Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > impact on women / resistance > India: The citizenship question - Suicides and distress deaths

India: The citizenship question - Suicides and distress deaths

Friday 26 July 2019, by siawi3


Section 9 Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Dilemmas of Citizenship, in Assam

Written by Mrinmoy Dutta

Published on: July 20, 2019

Despite the passage of seven decades since the independence of the country, the debate on citizenship is far from over. The recent engagement with the construction of the National Register of Citizens(NRC) in the state of Assam, has again opened the flood gates of contestation on the citizenship question. Cardinal to this debate is the invocation of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 which are seen as the pillars for both the detection and deportation of immigrants. This analysis intends to examine some provisions of the legislations and in particular, Section 9 of the Act.

The Foreigners Act, 1946, a pre independence era legislation was enacted for regulating the entry, presenceand departure of foreigners into and from India, section 2(a) of the Act defining a ‘foreigner’ to mean a person who is not a citizen. But, it is important to note that the Act, per-se does not prescribe any methodology for detection or any mechanism for identification of foreigners which makes the role of the foreigners’ tribunal cardinal to the understanding of the Act.

The formation of tribunals for the identification of foreigners only finds strength from the ForeignersFor a long time now, tribunals have been formed for the detection of perceived foreigners in the state of Assam, persons who are charged with illegally living in the state, perhaps for decades.

In actual fact, these ‘so called’ foreigners are mostly faceless human beings, without any apparent record of their “infiltration†. They are “charged†with having infiltrated predominantly from a specified territory, i.e. the present day Bangladesh. This charge is based on their ethnic character and their linguistic back ground even though such a similarity of both language and ethnicity is found from both sides of the border –in Assam/Bengal and Bangladesh. These ‘facts’ makes their ‘detection’ apparently more complex. These people, according to popular perception have entered India crossing the supposedly porous borders and have intermingled with the citizens of the country.We must remember, however that the borders are not entirely open and do not permit free entirely free access.

Section 9 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 has a very important bearing on the determinations made under the Act. In a nutshell, it stipulates that in a case not falling under section 8 of the Act, when there arises a question as to whether a person is a foreigner or not, the onus of proving that the person is not a foreigner is on the person concerned. Section 8 deals with the issue of determination of the nationality of two categories of foreigners (i) those having more than one nationality, (ii) those of uncertain nationality, by the central government. Section 9, therefore, by implication, excludes cases under section 8 and appears to pertain to foreigners, whose specific foreign nationality is attributable with a certain amount of certainty, but where the said foreigner disputes the allegation that he is a foreign national and claims to be citizen.

It is important to note that by definition the term ‘foreigner’ appears in Section 2 (a) of the Act, and means “a person who is not Indian Citizen†, Thus ‘foreigners’ in context of the statute appear to mean foreigners i.e. those who are not Indian citizens —on the face of it — without any requirement of elaborate exercise at identification, which becomes conspicuous by the absence of any detection machinery in the Act. It is also relevant to note that Section 9 does not deal with any question as to whether a person is an Indian Citizen or not, unlike Section 3(8) of the Immigration Act, 1971 which specifically refers to determination of a question as to whether a person is a British Citizen or not. This distinction though very subtle can have wide-ranging ramifications on the scope and manner of application of the Act in question.

Also noteworthy is the fact that citizenship in India is governed by the Citizenship Act, 1955. Though the Act prescribes how citizenship is acquired, it neither defines a citizen nor links citizenship of the natural born ones to the possession of any document, not even a birth certificate. It is only when citizenship is acquired by means of registration, naturalization or by descent, that citizenship requires some recognition and registration.

The onus of proof on the proceedee as envisaged under section 9 of the Foreigners Act, is what is called the reverse onus clause. In this context a look at some statutory provisions dealing with the reverse burden of proof, like section 113B of the Evidence Act, 1872 , section 139 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881, section 68J of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, section 123 of the Customs Act, 1962, to name a few, reveal that the burden shifts to the accused only when certain indications/ingredients and conditions are found or on some happenings, leading to the presumption that the concerned offence has been committed. Section 118 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 also prescribes some presumptions which can be drawn based on the writings on the instrument. In fact, under none of these provisions, is the state absolved from the liability of establishing certain basic facts and presumption is raised only when certain foundational facts are established by the prosecution.

The Foreigners Act however neither envisages any presumption in law nor any irrebuttable presumption. Under such circumstances, for the question “as to whether a person is a foreigner or not†to arise there must be some positive materials indicating that the person is a foreigner or there must be some facts on record which can lead to drawl of presumption in a particular case that the person is a foreigner. A good example of the former category can be where there are materials to show that the person had entered the country with documents from another country and thereafter has overstayed the documents.

So far as the reversal of presumptionsin those cases where positive materials are not available, are concerned, section 114 of the Evidence Act allows drawing of presumptions having regard to the common course of natural events, human conduct and public and private business, in their relation to the facts of the particular case, thereby defining the broad parameters within which presumptions can be drawn, which though leave the courts with a wide discretion to draw presumptions but the same is not unbridled.

In matters concerning the establishmentof alienage, there may be circumstanceswhere presumptions of alienage can be drawn, where the person concerned is caught infiltrating from another country. Such presumption can also be drawn if there are evidences that a person was born in a foreign country. In this context, it must be stated that the recognised presumption is on the continuance of the domicile of origin; the settled law being that one who asserts that the domicile of origin is lost, must prove such assertion 1.Therefore the abovecircumstances unless rebutted can be proof of alienage.It must be also be remembered that presumptions of facts cannot be drawn from presumptions and can only be drawn from facts2 and thus vague and generalisedpresumptions —like the borders are porousmaking infiltration possible or that because some infiltrators have been caughtwhile infiltrating--- cannot lead to the presumption that the person proceeded against, in a specific case, is an infiltrator.

In the context of what is prescribed in Section 9, the fundamental issue that stands out is how and when the question as to whether a person is a foreigner or not should become a matter of adjudication before a judicial forum. Does such a question arise merely because there is suspicion in someone’s mind that a person may be foreigneror is it because some facts and materials having come to light revealthat the person may be a foreigner or where some surrounding facts can lead to a presumption that a person is a foreigner?

To look at these questions, a distinction has to be made between (i) people caught infiltrating into the country or people having entered into the country with documents have overstayed the period or people whose foreign birth is apparent leading to inference that they may be foreigners and (ii) person with regard to whom there are nomaterials which can lead to any inference that the person is a foreigner, even if the person appears to be a suspect.

While it is not difficult for the tribunals to assume jurisdiction and render opinion regarding the first category of people, serious complexities arise regardingadjudication of the second category.

In context of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, which has special reference to the state of Assam two pertinent questions that arise for adjudication are
(a) whether the person has indeed come from the specified territory, and if so,
(b)whether the person has come after 1.1.1966 or 25.3. 1971.
(Those entering from a specified territory after 1.1.1966 but before 25.3.1971, illegally, on identification are, under law, to be disfranchised for 10 years and those coming after 25.03.1971 are to be expelled/deported to the country of origin).

Both these questions are questions of fact. Judicial pronouncements have settled the law that suspicion however grave, cannot take the place of proof 3. Therefore, question of facts cannot be answered on surmise and conjecture and there must be some materials to answer these questions of fact, which must be either in the form of positive materials or facts from which presumptions can be drawn.

A look at the proceedings before the Foreigners Tribunals, however,would reveal that people predominantly from a particular linguistic community are being issued notices alleging that such person(s) have entered the territory of India after 1.1.1966 and /or after 25.3.1971.

The linguistic affinity of such people also exists with the second largest spoken language in the country (Bengali). It is also noticed that many notices issued by the tribunals are neither supported by any materials attributing linkage of the proceedee with the specified territory, nor by facts from which alienage can be presumed, except some vague reports that the person could not produce any documents of citizenship or with some names of some place of Bangladesh or at times with some statements by some witness that the person is an infiltrator without any material to back such allegations.

Once the notices are issued, since the onus is on the proceedee to show that he is not a foreigner, but an Indian Citizen, it is expected that a genuine citizen would be in a position to produce documents and evidence of his citizenship or rather his existence or legacy in the country linking him to a period prior to 25.3.1971.

There are more reasons why this process needs to be examined more minutely. Materials attributing alienage of a person or “facts†from which a presumption of alienage of a person, in particular, can be drawn can be the perfect set up for the question as to whether a person is a foreigner or not. The question really is whetherthe presumptions of alienage can be at all drawn simply because of a variation in the narrations of events by aperson of his self and his/her legacy. Remember, this is a narration of events which may have taken place anytime in the span of the last five decades or more including in the years before his/her birth. Discrepancies abound in the various documents issued by public authorities. The “failure†to produce legally admissible documents showing a person’s existence and legacy going back almost five decades is Kafkaesque. This is evenmore so when there exists no particular document of citizenship that a natural born citizen must compulsorily possess and giventhe history of documentation in the country, the percentage of landless people, poor literacy rate, people below poverty line, and dismal records of birth registration till the 1990s, etc.

Can then therefore, a presumption of alienage be drawn from the “non-availability†of a person’s name in the voters list, when we are yet achieved 100 % enumeration of voters?What also cannot be be ignored is that many who might have survived the vagaries of nature(flood, famine, drought, plague) and could only just about salvage their precious lives over past decades are now perhaps confronted with the task of production of documents which have been tragically and irretrievably are lost.

A close reading of section 114 of the Evidence Act would reveal that the above circumstances cannot lead to a presumption of alienage as these discrepancies on their own cannotper-se neither can they link any person to any other country. With regard to “admissions†by a person that he is a Bangladeshi, in investigation reports, this too is a faulty premise when these investigations are conducted without adjudication. Once a person denies having made such an admission, the report losses its probative value and can neither be used as evidence, nor for that matter,can it be used to presume alienage. There can also be no presumption of fraud, misrepresentation or impersonation in case of discrepancies in documents or narrations, as the presumption is that of innocence. Moreover, such presumption even if made cannot also lead to presumption of alienage.

The law is clear; it’s the application that has been faulty. To the question as to whether a person is a foreigner or not to even arise, there must exist positive materials attributing alienage or factswhich make the presumption of alienage so probable that any prudent man would believe these to exist. The presumption cannot be the suspicion of some one’s mind alone. The counter argument, that since the question as to whether a person is a foreigner of not even if based on mere suspicion, can be answered by a genuine citizen by showing materials of citizenship and therefore needs to be answered even without any materials attributing alienage, would be antithesis to the rule of law. Judicial time and energy cannot be used to decide the suspicions in someone’s mind or mere speculation. This would leave the judiciary reeling under piles of pendinglitigation and putting public exchequer to stress. Such an approach would also lead to utter chaos and turn the judicial process into tools ofoppression, which settled law does not permit4.

Settled law also does not permit questions of facts being decided on mere suspicion. When the parameters as to how any person’s citizenship can be determined has yet to evolve and the Citizenship Act has, itself,has not providedfor any specific document as absolute proof of Citizenship, particularly for the natural born ones, double standards cannot apply.

Even if therefore, on the basis ofsome discrepancies (mentioned above), even if it is presumed that a person has “failed to prove his citizenship†, to say that the said person is a citizen of another country still falls under the realm of mere surmise. A person who is charged with being an alien, to be automatically held to be a Bangladeshi Citizen/national, without any material to support such a charge — on his failure to “show†that he is a citizen of India, is being so held guilty on a fallacious argument. This also perhapssums up the reasons behind the dismal deportation figures. Not only is neighbouring Bangladesh in denial mode, the Government of India is also doing little to take up the issues of deportation with that government.

Crucial to understanding this narrative is a look at the judgements in the cases ofSarbananda Sonowal (I)5 and (II), 6 which have discussed Section 9 of the Act at some length. Though in Sarbananda Sonowal(I), the discussion was more on the purport and vires of theIllegal Migrants (Determination By Tribunals) Act, 1983, which had, bythen eclipsed the Foreigners Act, 1946. In that context section 9 of the 1946 Act was found to be close to the object of determination and detection of foreigners(under the IMDT ACT, 1983), However, the entire scheme of the 1946 Act was not thoroughly examined.

Analysis of the concept of burden of proof in leading democracies in the case of Sarbananda Sonowal (I)was confined to section 291 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of USA, which talks about the burden on the person seeking admission in the USA. Similarly, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, 2001 of Canada, Immigration Act, 1971 of United Kingdom were also discussed in context of entry into those countries.

However, the burdenof establishing alienage being on the stateunder section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of USA, was not at all discussed. The discussions were more centered on the difficulties that the state would face to prove alienage, without any discussion on the ground realities which expose the obstacles a citizen may faceto prove his status, lineage and legacy and also the concept of reverse burden of proof, which cannot be invoked to shift the burden of disproving the suspicions in someone’s mind rather than materials indicating alienage or facts from which such inference can be made.

Various case laws discussed thereinto justify the reverse burden of proof would also show that the burden in those cases was cast on the accused based on certain (specific) happenings which lead to inference of certain unlawful acts being committed.

In SarbanandaSonowal(II), theHon’ble Apex court though made a distinctionbetween the“satisfaction of having prima facie case†, with “establishment of prima facie case†by establishing the basic facts. The “satisfaction of having prima facie case†has not been held to be contrary to section 9, thereby indicating that the satisfaction of having prima facie case has not been dispensed with. Similarly, the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court in the case of Moslem Mandal7has not dispensed with the requirement of any application of mind to have some amount of satisfaction that the person to be tried is a foreigner and that such allegation/charge /ground to proceed can be without any materials to suggest alienage. However,in none of the above cases the leanings of law on the retention of domicile of origin and whether nationality/citizenship of a person can be a matter of presumption were considered.

Shockingly, in many of the proceedings before the Foreigner Tribunals, what is being seen is that those who “cannot prove†their citizenship to the satisfaction of the tribunals are being unilaterally declared as Bangladeshis or of Bangladeshi origin having come after 1.1.1966 or 25.3.1971 without an iota of evidence that the person is/was a citizen or domicile of the specified territory (East Pakistan or Bangladesh) and that the person has changed his domicile of origin or any surrounding facts showing any linkage of these persons to the specified territory on the basis of which such a presumption of alienage can be drawn.

Thus, the basic questions of fact as to whether, the proceedee has come from Bangladesh/specified territory and whether after 1966 or 1971,in these cases are being unilaterally decided based on surmises and conjectures, rather than proof.

Such findings can only be inherently faulty geared not to any legitimate and lawful process but caught up in the political rhetoric of “getting at infiltrators.†The learned tribunals have been known to discard and disbelieve documents, on the slightest of discrepancies. Worse, even oral evidence of the proceedee(s) are being also discarded and disbelieved on ground of the slightest of discrepancies in the narration of decade-old events.

In Sirajul Hoque -versus- The State of Assam 8 the Hon’ble apex court has set aside a judgment of a Tribunal in which the proceedee was declared to be foreigner because of some discrepancies in the spelling of the name of great grandfather of the proceedee in some documents.

With the impending finalisation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC)—aimed at determining who are citizens of India — on the basis of documents, even though the Citizenship Act in itself does not envisage any such basis for determination of citizenship; and the move to form hundreds of tribunals to look into the issue of the citizenship of millions of Indians who maybe left out, the stakes are very high. Not only will the credibility of the state machinery be tested, with apparent fault lines in the process, but what will also be at stake is the life of millions. Already living on the edge; in a state of trauma, and in a permanent state of flux.

High time, therefore, that the entire base concept of the determination of foreigners and the purport of Section 9 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 is re-looked at. The present dispensation appears to be heading towards the creation of mass statelessness in violation of Article 5 (iii) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and other norms in international law. What is crucial to remember is that not all those who have “failed to prove their citizenship†are either all Bangladeshis or infiltrators. They are Indians, like millions of others who have no documents to back their existence.

(The author is a practicing advocate in the Guwahati High Court)

1. AIR 1966 (SC) 160: Kedar Pandey-V-Narain Bikram Sah
2. 1998 (7) SCC 337: Suresh Budharmal Kalani -V- State of Maharashtra
3.1979 (3) SCC 316: State (Delhi Administration)-V-Gulzarilal Tandon
5. 2007(1)SCC 174: Sarbananda Sonowal (I)-V-Union of India
6. 2005 (5) SCC 665: Sarbananda Sonowal (II)-V-Union of India
7. 2013(1) GLT, 809: The State of Assam -v-Moslem Mondal
8. Criminal Appeal No 267/2019 (Arising out of SLP (Crl.) No4500/2018)



Distress Deaths Rise to 40 in Assam: NRC Process

Written by Zamser Ali

Published on: December 19, 2018

Discrepancies in the NRC process, 3Ds creating Spurt of Deaths in North-Eastern State; Afzal Ali, Mahibor Rahman, Sahera Banu, Sashi Sarker, Kailash Tanti are victims of these systemic killings

At a time when various civil society groups and human rights activists are furiously busy, helping the people of Assam to fill in Claims forms at the Nagrik Seva Kendras (NSKs) run by the NRC, the entire process --- NRC, and ‘3Ds’ ( D Voter, Declared Foreigners and Detention Camp) – all these three processes have been escalated all over the state. From November 29 to December 15, a short span of 19 days, five persons have fallen victim to distress deaths.

This new phenomenon that the State is witnessing gets complicated: Thirty five suicides and now distress deaths. These are people who are facing an insensate process, a callous bureaucracy related to NRC, D Voter, Declared Foreigners process leading them to the dreaded Detention Camps. They have died of heart attacks.

Tragically, these are Indian Citizens, those who possess all valid documents but have have been struggling to establish legitimate Citizenship Rights. They are victims of both discrimination and a state of total unaccountability. Not only the government machinery but even the quasi judicial authority Foreigners Tribunal and even higher Judicial Authorities are also playing a partisan role in declaring them ‘foreigners’, armed with a pre-conceived notion that all valid documents in a maximum number of cases have been ignored. Among these large number of exclusions, only a few have been able to knock at the door of Supreme Court, where, after years and huge expenses, many of them were finally able to establish the right of Citizenship.

But the poor and illiterate, who do not even earn enough to support their families can ill afford a legal effort to the Supreme Court. This costs a huge sum of money after they have spent their hard earned wages on the process in the foreigners tribunal(s) and the High Court. By this time, they have had to sell off all the properties including pet animals or be groaning under huge debt. After such a near arbitrary declaration of ‘foreigner’ they are sent to detention camps which thereafter becomes their address until death. The instances of such occurrences are extremely high all over the state.

The economic loss, social degradation and above all uncertainty relating to citizenship have caused a vast state of mental disturbances all over the state. The processes causing distress are the ‘3D processes’: the D Voter (Doubtful Voter) process, the Declared Foreigner process (leading to the) Detention Camp, unique only to Assam. Nowhere else in the world is there a provision for such camps. The processes have caused both trauma and humiliation for Indian Citizens wrongly identified or married as ‘D Voter’, ‘declared foreigners’ or detained in such detention camps, without any proper justification. Hundreds of people born in the State of Assam or living in the state even after the fifth or more generations have been illegally detained held and harassed after being labelled foreigners year after year.

There was a wide consensus within Assam that believed that the on-going process of NRC will identify the real foreigners and open up the way to enlisting the genuine citizens, freeing genuine citizens from all sorts of harassment, hatred and humiliation. But, the selective and partisan attitudes of both the Government and the NRC authority have been closing the door to hundreds of Indian Citizens, preventing them from enlisting their names in the updated NRC.

The shifting process of changing of modalities and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure, which was prepared for updating NRC) have caused millions of people to be excluded from the draft NRC, though they possessed all sorts of genuine documents to prove themselves as Indian Citizens. However, these documents have not been recognised or accepted due to minor discrepancies.

Uncertainty rules the lives of these hapless people as a discriminatory attitude in NRC officials makes matters worse. This new phenomenon has caused the death of another five people of the State in short span of 17 days.

The five persons who died in Assam from November 29 to December 15 are Afzal Ali, Mahibor Rahman, Sahera Banu, Sashi Sarker and Kailash Tanti. With the death of these five persons, the number of NRC and 3D related distressed death has risen to 40 after the NRC process began.

Afzal Ali:

It was Afzal Ali of Village Barkajuli under Tamulpur Police Station of Baksa District who died of a heart attack on November 29, 2018. Mujib Ali Ahmed, a local social worker and member of BTAD Citizen Rights Forum alleged,
“Afzal who is a Goriya Muslim (The word Goriya Muslim means the clan of Muslims in Assam, who were migrated from Gaur or North Bengal in between the 12th to 17th centuries) could not find several names of his family members in the final draft of the NRC. Though the family have no record of migration and no relation with the Bengali speaking Muslims, this situation became humiliating for him.

“He was afraid, concerned and worried about the fact that the names of his family members, which didn’t appear in the final draft NRC, might be declared as foreigners. He was running from pillar to post to get alleviate the situation when he developed a sudden chest pain on November 29. A person, who has no history of any cardiac problems died in his home on the same day before reaching hospital.“The family members of Afzal Ali alleged that he was killed by NRC authority through their discriminatory attitude.”Afzal Ali felt chest pain suddenly when he came to know that linkage documents which were submitted earlier, will not be acceptable" said Najrul Islam, the General Secretary, ABMSU.

Sahera Banu:

The day after sudden demise of Afzal Ali, on November 30, 2018, Sahera Banu (51), of Barpeta District attended a Foreigners Tribunal hearing at Barpeta to prove her citizenship. After the hearing, the depressed woman, on her way to home, suddenly felt pain of her chest. She collapsed on the road. Bystanders promptly admitted her to a nearby hospital where she breathed her last in the wee hours of December 1, 2018. Locals alleged that Sahera Banu was depressed since her name was referred to a FT as a doubtful foreigner. Nanda Ghosh, a young activist from Bijni alleged that though Sahera Banu technically died of a cardiac arrest the real reason lay elsewhere. She killed by the system of triple D or D Voter, declared foreigners and detention camp.

Others may meet the same fate as Sahera Banu if the discriminatory activities of Border Police, Foreigners Tribunal and NRC authority are not stopped promptly.“Shaizuddin Ahmed, Advocate, Guwahati High Court said to Sabrangindia, adding that”discrimination dots the attitude of the NRC process and also the 3Ds, mirrored in the biased attitudes of the state government of Assam and the Indian government."

Mahibor Rahman:

On December 3, 2018, Mahibor Rahman (65), a poor farmer of Nayagram, under Dholacherra Village Panchayat of Karimganj District went to NSK (Nagarik Seva Kendra or Citizens Service Centre under NRC authority), to find out the real reason why the name of his wife Renu Begum’s didn’t appear in the final draft NRC. A poor farmer of Nayagram, which falls in the border area of Bangladesh in the Barak Valley, he was told that the Land document of 1963 which was submitted as Legacy document for Renu Begum has been rejected. Hence, Mahibor Rahman was asked to submit alternative document.

During the time of submission of the NRC claims applications, Mahibor Rahman searched high and dry to find Legacy Data, but failed. Other than the land document, Renu Begum might have had another document that is NRC-1951, where the name of her father and grandfather might have been appeared. But, the entire NRC-1951 documents of Barak Valley is not available today as all old documents with the Deputy Commissioner’s office in Silchar were damaged long back due to mysterious firing at the Deputy Commissioner’s office.

So, Mahibor Rahman was excessively stressed when he came to know that to ensure the listing of the name of Renu Begum in the final NRC, he needed to submit another document before 1971, which was quite impossible to him to source/collect. He suddenly collapsed in the Varandah (Extended area of a house) of the NSK. Onlookers present in the NSK hurriedly took him to nearby hospital where it was declared that Mahibor Rahman was dead.

The incident created huge ripples in the area. Bablu Das, outgoing President of Dholacherra Village Panchayat, nearby Bangladesh Border said, “Name of Mahibor Rahman and his seven number of sons appeared in the final draft NRC. But, the name of his wife disappeared from the list. This became humiliating to Mahibor Rahman. When he was asked to submit alternative document for Renu Begum, this became a cause of extra excessive stress for Mahibor Rahman, which he could not bear. Thus, NRC authority killed him.”

The local people under the NSK alleged that the officials engaged in Dholacherra NSK behaved insensitively and rudely to the general public. Mahibor Rahman was also subject to such behaviour. Former Minister and Congress leader, Siddique Ahmed has demanded 10 lakhs ex-gratia to the kin of Mahibor Rahman.

Sashi Sarker (85):

Sashi Sarker (85), a poor peasant of Tulshijhora Village under Chirang District died in Goalpara Detention Camp on December 7,2018. This Dalit Bengali Hindu old man was framed as a ‘foreigner’, one and half years ago and was thrown into the detention camp. According to the family member of Sashi Sarker, he possessed all bonafide documents, Yet, Sashi Sarker was framed as a foreigner and he was kept in detention camp right until he reached a ripe old age; he was very depressed. On December 6, the family members of Sashi Sarker at Tulshijhora Village were informed by the Jail authority of Goalpara that the health condition of Sashi Sarker had deteriorated and he was admitted to the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH). The family members of Sashi Sarker rushed to Guwahati and searched for him at GMCH but failed. They then contacted the Goalpara Jail authority. At that time the family members of Sashi Sarker were informed that he had died already in the detention camp! The villagers of Tulshijhora have alleged that the real reason behind the demise of Sashi Sarker has been concealed from the family.

Kailash Tanti:

Kailash Tanti, a tea garden labourer, who belongs to one of the most backward Dalit communities committed suicide when his name along with that of all of his family members had not appeared in the final draft NRC. The incident happened in Shyantila under Dholai tea garden at South Hailakandi which also falls under the Barak Valley. The tea garden labourer was found hanging near his house on December 17, 2018.
As per the FIR lodged by Anita Tanti, wife of Kailash Tanti, she states that he was depressed when all the names of the family had been excluded from the final draft of the NRC. The Modalities of NRC allow that tea garden labourers — most backward community of Assam (socio-economic and educationally)—should have had his name entered in the updated draft of the NRC without any documents. Persons belonging to the tea labourer community are eligible to be enlisted within the NRC, by just submitting their applications just like all tribals and some other groups of people who fall under the category of indigenous groups.

“However, it is matter of concern that the name of Kailash Tanti and all his family members has been dropped from the final draft NRC without justification. Ever since the publication of the final draft, Kailash Tanti was under deep trauma and stress; he even showed signs of mental imbalance when he was asked to submit Legacy documents of his ancestors prior to 1971. As he had no information about such documents he was frightened that he might be harassed like the Muslims and Bengali Hindus in the name of being a Bangladeshi,” Bijoy Tanti, a labourer of the same tea garden told Sabrangindia. When the news of this suicide spread in the tea garden, all labourers came out against this illegal harassment by the NRC authority. Then police arrived and took stock of the situation.

Such incidents are rapidly increasing all over the state of Assam. A vast majority of the four million persons excluded from the draft are under deep mental and physical stress. If greater sensitivity is not shown and if these discrepancies within the NRC and 3D processes are not resolved, there is the possibility of the numbers of such deaths increasing. The CJP team, involved in the NRC work are counselling, advising vast sections with limited resources.

It is time for all humanitarian and human rights groups to come out, assist and counsel the population to prevent such tragedies from recurring.