By B. Raman
Some Indian students—mainly from Andhra Pradesh— have fallen victims of the Guantanamo Bay mindset of the US authorities which permits them to use demeaning and dehumanizing methods against suspects under investigation or detention in order to prevent them from escaping and to locate them by using the Global Positioning System (GPS) if they manage to escape. We saw the use of such methods against Al Qaeda and other terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and subsequently against terrorist suspects and Iraqi Prisoners of War in Iraq and then against terrorist suspects arrested in the US. Now, for the first time, these demeaning and dehumanizing methods, which originated from Guantanamo Bay, have been used against some Indian students whose only crime is—if there is any crime— that they became unwitting accomplices of a university in the State of California which was allegedly making money by helping foreign students get illegal jobs in the US.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities raided an institution called the Tri-Valley University (TVU) in Pleasanton, California, near San Francisco last week reportedly on receipt of information that it was not a university and that it was allegedly a racket for making money by helping foreign boys and girls legally enter the US for the ostensible purpose of studying and then illegally taking up a job after having legally entered the US.
The raid reportedly corroborated their suspicion. They found that the majority of the students were from India and that many of them had illegally taken up jobs after formally enrolling themselves in the university. The ICE authorities ordered the closure of the University and initiated enquiries against some of the Indian students on a charge of their illegally taking up jobs after legally entering the US. They were not formally taken into police custody during the investigation. Instead, they were required to wear GPS anklets to make sure that they did not abscond while the investigation against them was incomplete.
The GPS device consists of an anklet, which is also called a radio collar and a tracking device attached to the belt of the person who is required to wear it. Through this, the police control room is able to keep track of his or her movements and sound an alarm if the person wearing the anklet goes outside the jurisdiction of the police or immigration post investigating him.
According to some sources, this device was initially attached to the ankles of all Al Qaeda and other terrorist suspects detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to prevent them from escaping. Possibly since 2004, it is being used by law enforcement authorities of some States in the US to prevent persons arrested for common law crimes from escaping or absconding. It is understood that GPS anklets are also used in the UK against child sex suspects, persons repeatedly indulging in domestic violence and habitual offenders.
It is not known whether in the US there are any regulations laying down against whom or under what circumstances the GPS anklets could be used or whether it is left to the discretion of individual officers.
The US contention that the fixing of the GPS anklets to the person under investigation does not indicate any criminality is not correct. True, it does not indicate any proved criminality, but it does indicate that the person wearing the anklet is under investigation for a criminal offence. It is an act of humiliation against the person made to wear the anklet and it creates a prejudice against him or her in the minds of all those coming into contact with him or her.
The contention of the US authorities that the alternative would have been to keep them in police or judicial custody till the investigation is over shows total insensitivity to the feelings and emotions of young students. The police authorities could have retained their passports in order to prevent them from leaving for India while the investigation was on. The real reason for making them wear these anklets seems to be to prevent them from going to another State and taking up a job illegally. This could have been easily prevented by other means not involving humiliation.
In India we have strict regulations regarding the use of hand-cuffs and leg chains. Our police does not use them on women, old people and teen-agers. They do not use them in cases of white collar crime either. They use them only against persons who have committed offences involving violence and against whom there are fears that they might to try escape after using violence. The underlining principle of the regulations regarding the use of handcuffs and leg chains is that these should not be used in a manner tending to humiliate the suspect.
The Indian students made to wear the anklets have not committed any crime involving violence. They do not have a previous criminal record. There is no evidence that they are prone to using violence. Their alleged offence of taking up an illegal job is a white collar crime which would not come under the category of serious fraud or serious misappropriation of money, for which some justification might have been made for making them wear the anklets.
The university might have also had some non-Indian students on its rolls. Some of them might have also taken up jobs illegally. Is there an investigation against them also? Have they also been requited to wear these anklets? If not, one would be justified in suspecting that the Indian students have been targeted in order to prevent future such instances — considering that Indian students were in large number in the university.
The Government of India should take up the matter strongly with the US authorities directly as well as through human rights organizations.