21, May 2020 | CJP Team
Lalit Thakur has had an eventful life. He was a barber from Bihar whose family had moved to Assam. Then he lost his home during ethnic clashes in the state. But never in his life did the 58-year-old expect to be declared a ‘foreigner’ in his own country and sent to a detention camp! After over three and a half years of incarceration, he finally walked free with CJP’S help.
About an year ago, we found out that nobody had visited Lalit Thakur at the detention camp. We worried that perhaps, he was languishing behind bars because he had no one. Since then have been hard at work trying to secure his release. With CJP’s assistance Thakur was able to obtain conditional bail in accordance with a Supreme Court order and walked out on May 15, 2020.
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.
Lalit Thakur’s ordeal
Lalit Thakur is the son of Late Swandewsar Thakur, and his family has roots in Bihar. In Assam, the family lived in Nepalpara near the Gorubhasha region, that falls under the jurisdiction of Sidli Police Station in Chirang district.
In 2012, during ethnic clashes between Bodo and non-Bodo people in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), Thakur’s home and identity documents were reduced to ashes. He was forced to move to a relief camp with his family after that.
However, some people thought that because his surname is Thakur, he could be Bengali given how Thakur or Tagore are common Bengali surnames. Later, he received a notice to appear before a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Assam, but he could not afford to defend his citizenship and was declared foreigner. He had been languishing behind bars at the Goalpara detention camp in Assam since October 26, 2016.
His wife was forced to work as a daily wage labourer to look after their children. She was therefore unable to visit him in prison. “Our team covered a distance of over 100 kilometers and visited Gorubhasa several times to look for Lalit Thakur’s family. It took us three months to find his family; a wife and four children,” says Nanda Ghosh, CJP Volunteer Motivator from Lower Assam who worked on the case.
Determined to help reunite the hapless and impoverished family we plunged headlong into organizing the resources required to secure his conditional bail. However, this is where we faced a unique challenge in finding guarantors for his bail. “The guarantor must have his own land patta in his name, rent receipt, legacy data of 1971 or 1951, land valuation certificate, current voter list etc. Not everyone has these things ready, so most of the people who were ready to be a guarantor needed CJP to step in and help them first sort out their own documentation,” says Ghosh. “Also, even if there was a slight difference in how the name appeared in different documents, the application would get rejected, forcing us to begin afresh,” explains Ghosh. In Thakur’s case the problem got exacerbated because, as Ghosh explains, “No one in Thakur’s village of has a piece of permanent patta land!”
Finally, with the help and presence of CJP Assam State Coordinator Zamser Ali, on April 22, we found a guarantor. The process to have all documents verified was arduous, and it was only by May 13 that we were able to complete all the paperwork. But this was just one guarantor and we needed two.
CJP took this challenge head on and even visited four villages with a tribal (Santhaal) social worker name Jana Murnu from morning to evening. We also met villagers by taking along like-minded helpful people who are influential in these areas; sometimes, with the local leader of Bengali youth students Federation, sometimes with the leader of Hindi-speaking organization, and sometimes with Navjit Chhetri who is Lalit Thakur’s neighbour from Gorkha community. But still we had no luck.
“On May 13, we came to know that, the number of people who came out of detention camp was to be submitted to higher authority by May 15, 2020. So, if we couldn’t release Lalit Thakur before May 15, then it may be difficult to get him released at all! The lockdown and the widespread Covid-19 pandemic also posed a serious challenge,” says Ghosh. Undeterred, the CJP team soldiered on with masks, sanitizers and all the while practicing social distancing norms. “We made posts on Facbook and also several calls in order to find bailors for Lalit Thakur,” says Ghosh.
Meanwhile, as the deadline to release Thakur grew closer, Zamser Ali posted an appeal from his Facebook page. This led to a response from 13 people who all agreed to send their documents by midnight! “It was a race against time from then on and we received the hard copies of the scrutinized documents at 7 am and thus finalized the second bailor. The administration had a strict rule that two bailors had to appear at 12 noon. So, CJP Community Volunteers Pijush Chakraborty and Pankaj Pathak appeared on behalf of the CJP at 11 AM after traveling 70 kms. CJP Volunteer Motivators Abul Kalam Azad and Pranjal Choudhury were present on time with the first local guarantor” says Ghosh.
Dewan Abdur Rahim, CJP’s Advocate of Bongaigaon-Chirang district, travelled 36 kms and arrived on time. Volunteer Motivators Pranay Tarafder, Community Volunteer Papiya Das worked behind the scene to arrange for vehicles and food. Everything was supervised by Zamser Ali who was in quarantine and Nanda Ghosh from Chirang.
Lalit Thakur was finally released on bail at about 8 PM on May 15. His wife came to receive him and the CJP team dropped them home by 10 PM the same day. Though Thakur is grateful to CJP, he also has serious concerns about his future, “I lost everything and now I have to look after my family. I need to build us a home and a shop so I can sustain my family. I don’t know how I will do that,” he says. He is also worried about his weekly visits to the police station as a part of his bail and what would now happen to his extended family, given how siblings and family members of declared foreigners are also excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and expected to defend their citizenship before foreigners’ tribunals.
But CJP has assured Thakur help with his rehabilitation and will continue to support him and his family even though he is no longer behind bars.
Pijush Chakraborty, Pranjal Choudhury, Jana Murmu, Pankaj Pathak, Samis Ali, Rajib Barman, Bipul Sarkar, Mohonbashi Ray, Sujan Mandal, Sushil Sharma, Ratan Goswami, Mithun Adhikary, Joymati debi, Badal Chandra Chanda, Abul Kalam Azad(AAMSU), Dipak Dey, Gopal Ghosh, Sanjit Sarkar,(All from ABBYSF) Navjit Chettri, Badriprasad Gurgayi, Santosh (HBSU), Mrinal Kanti Saha, Manoj Saha, Raju Saha Mandal, Bhargab Sarkar, Amritlal Das, Subash Sarkar, Bhargab Sarkar, Swapan Saha, Habibur Rahman & others well wishers. We would also like to thank Bharatiya Nagarik Adhikar Suraksha Mancha, Forum for Social Harmony, AAMSU, AABYSF, ABMSU, ABYSO, AIBO, SABOM, Bengali Surkasha Mancha, Prayas and Oikyatan for all their help and support.