(L-R) Taslima, Jesmina and Sonia await their release of their mother, who has been detained at the Kokrajhar detention camp in Assam Credit: Mukut Medhi / East Mojo
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Sesapani, Kokrajhar (Assam): US President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy against undocumented migrants saw children being separated from their parents. Closer home, villagers of Sesapani in the Kokrajhar district of Assam have also started living in a similar scenario with several women being lodged at the detention camp for ‘foreigners’ here, while their children spend time amid poverty and despair.

When an EastMoJo team visited Sesapani, located just 2 km from the Kokrajhar railway station, several harrowing tales of children being separated from their mothers, all in the name of identifying doubtful voters, came to the fore.

Take for instance, Sonia (5), who was looking at the picture of her mother pasted on the latter’s voter identity card with tears in her eyes, when this reporter visited her house. While her friends were merrily playing in the neighbourhood, a sense of emptiness was clearly visible on Sonia’s face. However, no one was giving much attention to the girl as such cases have become a routine affair in the village.

Sonia’s mother, Aaj Banu (32), has been lodged at the detention camp for foreigners housed with the district jail in Kokrajhar for over a year now. Sonia is helpless, but the only way to reach out to her mother is to visit the detention camp. Even that is an ordeal in itself. She can’t go there alone; someone has to accompany her, as the camp is located almost 4 km from her underdeveloped village. Ironically, the only mode of transport to reach the detention camp from the village is a boat ride, and the boatman she takes the help of is none other than her father, Saibar Rahman (59).

It’s not just Sonia; the D voter tag has also distanced her elder sisters, Jesmina (7), Taslima (11) and brother Akbar Ali (16) from their mother. While Jesmina and Taslima are studying in Class II and Class V, respectively, in the nearby lower-primary school, Akbar has not been fortunate enough – he works as a daily-wage labourer to help run the family.

“Almost every night, Sonia keeps on weeping. We are absolutely helpless. In our mother’s absence, we have to take care of everything,” says Taslima, who takes the lead in doing the household work of the poor family.

Akbar is very busy these days to earn more, as his family is facing severe financial constraints. A considerable amount of money goes into the hiring of lawyers and middlemen, among others, to help secure the release of their mother.

Their father, Saibar Rahman, is also a worried man. The 59-year-old has been running from pillar to post for over a year to get not just Aaj Banu but also his other wife, Sarju Van (47), released from the detention camp, but in vain. Rahman claims to have all the ‘necessary’ documents to prove their nationality, but alleges that “the state government has unnecessarily detained his wives”.

“Both my wives have their names in the electoral voter list. They also have their identity cards issued by the Election Commission of India, besides possessing ration cards and other legal documents. I’ve spent a lot of money to get them released but things are not looking positive anymore,” says Rahman.

“I have already sold my land and cattle, now I have no money left even to run my family. I don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow. The government should not harass us this way, rather they should kill us. Then only everything will be settled,” he regrets.

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