03, Jan 2022 | CJP Team
In 2021, CJP achieved some important milestones in our programme to defend the rights of our fellow Indians in Assam. Not the least of these was helping as many as 16 more people secure bail and get released from various detention centres across the state. This takes the tally, since we began such crucial interventions in June 2020, to 50.
Our week-on-week paralegal work continued, reaching between 72-96 families in over ten districts of the state each month. Our district-level, legal team works on 25 Foreigner Tribunal cases month-on-month. We were also involved in key legal interventions at the Guwahati High Court. Additionally, we spearheaded a memorandum to the Assam Police to ensure that CCTVs are installed in every police station of the state. Here’s a look back at the sure and steady strides CJP has made in Assam in 2021.
Every day of each week, a formidable team of community volunteers, district volunteer motivators and lawyers—CJP’s Team Assam – is providing ready at hand paralegal guidance, counselling and actual legal aid to hundreds of individuals and families paralysed by the citizenship-driven humanitarian crisis in the state. Our boots on the ground approach has ensured that 12,00,000 persons filled their forms to enlist in the NRC (2017-2019) and over the past one year alone we have helped release 50 persons from Assam’s dreaded detention camps. Our intrepid team provides paralegal assistance to, on an average of 72-96 families each month. Our district-level, legal team works on 25 Foreigner Tribunal cases month on month. This ground level data ensures informed interventions by CJP in our Constitutional Courts, the Guwahati High Court and the Supreme Court. Such work is possible because of you, individuals all over India, who believe in this work. Our maxim, Equal Rights for All. #HelpCJPHelpAssam. Donate NOW!
Release of detainees
As of December 2021, CJP had helped at total of 50 people get released from various detention centres in Assam. Of these 16 people were released in 2021. These include 11 men and five women. While eight of those released this year are Bengali-speaking Muslims, the other eight are Bengali Hindus. All of them were released in accordance with Covid-19 related guidelines as laid down by two Supreme Court judgments and one Gauhati High Court order.
A complete list of people who have been released on bail from detention centres due to CJP’s interventions since the beginning of our programme, may be viewed here:
|Name||Detention Centre||Date of Release|
|Mojibor Rahman||Goalpara||Nov 19, 2019|
|Samsul Hoque||Goalpara||Feb 28, 2020|
|Abdur Rashid||Goalpara||Feb 28, 2020|
|Kamal Ali||Tezpur||March 18, 2020|
|Jainuddin||Tezpur||March 18, 2020|
|Hajera Bibi||Kokrajhar||March 18, 2020|
|Rabindra Mallik||Goalpara||April 19, 2020|
|Abdul Salam||Goalpara||April 19, 2020|
|Gul Muhammad||Tezpur||April 19, 2020|
|Parbati Das||Kokrajhar||April 22, 2020|
|Astami Das||Kokrajhar||April 22, 2020|
|Bangshidhar Rajbonshi||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Khitish Singha||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Kiswar Barman||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Shanti Bala Ray||Kokrajhar||April 22, 2020|
|Hellal Ali||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Gour Mondal||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Chittaranjan Ghosh||Goalpara||April 22, 2020|
|Jubeda Khatun||Jorhat||April 29, 2020|
|Saleha Khatun||Tezpur||May 3, 2020|
|Sadhana Sarker||Kokrajhar||May 11, 2020|
|Sunil Biswas||Goalpara||May 11, 2020|
|Manoranjan Sarker||Goalpara||May 11, 2020|
|Harimohan Barman||Goalpara||May 13, 2020|
|Purnima Biswas||Kokrajhar||May 13, 2020|
|Abdul Khalek||Goalpara||May 13, 2020|
|Lalit Thakur||Goalpara||May 15, 2020|
|Banesa Khatun||Tezpur||May 29, 2020|
|Banamali Das||Tezpur||May 29, 2020|
|Binod Das||Tezpur||May 29, 2020|
|Rajendro Das||Tezpur||May 29, 2020|
|Rahman Ali||Goalpara||June 2, 2020|
|Harbala Khatun||Kokrajhar||June 23, 2020|
|Jabed Ali||Kokrajhar||July 22, 2021|
|Banesa Bibi||Kokrajhar||Feb 4, 2021|
|Abdul Sheikh||Goalpara||April 30, 2021|
|Gopal Mandal||Goalpara||April 30, 2021|
|Amala Das||Kokrajhar||May 13, 2021|
|Joykrishna Paul||Goalpara||May 17, 2021|
|Adhir Chandra Sarkar||Goalpara||May 17, 2021|
|Doyjan Bibi||Kokrajhar||May 28, 2021|
|Shanti Basfore||Kokrajhar||June 4, 2021|
|Fazar Ali||Goalpara||Aug 9, 2021|
|Sona Khatun||Kokrajhar||Aug 19, 2021|
|Dipak Deb||Goalpara||Aug 25, 2021|
|Mrinal Mandal||Goalpara||Aug 25, 2021|
|Gangadhar Pramanik||Goalpara||Sept 14, 2021|
|Mojibor Sheikh||Goalpara||Nov 15, 2021|
|Mahiruddin||Tezpur||Dec 08, 2021|
|Mainuddin||Tezpur||Dec 08, 2021|
Additionally, we helped Chenbhanu Begum get bail from the Gauhati High Court. She had been declared foreigner in an ex parte order by the Foreigners’ Tribunal-4, Mangaldoi in Darrang District of Assam in 2019. However, she had not been arrested. The court ordered her not to leave the jurisdiction of the local police station without prior intimation and also directed the Border Police to record her finger prints and biometrics, if so advised and the petitioner has been ordered not to leave the jurisdiction of Darrang district without prior intimation to the police.
Maintaining contact even after release
CJP’s work doesn’t end with just helping people get released on bail. CJP’s intrepid team of Community Volunteers and District Volunteer Motivators (DVM) have ensured that we have our ears to the ground and whenever one of the released detainees experiences any kind of distress, we find a way to address it.
One of the key problems faced by the released detainees, all of whom hail from really marginalised communities, is the legal requirement of reporting to the local police station each week incurring both a burden in terms of distances that this means and expenses that such visits entail. This is also why when we discovered that many of the detainees who hail from extremely impoverished families were struggling to find even a morsel of food during the Covid-19 pandemic, our team swung into action.
We delivered rations including foodgrains, cooking oil, basic spices and other essential commodities to detainees such as Shantibala Ray, Harbala Khatun, Harimohon Barman, Abdul Sheikh, Sahera Kahtun, Parbati Das, Joykrishna Paul, Banesa Bibi, Abdur Rashid, Shamsul Hoque, and many others. Read more here.
Here are a few images from CJP’s drive to provide these people with rations:
Going above and beyond the call of duty
This year, there were two instances where CJP pushed harder than ever to help our fellow Indians in Assam. The first pertained to locating the natal village and family of one Sona Khatun who was forced to spend over 5 years at the Korajhar detention centre because nobody came looking for her. A similar fate befell Gangadhar Pramanik, a migrant worker from West Bengal, who was shockingly declared “foreigner” in Assam! CJP’s Assam team went well above the call of duty to help these two people.
Sona Khatun had lost touch with her family after she married a man against their wishes and moved away from home. After her husband abandoned her, she took up work as domestic help in Guwahati from where she was arrested after being declared foreigner. Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh, who had been leading the search, says, “We found out about her last year when we were helping other detainees get released amidst the Covid pandemic. But it was difficult to locate her family as she was arrested by the border police in Kamrup, but did not have any family there.”
We then expanded our search radius, moving from one village to another, from one district to another. “Our search lasted almost a year and spanned five districts: Kamrup, Goalpara, Barpeta, Dhubri and Mankachar – South Salamra,” says Nanda Ghosh. After finding out about a local religious leader, we went to meet him in Harukhunda village that is located along the border with Dhubri district.
On July 14, Nanda Ghosh went there accompanied by District Volunteer Motivator Habibul Bepari and driver-photographer Ashikul Ali. With his help and after walking for hours at end through inundated fields and forests full of thick foliage and poisonous insects, we finally found not only her family, but also a bailor. In our year-long search, we travelled over 800 kilometers. Read more about this incredible search for Sona Khatun’s family here. Here’s an infographic that summarises the feat:
The second was the mammoth task undertaken to reunite Gangadhar Pramanik with his family in Bankura district of West Bengal. Pramanik was tired of watching his family deal with soul-crushing poverty and decided to go to Assam in search of work nearly a decade ago. But here destiny had other plans for him. After a series of unfortunate circumstances, losing a job and suffering a head injury when a drunken colleague attacked him, the simple man from West Bengal ended up being declared foreigner, even though he had only crossed state boundaries within his own country!
“We found out about him in July 2021, but we faced a unique challenge as he has no family in Assam. When we found his address in West Bengal, we discovered that nobody lived there anymore. Moreover, there was no way to contact them as they had left behind no forwarding address or phone numbers,” says CJP Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh. But we did not give up and contacted his former neighbours to gather as much information as we could. Eventually we were able to establish contact with his sister and that’s when we learned of the devastating news. Gangadhar’s father Mantu had passed away and his mother had suffered a paralytic stroke. “Turns out both tragedies were the result of one thing – they were unable to contact their son who had left to work in Assam. They presumed that he was either lost, or worse… dead,” says Ghosh. But the bigger tragedy was that Gangadhar was unaware of his father’s passing and only came to know about it from us. “Nobody had been able to contact him after he was taken to the Detention Centre and we had to break the news of his father’s death to Gangadhar. He was at a loss of words and just cried,” says Ghosh.
This experience truly shook everyone in the CJP team, but team CJP persevered and after several hiccups, we were finally able to negotiate a complex arrangement. Since Pramanik did not have an address in Assam, CJP team incharge Nanda Ghosh and Advocate Abhijeet Chaudhury had to give written undertakings that they would take him home to West Bengal and take responsibility for him. They were also made to submit copies of their own documents such as voter IDs and passports.
Additionally, the CJP team helped establish contact between police officials from both states via telephone, so that the entire process could be completed smoothly. “Now Pramanik will have to go and sign his attendance at the Radhanagar outpost of the Bishnupur Police Station every week. The officials from West Bengal Police will then send a copy of this via email to the Assam Border Police,” says Ghosh explaining the complex arrangement.
But we didn’t stop at just getting him released. Nanda Ghosh and Advocate Abhijeet Chaudhury, actually accompanied Pramanik all the way to his home in West Bengal, where he had an emotional reunion with his family. Read all about it here. Over the course of the next few weeks, the West Bengal government verified his documents and restored Gangadhar Pramanik’s Indian citizenship and included his name in the electoral roll.
CJP’s Legal Aid petition before Gauhati High Court
In March this year we filed a petition before the Gauhati High Court seeking directions to the state to formulate effective and robust modalities for legal aid for people who have been excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in August 2019. These people will now be required to defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) and since a large section of them hail from economically backward and marginalized communities, they would have no option but to rely on free legal aid provided by state and district legal aid authorities.
This PIL includes an extensive survey conducted by our team of several districts and over three dozen FTs that reveal a complete absence of infrastructure within. From legal rooms for lawyers to washroom facilities for female proceedees, the absence of basic amenities makes it a nightmare for persons compelled to go to FTs.
CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad explains, “CJP’s primary focus is to ensure legal, Constitutional and fundamental rights of all Indians, particularly those from the most marginalised sections, are defended. Advanced human rights jurisprudence, developed by India’s constitutional courts recognises the right to quality, substantive legal aid as an extension of Article 21, right to life and Article 14, right to equality before the law.”
Setalvad further says, “This meticulously and thoroughly researched legal initiative by CJP, is a step forward towards alleviating the massive humanitarian crisis that has made life a living trauma for the people of Assam.”
Recently, in response to this petition, the Gauhati High Court asked the Centre and the state of Assam to indicate their stand on provision of funds.
CJP has played an integral role in providing paralegal and legal assistance to those excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), to help them gather requisite documents that will make their case for citizenship stronger before the Tribunals. CJP’s Assam Team’s continuous on-ground efforts included responding to distress calls from remote areas, on a daily basis. It is through this three-and-a-half-year effort, the team noticed that there was a lack of concerted efforts being made by the state government for providing legal aid to those excluded from NRC, as directed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
In early 2020, CJP petitioned the Guwahati High Court (previously Gauhati HC) on the issue with three families of those excluded. Senior counsel Mihir Desai assisted by Advocate Mrinmoy Dutta appeared in the matter. The petition was withdrawn after the Hon’ble High Court opined that this was a fit case for a public interest litigation. Read more here.
From April 2020 to November 2020, the organisation was involved in detailed correspondence and representations to both the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the Assam State Legal Services Authority (ASLSA). Though the Assam state administration announced that legal aid will be provided by the state, we feared that they did not have adequate personnel, proper training and infrastructure for the same.
We had also conducted our own survey of personnel, infrastructure and other facilities at District Legal Services Authority (DSLA) offices in 10 Assam districts and discovered that not only were Assam DSLAs woefully understaffed, their staff was under-trained to handle FT cases. Read more here.
On the other burning issue of persons being unilaterally declared ‘D Voters” (by officials of the Election Commission, a practice in operation since 1997) and ‘Suspected Foreigners’ by the Assam Border Police, CJP’s Team Assam has been pro-active since 2020, This part of the work will also resume in full strength once the restrictions posed by the pandemic are relaxed.
According to official figures, apart from the 19 lakh (1.9 million) people and their families disenfranchised by exclusion from the NRC, another 2.2 million are similarly excluded from citizenship and its benefits because their cases are pending before Foreigners’ Tribunals (PFT) as they have been designated ‘D Voters’ or ‘Suspected Foreigners’, or because they have been ‘Declared Foreigners’ by FTs. A staggering 69 per cent of those disenfranchised are women.
CJP assists families of Assam Police Firing move Gauhati High Court
After the shocking incident of September 23, 2021, when personnel of Assam Police opened fire on families evicted from their homes during an eviction drive in Gorukhuti village of Sipajhar Circle in Darrang district of Assam, CJP assisted the families of the deceased move Gauhati High Court for compensation.
The first petition is for the family of Sheikh Farid, a resident of Kirakara village of the Dhalpur region, would not have lost his life at the tender age of 12 had the police handled the situation professionally and with due diligence and care. The petition seeks compensation for the family of Farid who came to know of his death in a video that was circulating on social media and disturbing images of his blood-soaked body doing the rounds.
The second petition is for the family of 28-year-old Mainul Haque left behind a widow, three little children including a toddler, as well as elderly parents… he was the sole breadwinner. Haque was shot as he took up a stick to defend himself against the police and even thereafter, his lifeless body was assaulted by the police, and a photographer, covering the incident, mercilessly stomped over Haque’s body.
The petition points out that the police were not accompanied with any water cannons or any other restrained measures of crown control. The police had other means to overpower a person like Haque who was merely yielding a stick, much less a bullet on chest of the victim. The petition highlights that Haque’s killing is not only an instance of excessive use of force but in fact is an act of police brutality and cold-blooded murder in broad day light.
Both petitions point out that as per section 129 of the Code of Criminal procedure (CrPC) the police are to use civil force to disperse an assembly and under section 130, it is stipulated that “a police officer while seeking to disperse any assembly shall use as little force, and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with dispersing the assembly and arresting and detaining such persons.”
Further, even under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 99, a public servant cannot act in defence unless there is apprehension of death or grievous hurt. The petition also points out various provisions of the Assam Police Manual which prescribes how to deal with assemblies and when can firearms be used.
Also, international conventions such as Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states that firearms should be used only in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.
Finally, in both cases, right to life under Article 21 of both the victims was violated and the deaths were caused in clear violation of the accepted norms and standard under the various laws and also the norms accepted under the international standards.
The High Court issued notice to the state government of Assam on the first petition (Sheikh Farid) October 25 and on the writ petition of the second victim (Mainul Haque) on November 1.
In its response though the state has failed to explain how protesters sustained injuries to their face, head, chest and stomach when the authorities claim in their submission before the court that they “fired below the knee”.
Memorandum against FT notices stuck on electricity poles
In April this year, CJP’s Assam team discovered many notices by Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) pasted on electricity poles in Bongaigaon in Assam. Our team discovered such notices in different parts of Bongaigaon city, including Babupara, Boubajar, Ghoshpara and North Bongaigaon. Most of the notices that were posted on various electricity posts were in the name of women. In some places, the writings on the notices were erased or became obscure and unreadable due to rain. We also found some notices without names and addresses were also pasted on electricity posts.
This is a clear violation of procedure laid down explicitly by the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order of 1964. Therefore, CJP approached the Deputy Commissioner (Bongaigaon), Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam and Superintendent of Police (Border) with a memorandum to take cognisance of such instances. In our memorandum, we brought to the attention of the authorities that pasting such notices out in the open, in public places is absolutely illegal.
Here are a few images that show what our team found on the streets of Bongaigaon:
Our memorandum reads, “There is no provision for pasting of the notice anywhere. Such a course is not permitted in any nature of judicial proceedings. Assuming that the authorities discovered that the proceedee was not present at the address where they attempted to serve notice, they should have as per procedure, stuck the notice on the outer door or some other conspicuous part of the house in which the proceedee ordinarily resides or last resided or reportedly resided or personally worked for gain or carries on business. But the notices were neither stuck on the outer door or any conspicuous part of the house, but on electricity poles that are public property and stand alongside roadways.”
CJP has urged the authorities to take necessary action against the serving body and set up an enquiry into this matter to find out how many such notices were served without following due procedure under the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964.
In addition to this, it has also urged that a “public declaration made that any notice served under the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964 without following due procedure laid down therein, shall not be considered valid and will not trigger the 120-day period for the proceedee to appear before the FT to prove his/her citizenship or for that matter any proceedings under the Foreigners Act, 1946.”
Read more here.
Covid relief work and memorandum for collective action
CJP understands that in order to serve our fellow Indians in Assam, we must also attempt to help them overcome their most pressing and immediate concerns. There was none greater than Covid and everything that came with it.
We sent medical kits to CJP District Volunteer Motivators that contained thermometers, oximeters, sanitisers and paracetamol tablets. We ensured our team checked their own temperature and oxygen levels regularly before heading out into the wider population to ensure that we acted responsibly and did our part to prevent the spread of the disease.
We have also been distributing Home Isolation booklets that help people identify symptoms of Covid-19, manage their disease and recover at home. So far over 1,000 such booklets have been distributed in over 30 villages across five districts so far. These are: Dhubri, Goalpara, Chirang, Darang and Bongaigaon. We share these booklets with youth, people who can read as well as village heads.
We partnered with local organisations to expand our outreach. We have been conducting door-to-door awareness campaigns in association with Prayas Oikatan. We check people’s temperature and blood oxygen levels.
“While there is basic awareness in urban and semi urban areas, as one heads into villages, people are often unlettered and awareness levels are extremely low,” says Papiya Das, Office In-charge and translator, CJP Assam team. “In many villages, we came across people who were hesitant to take vaccines because of widespread misinformation and fake news,” she says.
But we not only advised them on the benefits of taking the anti-Covid vaccine, but also booked their appointments online. Booking appointments is often a huge hurdle for people who are either unlettered or do not have access to the internet, and CJP is helping them overcome this digital divide.
Additionally, in association with organisations like Forum for Social Harmony, Axom Mojdur Union, Minorities Democratic Youth Students’ Federation, different cultural groups, intellectuals and social workers, we are raising several Covid related concerns as part of a joint memorandum. Some of our demands include:
- Central and state governments to take responsibility for vaccination for all citizens
- Distribution of thermometers and oximeters to everyone in home isolation.
- A monthly allowance of INR 7,500 for everyone without a job and those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
- To stop NRC reverification to prevent further panic among people already dealing with the Covid crisis.
Strategy and Resolve as we move into 2022
A CJP team from Mumbai visited Assam and even met nine released detainees. Collective strategy discussions have made us resolve that we shall not only continue with our work to provide hands-on legal aid to the dispossessed, but also continue to evolve by creating para-legal and legal strategies to reach the maximum number. Regular counselling with the released detainees and steps to ensure them security in the future as well as work on the D Voter and Declared Foreigner cases will continue with additional commitment and resolve in the new year.