Nehar Qutub spent more than ten years in a detention centre in Assam, and was also later dropped from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
*All names and personal details have been changed or beeped to protect the survivors’ identity.
Q- What is your name?
Q- Where is your birthplace?
Q- Tell us something about your childhood memory.
A- There is a river near my home where we used to play, we used to wash our clothes in the river, we cultivated chilly in our fields and dried them, we harvested paddy in our fields. My father had lands where we cultivated different types of crops.
Q- When did you learn about NRC?
A- I knew about it after coming out from Jail.
Q- How was the NRC harmful to you?
A- In my husband’s home only my husband and elder daughter’s names appeared in NRC, my name and two of my other children were left out. Grandfather’s name was there in the 1951 NRC, but now his name is also left out.
Q- When did you learn that you will have to go to a detention camp?
A- I knew about it when the police went to my home. Gaonburha gave us a notice that there is a D-voter in your home. After getting notice, my husband, carrying all the necessary documents, consulted with a lawyer at [BEEP]. My father also went with us. After checking the documents the lawyer told us you have all the necessary documents so I can try to enlist your name in the voter’s list. The lawyer charged Rs. 5,000; my elder brother-in-law also gave him money, but whenever we go to visit him he never produces us before court, he always sends us back home from outside. Then my father asked that you have taken money from us but have not yet solved her case. The lawyer told us not to worry much and he will give us a final document within one week that will ensure my name in the voter’s list. After one week the police went to my home. My husband told me that the police are coming; I told him that it doesn’t matter. But when the police reached my home, I went to the cowshed to hide. Then the lady police assured me not to worry much and asked me to come outside. Then the lady police told me that you will have to just go to [BEEP], there you will have to sign some documents and then you can return back. I gave rice to my younger son, but I wasn’t able to give him water either. Then they asked me if I have documents of my father, I showed them all the documents. Looking at my documents they told me that you have all the essential documents so no need to worry, come with us to [BEEP]. I went to the Police station after crying a lot; I left my 3 children at home along with a toddler. They didn’t allow my husband to accompany me to the Police station and asked him to stay at home. My husband refused to follow this and told me that I will go wherever you take my wife; if my wife dies then I will also die. By saying this my husband jumped into the boat, I started crying by holding his shoulder and asked him where I left my children. My husband told me that all three children are at home and they are crying. I started crying while holding my husband. Then I dialled my father and told him that the Police had caught me and brought me to the Police station, so I came here with all the necessary documents. They brought all the necessary documents to the [BEEP]. I noticed my father, my uncle and my brother in the mid river from far away. I jumped off from the boat and started crying, holding my father and telling him how the police can catch me when you are alive. Then my father also started crying, seeing this my uncle rebuked my father and told him that why are you crying with your daughter? Let us go to the Police station with our daughter, why should we worry, we have all the necessary documents, we are the citizens of Assam, where they will take our daughter, let us go to the Police station. When we reached the police station the Police ignored us completely, someone was going to take a bath, and some were going to have rice. After some time my husband told them that we left our small children back at home, why don’t you take the signature and allow us to go. They told us to wait more. We were waiting till 5 PM when they took my signature and sent me to Kalgachia. My husband also wished to go with me, but the police told me that it is not necessary to go, it is better that you stay here. But my husband refused to follow and later on the police also allowed him to go with me in the same autorickshaw but he was asked to sit at the backside and I was sitting at the front side. My husband kept his hand on my head and said, “Let me tell you something, the police became angry and beat him very badly that his hand got swollen.” There I was kept inside the room and my husband had to stay outside. I told the police that he is my husband, why don’t you allow him to sit inside with me. Then the police said that it is not an issue if your husband can sit inside with you. After some time another police officer came and seeing this he became angry, then my husband was sent outside again and I was kept inside a room. My husband had to stay outside the whole night and while crying his eyes were swollen. At morning 5 O’ clock I called a lady police as I had to go to washroom, she felt irritated and told that we have lost all our peace because of you, my husband told me that come near me, I replied that I will come after washing hands and faces. When I came near my husband, he held my hand and started crying and told me that the Police may take you somewhere. I told him to stop saying these things, here they will take me, I will go back home for sure. He said that they may not allow you to go home. After some time a vehicle arrived there, my husband asked the driver why he came here, then the driver told me that there is a criminal in this Police station whom I will have to take to Kokrajhar Jail. My husband told him that if you can give your phone as I have to call someone. In the meantime my uncle, my brother went to arrange money for my release. My brother dialled my brother and asked where he was and told that the police are taking away your sister. My brother told that don’t allow to take away my sister, I am coming, I have already reached Kalgachia. Police refused to listen and forcefully took me inside the vehicle. At that time my husband caught my clothes and told me that he had something to tell me, but the Police didn’t allow him to say the last words. I wasn’t able to meet my husband after that. One of the officers told me that since you are a Bangladeshi, bring some clothes for me from Bangladesh. I told him that I am not a Bangladeshi, I have no relatives there, and my parents are also not from Bangladesh. Then they took me to the vehicle. My husband, my brother and father were searching for me but, police kept me hidden. After a long time, when I saw that my husband, my brother and father were all crying, I saw them from inside the vehicle and asked my father, “How will you bring me out if they take me to Kokrajhar?” My father started crying and he fell down while crying as he was ill. My uncle took my father away from that place, after that I have never seen the faces of my husband and my father. My father was admitted to hospital the same night, he became senseless. He is on his deathbed now. He was kept in hospital for a week. He is alive yet but senseless, he never regained sense after that incident with me. Whatever he says we do not understand. He is still alive.
Q- For how long were you in detention camp?
A- 10 years and 6 months.
Q- How were the behaviours of the people inside the detention camp?
A- Their behaviour was very rude; they used to treat us like dogs. We were not given good foods, only rotten foods were served to us. I couldn’t eat food properly. Accommodation facilities and food were very bad. I was 3 months pregnant, at that time I was informed that I will have to take a TT injection, as I refused their order so they forcefully gave me an injection. Soon my baby stopped showing movements. After three days I gave birth to a dead baby. They then wished to take me to the Guwahati Medical College, but I refused to go. They took my signature by saying false words to me, they told me that your baby will not call you mother, what will do with your baby, so it is better that you sign here, I do not understand much so I put my signature as they suggested. Then they dialled my brother and told that his sister is very sick. We will admit her to the hospital, so come here.
Q- How was the washroom facility?
A- We were given rice which had insects, dirt of mice etc., vegetables were cooked with turmeric powder only. I survived by eating poha, puffed rice, biscuits, Horlicks etc that my family provided me.
Q- What foods were given in the morning and evening?
A- In the morning 1 rooti and 1 cup of tea was provided, we were not able to take tea and used to throw it. We have eaten the rooti only. Rice was provided at 11 AM, which we were not able to eat. When we objected to the Jailer, he said that this is the food you will have to eat in Jail. Thus, we were provided only the bad quality foods. Food and accommodation facilities were very bad, we hardly got 1 foot area and 1 small mosquito net, 1 black blanket for sleeping at night. Though we were not criminals, we were treated as criminals.
Q- Were medicines provided to you in case of any illness?
A- We were provided the same medicines for headache and fever, after taking these medicines I was not able to recover from illness. When my family heard about my illness, my brother provided me medicines from outside, taking which I was able to recover from diseases.
Q- How was the environment inside the Detention camp?
A- The environment was miserable. We were ill treated by the staff, one of the lady staff was good and all others were bad, sometimes they went to beat us. I was beaten by the staff when I was pregnant.
Q- How did your family survive when you were not at home?
A- They survived through a lot of trouble; my husband couldn’t work, he became ill after I was sent to Jail. He was always thinking about me, he couldn’t eat properly, used to pass days without bathing and washing clothes, I had one daughter who worked in people’s homes; she plucked chillies as a daily wage labourer from people’s fields and thus supported the family. When I was at home, my family was in good condition, we had cattle and used to harvest crops and sold milk in the market. Now we have nothing, we have our own house, but after coming back from jail I have found that nothing is left.
Q- Whom have you met from your family after coming out free?
A- I have found two sons and no one else, my daughter was married off, I have not got my husband, he died before my release.
Q- When did your husband die?
A- My husband died 3 months after my release.
Q- How did you come out of Jail?
A- My brothers had to sell lands, houses, their shops; they also had to sell cattle for arranging money, now we do not have lands left, now we do not have lands for harvesting our crops and lands we have taken on contract. At first we filed a case in lower court, but we were not successful, so later on we moved to High Court. We were not successful in the High Court, after that I was granted bail from the Supreme Court only.
Q- What is your total expenditure in the process of case?
A- We have spent 2-3 lacs.
Q- What do you remember from inside the Detention Camp?
A- We had to pass through a lot of trouble inside the Detention Camp. There was very poor food and accommodation facilities; I used to think all the time about my children. I have learnt how the life of Jail is.
Q- When did you learn that your name is left out from NRC?
A- I have learnt about it after coming out from Jail on bail from my brothers.
Q- When did you learn that you are a D-voter?
A- I learned about it when I was detained by Police.
Q- What do you remember as you were detained by Police?
A- I remember why they detained me on false accusation. I am a citizen of this country and I have no relatives in Bangladesh. Why I was tagged as a D-voter.
Q- Do you know anything about the workings and processes of NRC?
A- No, I don’t know about these things.
Q- Where were you at that time?
A- I was inside the Jail.
Q- Who helped you in the process of your release?
A- An NGO from Delhi and Iftekhar Bhai helped me.
Q- How has your life changed now?
A- There has been some improvement. After coming out from Jail I have got nothing in my home, but now the situation is getting better.
Q- Have you got any help from Government sources?
A- No, I have got no help from the government.
Q- What do you want to say to the Government?
A- My two sons are not mature, the government should provide a source of livelihood, so that we can arrange our own food. I have to go to the Police station every week which is very tough for me, either the government should dismiss the case or a longer duration of time period should be given to me to appear in the Police station. I have to go to the Police station every Tuesday. In one visit I have to spend Rs. 200-300. A 3-4 hour journey every week is really very difficult for me. During the time of Lockdown there were no vehicles.
Q- How did the Corona pandemic affect you, how did you go to the police station?
A- I had to walk to the Police station. I went to the Police station at morning 5 AM and returned back home at night as I had to cover my Journey by walking.
Q- Did you get any help from NGOs?
A- Yes, I have already told you that an NGO provides me some sort of assistance.
Q- Are you vaccinated?
A- Yes, I am vaccinated with both the doses.
Q- Was vaccinations free of cost or you were charged?
A- It was free of cost.