05, Jun 2021 | CJP Team
In April this year, CJP had brought to you the story of Shanti Basfore, a 60-year-old Dalit woman who has been languishing behind bars at the Kokrajhar detention camp since May 2019. We had met her daughter Champa who was deeply traumatised by her mother’s incarceration. But on June 4, we finally secured Shanti’s release on conditional bail.
“My mother is finally home after two years! You have no idea what we went through during that time, wondering if she had eaten, if she had been able to sleep, what was her condition,” says a visibly relieved Champa. “I appeal to the government to ensure that no one else has to endure what we did,” she says.
While Shanti was herself deeply overwhelmed, she did manage to say a few words, “There are many others who have suffered the way I have suffered. I am grateful to CJP and I hope you will also help many others. You have my blessings.”
Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. We are also helping secure the release of detention camp inmates as per the Supreme Court order on their conditional release. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.
Brief background of the case
Shanti, a Dalit woman, hails from Ramraikuti (Part-2) village that falls under the jurisdiction of Agomani police station in Dhubri district. Her home is located only half a kilometer from the Indo-Bangladesh border, and far away from urban centers like Assam’s capital city of Guwahati that is 300 kilometers away.
Her neighbours were baffled when she was first dragged away to a detention camp. “I was born and raised in this village and have known Shanti ever since we were children,” says her neighbour Indrani Das. “Suddenly, one day police came and said she was a D-Voter. They took her away to a detention camp,” she says, adding “This is ridiculous because I have known her all my life!”
Shanti’s father, Panjabi Basfore, was a permanent resident of Ward 8 that falls under Police Reserve Dhubri in the same district. He had his 1956 legacy data in his own name. But after he died, Shanti was married away when she was still in her teens to Badonlal Basfore. The couple’s names appear in the voters’ list.
A reference was made against her and in November 2017, she was served notice asking her to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Dhubri in December 2017. But owing to either ignorance or poverty, Shanti failed to appear before the FT and was declared foreigners ex parte. She was subsequently sent to the Kokrajhar detention camp.
Hussain Ali, CJP senior Community Volunteer and another one of Shanti’s neighbours explains, “I know her parents. I remember when they got married. I have known Shanti since the day she was born.” He says, “I have seen the family suffer as they ran from pillar to post organising her documents. Then they had the misfortune of hiring a lawyer who just took them for a ride.”
Challenges in securing bail
CJP faced challenges in securing bailors for Shanti Basfore. “The first time there was a minor discrepancy in the bailors’ documents, so they were rejected. Then came the Gauhati High Court order that relaxed conditions for bail and now only one bailor was required. But when we found one, his land taxes had not been cleared for a long time, and government offices were shut due to Covid. So, the new bailor was also rejected. Finally, we found a bailor with all his documents and tax clearance in order only last Monday, but because of these delays the total process took 29 days,” explains Nanda Ghosh, CJP Assam state in-charge.
District Volunteer Motivator Habibul Bepari and senior Community Volunteer Hussain Ali worked hard to not only maintain constant communication with the Basfore family, but also persevered despite all obstacles. They got all paperwork in order despite the Covid induced lockdown. Ashikur Ali who doubles as our driver and photographer was also a very valuable resource during the entire ordeal. On the day of the release, we covered 164 kms spread across three districts to reach Dhubri from Bijni in Chirang, beginning early in the morning and ending the day way past midnight amidst heavy rainfall.
Legal team member Ishkander Azad helped us finish all paperwork and formalities at the office of the Superintendent of Police (Border Police) and at 2:30 P.M we started our journey to the Kokrajhar Detention Camp. But there was a delay in getting Shanti released from the detention camp as the jailor was away. Shanti was finally released only at 4:30 P.M. Upon stepping it she became overwhelmed by the sight of new faces surrounding her and we helped her deal with this emotionally difficult moment.
Basfore family stays strong, CJP persists
“Our team was deeply moved by the family’s plight. After Shanti was sent to the detention camp, her son apparently could not bear the trauma and lost his mental balance. He went missing three years ago, and still remains untraceable,” say Ghosh. “Meanwhile the entire family is dependent on Champa’s meagre income as a Safai Karmachari. Champa made sure her children stayed in school. Her son is in class 10 and daughter in class 12 in the Science stream,” he adds.
While on the one hand, the Basfore family’s courage inspired us, it turns out our persistence also did not go unnoticed. “On the day we secured Shanti’s release, people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds from the entire panchayat held a special ritual to welcome Shanti and team CJP. It was very overwhelming,” says Ghosh. The people all belonged to different castes and communities, from Bengali speakers to Hindi speakers, Hindus and Muslims, even a few Rajbongshis! They greeted the CJP team with traditional Assamese Gamosa. We thank Al Arif Ahmed, Ujjal Dey and Jubayer Ahmed and the villagers for their moral support.
Indrani Das says, “I remember the day the CJP team first visited Champa. Before that she was completely helpless. Nobody has done as much for the family as CJP.” She further asks, “The government is just toying with people’s lives. Are people only valuable as voters?”
A few images that cptured Shanti’s return may be viewed here: