Death In Detention: How a Mentally Ill Dulal Died a Foreigner

When Ashok went to the hospital, instead of the ICU, he found his father lying on the floor. Dulal, a daily wage labourer, died two years after being declared a foreigner and detained.

A growing number of people are developing mental illnesses due to the long ordeal of fighting their case in the Foreigners Tribunal. Spending years in cramped up detention centres, with substandard food, unhygienic conditions and away from their families and the outside world does not make it better. 

Studies show that around 89% of people who were left out of the NRC were facing anxiety and other mental issues induced by fear. Twenty five people have already died in detention centres. 

Dulal, a daily wage labourer, died in the Guwahati Medical College Hospital (GMCH) on 13 October 2019, two years after being declared a foreigner and detained. His story was largely covered by the media after his family, as a sign of protest against the unjust Tribunals, refused to accept his body until he was declared Indian. The family was aware that if they signed a document, that didn’t mention their address, to release his body, they would in turn be accepting their own status as foreigners. 

Dulal was on medication for mental illness long before he was detained, but the environment at the detention centre made his condition worse. Ashok states that his father’s demise happened under very suspicious circumstances. 

“I was called by the jail authorities saying that my father was ill and was taken to the hospital. I went to Tezpur hospital to find he wasn’t there. Then I went to the district jail, where the jailor for the very first time asked me to come and sit inside. He told me, ‘Don’t raise any alarm with civil society bodies but your father’s health condition had deteriorated very badly so we’ve sent him to Guwahati, where the government will take care of his hospital expenses’. That’s when I got suspicious.”

When Ashok went to the hospital in Guwahati, instead of the ICU, he found his father lying on the floor of the hospital.

“There was no one to give him water and no one was attending to him. He told me to take him home or else he’ll end up dead inside the jail.” 

Died as foreigner in his country

Both Dulal and his wife were sent a notice by the Border Police. Dulal’s wife was declared an Indian, but Dulal, who produced more documents than his wife was stripped of his citizenship and his ration card and his name was deleted from the voters list. 

Dulal’s wife grieves her husband’s death and worries about her own citizenship. Credit: Devraj Chaliha

To defend his case, Dulal had submitted a written statement that his father had migrated from East Pakistan in 1956, which he thought would prove his citizenship. He also produced a land document bought by him and his two brothers before 1971. He also submitted his family identity and ‘share’ identity card along with a village head certificate. None of the documents were accepted.

The Tribunal rejected his case stating that his parents’ name doesn’t appear on any voter lists prior to 1993. His father had never cast his vote. Though voting is a right, citizenship cannot be brought under question if a person chooses to not exercise this right. The tribunals in Assam are using vague reasons like spelling errors, change of names and inability to answer questions on one’s past. 

There was no valid reason given by the Tribunal to reject Dulal’s documents. He died a foreigner on his own land with no one to claim his body. 

Read: How a name changed 40 years ago is putting Narayan Das’ citizenship under question today

Read Amnesty International India’s briefing, Designed To Exclude.