ACCESS TO JUSTICE – THE DETENTION CAMPS OF ASSAM (PART-2)

The foundations of criminal law jurisprudence mandate that the State must provide legal counsel to an accused-citizen if he or she is not able to afford counsel for the trial. However, the adjudication transpiring within a Foreigners Tribunal is not a criminal trial, and thus the State is under no obligation to provide legal counsel to people who are suspected to be foreigners within Assam. Note that most of these people suspected to be foreigners are living below the lowest of poverty lines that our minds can conceive. By God’s Grace, if they get legal counsel, it is well and good; however, if nobody helps them, then they will have to stand before the Foreigners Tribunal and argue their case themselves. In my experience, these people are not even literate; let alone being well-versed with the nuances of the national and international laws dealing with citizenship and asylum. As a result, we will have to see cases wherein genuine citizens of our Republic are being labeled as foreigners because they do not understand the burden placed upon them by the State in the first place; let alone answer it in subsequence. As a natural consequence, people like Manowara Bewa end up in Detention Camps without having the first clue as to the offense that they have committed.

jail

Sri. Harsh Mander – a social activist of our Republic – was requested by the National Human Rights Commission to conduct a social audit in these detention camps operating all across Assam. Harsh Mander has accepted this assignment and he has visited the detention camps within Assam during January of 2018. The report [Footnote-1] submitted by Sri. Harsh Mander reads that “the Mission found a situation of grave and extensive human distress and suffering. The detainees were held in a corner of the jails for several years, in a twilight zone of legality, without work and recreation, with no contact with their families and with no prospect of release. In the women’s camp, in particular, the women wailed continuously, as though in mourning.” The report continues and notes, “The Mission found that the fate of an overwhelming majority of persons, who were deemed to be foreigners and were detained in detention camps, was on the basis of ex-parte orders by the Foreigners Tribunals; moreover, most lacked any kind of legal representation.” Harsh Mander has submitted detailed recommendations to the Central Government of India through which these problems could be fixed; however, these recommendations have only fallen upon deaf ears. Sri. Harsh Mander, pained in his heart, has resigned from his assignment as a Special Monitor for the National Human Rights Commission on the 25th of June, 2018.

The unofficial reports show that over one lakh people have been declared as foreigners by the Foreigners Tribunals operating within Assam. A considerable number of these people are detained within the six detention camps currently operating within Assam. Case in point, Manowara Bewa did file a writ-petition [Footnote-2] before the High Court of Gauhati and she challenged the order of the Foreigners Tribunal at Dhubri; which had declared her to be a foreigner. However, the High Court of Gauhati, vide order dated 28/02/2017, has dismissed her writ-petition for want of merit. The appeal [Footnote-3] filed by Manowara Bewa is currently pending adjudication before the Supreme Court of India.

Looking at the detention camps of Assam, one would not be faulted to detract from the thoughts of Justice Krishna Iyer and feel that access to justice is a cloistered virtue within these territories. This is a crisis beyond human understanding or comprehension and the responsibility falls upon us – as citizens of the Republic of India – to step up to the challenge. There are numerous legal and social activists who are striving to secure justice in favour of the citizens of our Republic detained unreasonably within these detention camps. Let us spare a thought in their favour and salute their valiant deeds. In my experience, a substantial portion of our country is not even aware of the growing unrest across the North-Eastern provinces of our Republic. As a lawman, I always hold myself to high standards and expect myself to step into the North-Eastern Frontier to fight for the rights of our citizens. Regardless, if we are not able to step into Assam due to our moral or legal obligations, then let us, as citizens of a great Republic, pray for the liberation of our brothers and sisters held unreasonably within these detention camps at Assam.

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः |

 FOOTNOTES

  1. https://avaazpress.s3.amazonaws.com/NHRC%20Report%20Assam%20Detention%20Centres%2026%203%202018.pdf; accessed on 23/01/2019, at 12 PM
  2. Writ Petition (Civil) 2634/2016 before the High Court of Gauhati
  3. Civil Appeal 20860/2017 before the Supreme Court of India

Pradeep Phaniraj

Pradeep Phaniraj is the Law Clerk to the Chief Justice of India Mr Ranjan Gogoi

pradeep.phaniraj@gmail.com


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