Ghazanfar Abbas | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — “My father was the resident of Uttar Pradesh who came to Assam before 1950 and got married there. We studied in Assam. We are Indians. Around 1 pm on the night of August 12, 2015, police came to detain me from my house where all family members were sleeping. They confirmed my name and asked me to go with them without telling any reason. Then they went to Ashraf’s house and detained him too. In Udalguri (district of Assam) they (police) wrote the statement by themselves mentioning my details as Bangladeshi and asked us to sign on it. When I read, I asked them why you are making me Bangladeshi while I am Indian. They forcefully took our signatures. And then took us at Goalpara detention camp,” Kismat Ali said.
Kismat Ali (42) and Ashraf Ali (41) have similar story of trouble to tell. Despite being regular voters and having proof of their citizenship, both were declared as Bangladeshis by the Foreigners Tribunal in the row of identification of Indian and foreign citizens in Assam. Both Kismat and Ashraf were picked up from their houses by police on the night of August 12, 2015 and sent to the detention center in Goalpara district after having been declared as foreigners.
After the Guahati High Court rejected their appeal in June 2016, they approached the Supreme Court (SC) where senior Adv. Sanjay Hegde presented their case. SC ordered a CBI inquiry into the case. After CBI confirmed they were bona fide Indian citizens, SC ordered the Foreigners Tribunal in August 2017 to take a reasoned decision in the case. The Tribunal finally declared them as Indian citizen and they returned home October 30, 2017.
They narrated their miseries in front of national media in New Delhi on Friday when Amnesty International India released its study based research report about the plight of people declared as foreigners and have since been in detention centers.
Narrating their ordeal in the detention center, Kismat said, “We were kept in a room with capacity of 40 people but 100 people were there. We were in so small space that we could not evem move here and there. We did not commit any crime, still were kept with the criminals. When the family members used to come to visit us we were allowed to talk to them with a distance of 7-8 feet and we were unable to hear each other clearly. Homemade food was not allowed. Very less food was given to us. Food was so bad that I spent the first month just having tea.”
“High Court did not look the case properly. If Supreme Court had not delivered justice, we still would have been languishing in jail,” he said.
Work Ruined, Family Suffered
“My shop was shut down. Family suffered a lot. We had to sell our cattle. Savings in bank finished. Younger sister had to sell her jewellery. My both sisters had to go to Pune to work as domestic help just for me,” Kismat told in shivering voice.
Showing his voter ID card, Kismat questioned, “We are regular voters. This is my voter ID card and I was declared as Bangladeshi. My name was cut from voter list and ration card too. I am not getting any ration. This happened not just with us, many people like us facing much problems there.”
“Who will return our 2 years, 2 months and 17 days?” he asked.
While daily wager Ashraf told that they didn’t get any notice before detention. “They directly detained us,” he said.
Case details of Ashraf & Kismat: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/108460330/
Briefing about the horror when his husband was detained, Ashraf’s wife Tara Khanum (38) burst into tears, “BSF personnel barged into our house by breaking the door as if we were terrorists. In the morning we went to BSF office to show documents and asked to give us time to prove our citizenship. But nothing happened. We speak in Hindi, So they (BSF) asked us to speak Assamese language and harassed us. Our only crime is that we are Hindi speaking people.”
Ashraf’s Family Also Suffered
Ashraf’s and her wife Tara Khatun’s parents came from Bihar’s Siwan district in 1960s to settle in Assam. Mother of 3 children, Tara said while Ashraf was in detention center, she had to sell tea garden and all jewelry for his case, livelihood and children’s study.
She told, “When Ashraf was in detention, I had no money for food and study of our children. When we used to request police to talk to him standing in front in the jail, they didn’t allow. Our children used to study with English medium in a private school but later we got them admitted in government school. Even there we were unable to pay their fees several times.”
“We are thankful to Adv. Sanjay Hegde who fought our case and SC that listened to poor people like us.”
On the release of Amnesty’s report, eminent civil rights activist and former IAS officer Harsh Mander along with Amnesty’s programming director Asmita Basu, Adv. Aman Wadud, researcher Leah Verghese and journalist Abdul Kalam Azad spoke about their observations of detention centers and violations of laws due to which people are in indefinite detention after being declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the authorities.
The report highlighted gross violation of human rights as per national and international law both saying that due to unfair process of declaring the people as foreigners, they are compelled to languish in jails for indefinite period without any legal remedy. Urging the Central and State Governments – both ruled by BJP – to take concrete measures to address inhumane conditions in detention centers.
Detention became Routine
Speaking to Caravan Daily, Leah said, “We have highlighted two of the main issues – one is that detention has become routine. Even though the Foreigners Act provides for other alternatives like their residency restrictions, restricting the jobs the person can do etc. The foreign tribunals invariably ordered for detention. Secondly, from the detention center it is very difficult for someone to get out unless the HC or SC intervenes.”
Violations of Law
Mander said, “The basis on which they had been declared as foreigner is completely against national and international laws. First they are not criminal and still in jail. Their due rights are not being given. The families have been segregated like mothers are in one side, fathers on other side and children outside. That is inhumane and illegal. Even the legal aid that is provided to a big criminal is not being given to them.”
“Till when will they remain in detention as the government has not signed any treaty for expatriation? Bangladesh will never accept them, means they will be in prison for life time”, he questioned.
Around 40 lakh people were excluded from the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens or NRC published on July 30 this year. It had names of only 2.89 crore people out of 3.29 crore who had applied for inclusion in it. On November 1, the Supreme Court that is monitoring the matter had ordered to include five more documents for the people to prove their bona fide citizenship.