave it back after showing documents. Thus I am earning my livelihood now.

Q. You were in a rented house when you were arrested. So did you pay back the rent after coming out?

A. I paid Rs. 38000 as rent to the owner earning money from the rickshaw. That room was locked up. Owner thought that we would return soon. So he didn’t rent the house to other people. So after coming out, I cleared my rent. Police arrested me from my rented house, a large amount of rent I had to pay. This was difficult for me.

Q. How do you feel when you think that you are Indian now?

A. I feel good now. Being innocent, I was arrested and kept in prison for 18 months, which is a big loss of my life. I admitted my child to [BEEP]. After 2-3 months, as I was arrested they also had to leave their study, which is a big loss for them. Soon after that, the COVID pandemic began because of which they couldn’t go back to school for a long time. Until now, schools are not reopened, this is a big loss for them. The COVID pandemic began just after I was arrested.

Q. What is your demand from the government?

A. I demand that the government compensate for my loss so that I can come back to a meaningful track of my life.