03, Jul 2020 | CJP Team
Harbala Khatun was forced to spend over two years in a detention camp, away from her five sons, three of whom are minors. But with CJP’s help, she was released on conditional bail and stepped out of the Kokrajhar detention camp on June 24, and was once again united with them. This is her story.
A resident of Padmapur village that falls under Sidli police station in Chirang District of Assam, Harbala lived a modest but peaceful life with her husband Samser and five sons; Ismail Hussain, Md Narjul Haque, Md Suraj Ali, Sultan Ali and Md Sufial Ali. Her two eldest sons Ismail Hussain and Md Narjul Haque work as carpenters and are the family’s breadwinners, as Samser cannot work on account of his advanced age. Her other three sons go to school. Md Suraj Ali is a student of class 9, Sultan Ali studies in class 8 and the youngest son Md Sufial Ali is a student of class 3.
All was well until one day, Harbala was served notice by the border police and thus needed to defend her citizenship before a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Chirang. But because members of her family did not see eye-to-eye with members of her husband’s family and weren’t even on speaking terms, the family didn’t even try to contact them for documents to prove Harbala’s citizenship and didn’t even fight the case in the FT.
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.
“Because they didn’t even go to the FT, Harbala was declared foreigner in an ex parte judgment,” says Nanda Ghosh, CJP’s Lower Assam Volunteer Motivator. On June 22, 2018, she was sent to the detention camp in Kokrajhar.
“When it was time to appeal the FT’s decision in the High Court, they finally decided to temporarily put their family fued aside and managed to secure some documents from Harbala’s family, but even those were not sufficient. They also spent a lot of money on a lawyer to fight the case in the High Court, but allegedly he just pocketed the money and did nothing to help Harbala,” he explains. Harbala’s case is still pending before the High Court.
Harbala’s son Najrul told CJP, “Despite being poor, we spent a lot of money on our mother’s case. We even took loans” He explains, “We could not get the proper documents due to lack of good relations with the family of our maternal uncle.”
After the Supreme Court reduced the time required for detainees to become eligible for conditional bail from three years to two years in an order passed in April 2020, in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, CJP started putting together a fresh list of people we could assist with their release. “CJP began work in advance so that Harbala could be bailed out as soon as she completed the requisite time of two years in the detention camp,” says Ghosh who was part of the CJP team working on the case.
Luckily for Harbala, CJP discovered that she had tremendous goodwill in her village, with people rooting for her and praying for her release. “Ordinarily, it is difficult to find bailors, but that was not the case for Harbala,” says Ghosh. Other CJP team members working on Harbala’s case were Chirang District Volunteer Motivator Abul Kalam Azad, CJP advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim and advocate Preeti Karmakar, all of whom worked under the guidance of CJP’s Assam State Coordinator Zamser Ali.
Ghosh says, “After month long work that involved getting bailors, having their documents verified, getting the bail application made and submitting all documents before the SP’s office, we got the release order on June 23 and Harbala walked out of the Kokrajhar detention camp the following day.”
Harbala received a warm and emotional welcome in her village, with many villagers shedding tears of joy when she came back home after 2 years and 3 days. Harbala herself was overcome with emotion when she saw her sons and broke into tears when she saw Sufial Ali, the youngest. They spent many moments hugging and crying.
After she composed herself, Harbala told CJP, “I never thought I would see the faces of my boys. I can’t remember how many nights I cried like crazy thinking about them. Sometimes I thought I would commit suicide and then I thought what will happen to my boys?”
She recalls having stopped eating when she was first sent to the detention camp. Harbala did not eat anything for five days and had to be hospitalised and given a saline drip! Harbala still shudders at her experience in the detention camp, “They have made my life hell, it broke my spirit. It was dark and gloomy and the food was terrible.”
Harbala’s sons thanked CJP saying, “We are forever grateful for the help CJP has given us without charging us any money, even for legal aid.” But with their mother back home, they are now hoping to start a fresh chapter in their lives.
Here are a few images from when Harbala came back home: