28, Jul 2018 | Deborah Grey
Even as Assam gets ready for a draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that will be released on July 30, 2018, many people, whose cases are still pending before Foreigners’ Tribunals or the Gauhati High Court, will have to wait to have their names cleared before they can be added in the NRC. But as we discovered in case of one Shamshul Haq of Nagaon, having your name cleared once, is no guarantee that your troubles have ended.
65 year old Shamshul Haq is tired. “I just want it to end,” says the daily wage earner from Niz Dhing, a village in Assam’s Nagaon district. Haq has faced trial at the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) four times! Interestingly, his name has been cleared and he was found to be an Indian citizen three out of those four times and the fourth trial is still on.
His voice replete with exasperation Haq exclaims, “I was born here. My father was born here. My mother is a Hindu!” Unable to understand why this strange fate befell him, he wonders aloud, “How can I be a foreigner?”
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Haq was first referred to the FT in 2002 by the Superintendent of the Border Police. The matter was heard and after a trial (Case no 50/2002) his name was cleared in 2009. Oddly enough, even as this case was pending, his name was once again referred to the FT, by the SP Border Police in 2004. However, even in this case (Case no 1/2004) Haq managed to clear his name in 2009.
But just when he thought the whole issue was behind him, Haq discovered that his name had been referred to the FT in a separate case (Case no 539/2002) in 2002 by the Border SP! And yet again Haq managed to clear his name in 2011. But fate had other plans for him. The Border SP once again referred his name to the FT in 2015 (Case no 169/2015) and this case is still going on.
“Grounds for reference have not been made clear in any of the cases against my client,” claims Haq’s lawyer Advocate Humayun Kabir.
Haq has submitted copies of electoral rolls where his name appears and that is why he keeps getting a clean chit each time.
Haq, meanwhile, feels it is his enmity with the secretary of his village panchayat which has led to this constant harassment. “The secretary is jealous of me. So he keeps having me targeted,” Haq alleges. “Section 9 of the Foreigners Act 1946 places burden of proof on the proceedee. This makes it easy for the Border Police to arbitrarily refer anyone,” says Advocate Kabir.
Haq’s case is important given how it illustrates how difficult it is for citizens to clear their names and that getting a clean chit once is no guarantee that one won’t have to go through the wringer again. This is also important because one’s name cannot be included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) until it is cleared by the FT.
Though the Assam State Government has assured people that exclusion from the draft does not mean they will be taken to a detention center or deported, and that adequate opportunity will be given to citizens to file claims and objections, there is a fear that the same kind of harassment as Haq faced could also affect people filing appeals under claims and objections. Will any decision by any authority provide a permanent solution or will citizens be made to run from pillar to post in some insidious loop?