A Rohingya woman, identified as Noor Aisha Begum (55), died on June 7 at GMC Kathua in Jammu due to COVID-related complications. She had tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks ago but after her death, she was found to be negative.
As per the jail authorities, Begum was already suffering from Asthma and was shifted to the hospital after she complained of breathlessness. Begum had died of post COVID problems owing to co-morbidities, according to health officials.
Begum, her husband, son and daughter-in-law are among the 218 Rohingya refugees held in the “holding centre” for last three months. Last month, 53 Rohingya refugees had reportedly tested positive at the holding centre in Kathua district’s Hira Nagar sub-jail during a test drive.
Begum is survived by seven sons, one of whom has been detained along with his wife, and her husband who is also in detention. Aftar Hussain (21), one of her sons, who was Begum’s attendant at GMC Kathua said that he was not allowed to feed his mother.
“My mother had asked me to get food for her. I went outside and got her food but the police did not allow me to feed her,” said Hussain, his voice choked with emotion, while speaking to Newsclick.
Hussain also alleged that the police mistreated and hurled abuses at the family. He said, “I was pleading before the police to let me feed my mother. But they said that ‘you came to India just like that, now this will happen. Get lost.’”
However, the PK Modi, DySP/I/C Superintendent at the Hiranagar holding centre has denied such accusations saying that the family was “lying”.
“When she was at the hospital how could we allow her to have food from outside? These are sheer lies,” said Modi.
Around 40,000 Rohingya refugees, considered world’s most persecuted minority, have crossed the border into India to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. They are mainly housed in camps around Jammu, Hyderabad, and New Delhi. Nearly, 6,500 refugees are residing in the camps in Jammu.
A Body to Bury
Hussain claimed that he has not yet received the body of his mother to bury. “At least, I could bury my mother and adorn her grave with her favourite flowers,” Hussain said. However, the hospital authorities at GMC Kathua stated that the body will be sent for post- moterm – an examination of the corpse after death.
Peopled who die due to COVID-related complications, as claimed by the GMC Kathua, are usually not sent for post-mortem. But according to the District Commissioner of Kathua, because the woman was held in the government holding centre, thus the post-mortem was needed to be done.
However, there is a visible conflict between the versions of the hospital authorities and the administration regarding Begum’s death. As per medical authorities at GMC Kathua, Begum was COVID positive but died because of post COVID complications, which were accelerated due to a history of co-morbidities. But the administration has stated that Begum died a natural death.
“She was COVID positive earlier, but after that, she had recovered. She had tested COVID negative at the time of the death. Also, because the woman was in our jurisdiction, we have to get the post-mortem done so that the cause of death is clear and no mala fide accusation is raised in the future,” said DC Kathua, Rahul Yadav.
Fear and Panic in Rohingya Localities
The death of Begum has sparked panic among the Rohingya refugees whose relatives are detained at the holding centre. The concerned families are demanding that their loved ones be released. “The families are crying for their loved ones since the news of Begum’s death spread. They want their family members to be out of the prison. It is a very difficult situation. Half of the family is detained and the other half is outside,” said Mushtaq Ahmed, Chairman, Jammu Rohingya association.
Hussain, whose mother died yesterday, says that she had been complaining of stale food at the “holding centre”. “My mother kept saying that she was not fed well and that they were all feeling suffocated inside. It’s a jail,” he said.
Newsclick had earlier reported that relatives of detained Rohingyas were not allowed to meet or speak with the families after they tested positive. They used to deliver food to their loved ones on a weekly basis before that.
On March 6, more than 200 refugees were sent to a sub-jail converted into a holding centre in Hiranagar. The detention was prompted by an order from the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which demanded the government to explain what actions were taken to identify and take appropriate action against “illegal immigrants”.
After detaining the refugees, the Jammu police had maintained that detainees lacked “valid travel documents required in the terms of Section (3) of the Passports Act.”
On April 8, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that the Rohingya refugees detained in Jammu shall not be deported to Myanmar “without following the prescribed procedure.” The ruling in response to a plea filed by a Rohingya refugee, Mohammed Salimullah, through Advocate Prashant Bhushan. The plea stated, “These refugees have been illegally detained and jailed in the Jammu Sub Jail which has been converted into a holding centre with the IGP (Jammu) Mukesh Singh stating that they face deportation back to Myanmar following verification by their embassy.”
Nowhere had the apex court noted that the plea should be “stalled” or the detainees should be “released”.