GUWAHATI: Seven days have passed since 65-year-old Dulal Paul died in the Tezpur detention centre for declared foreigners, but his family has stood steadfast in its refusal to accept his body.
Hoping to end what is turning out to be embarrassing impasse for the state government, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Saturday appealed to Paul's family to take his body back home and accord it a funeral. He also offered to attend Paul's shraddha.
Paul, a mentally unstable person, died in Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) of multiple ailments last Sunday. A resident of Alisinga in Sonitpur district, he was sent to the detention centre in Tezpur, in the same district, in 2017 after being declared a foreigner by a foreigners' tribunal.
"We haven't gone to bring our father's body from the GMCH. We will not claim it till he is declared an Indian. Else (the government can) send the body to Bangladesh as he has been declared a foreigner. That the government wants us to bring the body to Alisinga, instead of sending it to Bangladesh, shows that he was an Indian. We will only take the body after the foreigner tag is removed," Ashish, the eldest of Paul's three sons, said on Saturday.
Sonitpur deputy commissioner Manvendra Pratap Singh said the administration was in touch with the family and efforts were on to convince them to accept the body. "We are in touch with the family members and are trying to convince them to take the body back home. So far, the family has not received it," Singh said.
Sonowal's appeal came after a 12-member delegation of All Assam Bengali Youth Students' Federation (AABYSF) met him on the matter of Paul's death, as well as on others confined in detention centres for years after being declared foreigners by foreigners' tribunals. Hojai MLA Shiladitya Dev, who was present in the meeting, said Sonowal had appealed to Paul's family to take back the body and perform the funeral at the earliest. Dev said the chief minister would also attend the 'shraddha' ceremony.
"As Paul's is a legal matter, the government cannot do anything about it. The chief minister assured the delegation that the government will provide legal assistance if the family members want so. He also instructed the setting up of a medical team to provide prompt treatment to detainees suffering from ailments in detention centres," Dev said. He added that the Gauhati high court had upheld the foreigners' tribunal order against Paul, around nine months ago.
Excise minister Parimal Suklabaidya, Dhekiajuli legislator Ashok Singhal and Barchalla legislator Ganesh Limbu were also present in the meeting, along with chief secretary Alok Kumar and senior police officers.
"The government also assured us that it would expedite the process of releasing on bail detainees who have completed three years in detention," AABYSF Sonitpur unit president, Pradip Dey said. Dey added that it was up to Paul's family to decide whether they would claim his body.
In May, the Supreme Court ordered that detainees who had completed three years in detention camps must be released on bail after furnishing surety bonds of Rs 1 lakh each from two Indian citizens and biometric details. In August, nine detainees were released on bail following the Supreme Court order.