In Pictures: Septuagenarian Solim Uddin from Assam begs to earn money to fight ‘illegal foreigner’ tag

Septuagenarian Solim Uddin from Assam | Photo by Mahibul Hoque

A former detainee from Assam, septuagenarian Solim Uddin walks for several kilometres every day seeking alms and help to raise money to feed himself and bear the expenses of the fight against the ‘declared foreigner’ tag. The photo essay tells the story of his everyday struggle. 

Mahibul Hoque | 

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ASSAM – The dubious categorisation of citizens as ‘illegal foreigners’ in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam has taken a toll on the victims of state-sponsored discrimination. Those who survived the state’s detention centres are struggling to live a decent life, with financial difficulties leading to stress. 

At its peak, in six detention centres of Assam, a total of 1376 persons were imprisoned after they were declared ‘foreigners’ by quasi-judicial foreigners tribunals — a body which has the mandate to issue orders declaring the citizenship of those accused of being ‘illegal foreigner’. 

However, since 2019, following two Supreme Court of India orders, around 1100 detainees have been released. The detainees have to present themselves at their respective police stations every week.

One such former detainee is Solim Uddin from No 3 Baruajhar village of Darrang district. He was released from the Tezpur detention centre in April 2020. Ever since his release, he has been marking his presence at Dalgaon police station, around 14 kilometres away from his native village. 

The 72-year-old man looks much older than his age. His relatives mistakenly assume his age to be over 85 years. 

One of his relatives told that the “inhuman conditions inside the detention centre has made him (Solim Uddin) weaker than he was.” 

The retirement age in India is 60 years, yet the septuagenarian Solim Uddin limps kilometres throughout the day seeking alms and helps to raise money to feed himself and bear the expenses of the fight against the ‘declared foreigner’ tag. 

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

Solim Uddin holds his ration card which shows his native village and his name. Despite having his father’s name in the 1966 voter list he was declared a foreigner by a foreigners tribunal at Darrang district.

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

Solim Uddin, who lives with his sister and her sons in a one-room shanty, said that he cannot work as a daily labourer anymore and begs for a living and to bear the expenses of his attendance at Dalgaon Police station.

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

Solim Uddin reaches out to his umbrella that he uses while he goes out to beg.

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

Wiping his tears, Solim Uddin said that he is afraid of injections and cannot eat. “Many people in the jail died after they were given the injection. Since then I am scared of everything. Since then I have survived on tea and biscuits as I could not eat anything,” he said. 

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

The pots seen in the photo are his storage where he keeps the alms he gets from begging. As he cannot work in the fields, it has become an immense burden for him to raise money for his living. 

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

He has his PAN card which he shows to assert his lineage and his Indian citizenship.

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

The only source of light inside Solim Uddin’s hut is a kerosene lit wick lamp. The lamp is covered by an old, unused vest to protect the jute-stem made fence of his house and other belongings from the black smoke that the lamp emits.

Photo by Mahibul Hoque

As he does not know what will happen next and is apprehensive of the fact that he might be taken back to jail, his only solace is in praying. He said he prays for his name to be cleared of the ‘illegal foreigner’ tag.