22, Nov 2023 | Nanda Ghosh
It was in November 2023, three years and eight months after receiving the dreaded foreigners notice, that Seje Bala Ghosh, daughter of a legendary freedom fighter was finally declared Indian in Assam!
It was in March 2020, Seje Bala Ghosh, a 73-year old, a widow resident of North Bongaigaon (Ward 10) of Assam was served a “declared foreigners notice” demanding that she appear before a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Assam never mind the fact that her name had appeared in the final draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on August 31, 2019.
Yesterday, November 21, after she collected the order from the FT, she was all smiles and then, after reaching home with Team CJP, there was time for reminiscing. “My mother contributed 50 rupees to the Indian Defence Fund during the War. At the time, 50 rupees had a huge value. We could buy four kilograms of rice only at 1 rupee at that time. Our father used to send us to the local shop to buy this. We could buy 250 ml of oil only at One Anna!”
Every week, CJP’s dedicated team in Assam, comprising community volunteers, district volunteer motivators, and lawyers, provides vital paralegal support, counseling, and legal aid to many affected by the citizenship crisis in over 24 districts in Assam. Through our hands-on approach, 12,00,000 people successfully submitted completed NRC forms (2017-2019). We fight Foreigner Tribunal cases monthly at the district level. Through these concerted efforts, we have achieved an impressive success rate of 20 cases annually, with individuals successfully obtaining their Indian citizenship. This ground level data ensures informed interventions by CJP in our Constitutional Courts. Your support fuels this crucial work. Stand with us for Equal Rights for All #HelpCJPHelpAssam. Donate NOW!
Suddenly, on a sombre note, with lips trembling, she emotionally recalled, “At the age of 73 years, this government has made me go to Court. Maybe this was written in my destiny. But Bhagwan (God) will make them pay. I will not say anything more, Bhagwan is watching everything, I had to suffer a lot, my hand and my foot were fractured due to the intense harassment caused by this case.”
She further added, “It’s not enough that I am declared an Indian. The fact that I had to go to a Court for this is so shameful for me and I will never forget this because I am not a Bangladeshi!”
Dignified and proud, 73 year-old, Seje Bala Ghosh has a particularly interesting and illustrious ancestry.
Her father Lt. Digendra Chandra Ghosh, was a close associate of the prominent revolutionary freedom fighter Chandra Sekhar Azad.
With such an illustrious legacy and upbringing, she walked with her head held high. Then came the vicarious “notice” that cast the “Bangladeshi slur” on her, made Seje Bala feel ashamed, compelled as she was to “prove” her “Indian citizenship”. Since March of 2020, until November 2023, three years and eight months after the shocker from the Tribunal, volunteers and lawyers of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) worked with her. And, finally she was declared Indian! Yesterday, on November 21, we formally received the written copy of the order that had been orally pronounced earler this month.
On behalf of team CJP, Assam state-in-charge Nanda Ghosh (author of this piece), legal team member and advocate, Dewan Abdur Rahim and his junior advocate Sahidur Rahman handed over the copy of the judgement to her.
CJP has, in the sixth year of its work in Assam assisted dozens of persons obtain or retain their citizenship status in Assam besides leading class action cases in the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court.
Brief background of Seje Bala’s case:
Seje Bala’s father, Digendra Ghosh, moved to Assam from the Sherpur town in the erstwhile Maymonshing district of what was then called East Pakistan. According to the refugee registration certificate dated March 7, 1951, Digendra Chandra Ghosh, son of Padma, is duly registered as refugee along with his four other family members. The refugee certificate bears the official seal and is signed by Deputy Commissioner of the then Goalpara District of Assam.
The family registered as refugees and took shelter in Bongaigaon. Their names were included in the 1951 NRC enumeration in Bongaigaon. The names included in 1951 NRC of her family were of the father of Seje Bala Ghosh, Digendra Chandra Ghosh her elder brother Dhiren Ghosh a.k.a Manik Ghosh, her elder sisters Manada a.k.a Usharani Ghosh and Sudharani Ghosh. It needs mention here that the name of her mother Barada Bala Ghosh was not included in the 1951 NRC as she had –at the time —gone to her natal home (parental home) due to her pregnancy.
Barely a few days later, Seje Bala Ghosh was born at her maternal grandfather’s house in Bilashipara of Goalpara District, according to Sudharani Ghosh and Usharani Ghosh (her sisters) who are still living. To continue the narrative of this beleaguered family, after staying for a few days in a refugee camp at Bongaigaon, the family shifted to Darrang District. Digendra Chandra Ghosh as well as his four other sons and daughters had also been issued a passport in the year 1960. The address of Digendra Chandra Ghosh in his passport was recorded as resident of village Balagora, PS- Mangaldoi in the undivided Darrang district.
Seje Bala Ghosh and her younger brother Haribhakta Ghosh informed CJP that their father died in 1961 in that village. The names of Barada Bala Ghosh, wife of Digendra Chandra Ghosh and Manik Ghosh son of late Digendra Chandra Ghosh were both thereafter included in the 1966 voter list with the same address from where the passport of Digendra Chandra Ghosh has been issued. The two persons who were included in the 1966 voter list are the mother and elder brother of Seje Bala Ghosh respectively.
After CJP had taken up her case we set about compiling all her documents. She was asked to appear for the hearing at a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) but it was not easy. One of her sons had died, and the other has not been able to find any work due to the Covid-19 lockdown at the time. The family was barely surviving and mostly due to the kindness of neighbours and a nephew. Meanwhile, tragically, Seje Bala’s health had deteriorated significantly. When she learnt about the possibility of an impending FT hearing on the question of her citizenship after the lockdown had been lifted, she fainted and fell to the ground, in shock, fracturing her arm in the process!
“I cannot eat because of the tension. I cannot sleep. I had to take sleeping pills,” Seje Bala told CJP’s Nanda Ghosh, recalling this traumatic period.
“Through this period, our team faced many challenges at the time of counselling her, offering reassurance and support. When Seje Bala was immobilised with a broken arm our senior woman team member, Papiya Das visited her as well, offering crucial mental health support. Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim, who is a key member of our legal team actually visited her home several times to effectively complete the documentation process and complete other official formalities. On one day she even had to attend the hearing at the Tribunal with a broken arm and in a terribly sickly condition. ”
The legal battle in Seje Bala’s case
As mentioned above, it was after she received the dreaded notice from the Assam Border Police of Bongaigaon district that CJP’s Team shockingly found that she was “tagged” as a suspected foreigner hailing from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971! Our involvement and inquiries revealed that these baseless allegations by the Investigating Officer (IO) making such irresponsible noting(s) on her file, were and are false, concocted and made with an ulterior motive. Police personnel concerned never even once visited her house in connection with this case. Worse, the IO in the case never even recorded any statements from her and any other witnesses and submitted these (as is required by practice) along with the inquiry report to the Tribunal.
To further pin-point both procedural and substantive malafide by the IO, the name and statements of so called witnesses, that the CJP Team found tagged with the case record were nothing but motivated by a desire to make out a false case. At the time of investigation (post 2004), the IO in this case had not even issued any notice to Seje Bala to ensure her appearance before the Tribunal with required documents to prove her citizenship as is required under law.
So, first, the IO simply submitted a concocted (or false) inquiry report without any investigation against her. Thereafter, the IO has not even taken the trouble to acquire and then submit any documents from her — passport and/or any other documents— along with the inquiry report in the case that actually demonstrate that she is a foreign national.
Finally, Seje Bala Ghosh had to undergo this physical and procedural harassment – alleviated only thanks to CJP – despite the fact that this case is barred by the law of limitation. The case was initially “registered” in the year 2004 (states the order of the Superintendent of Police (SP) (Bongaigaon). Yet Seje Bala Ghosh received a 2004 notice, during the Covid-19 lockdown, in March 2020, 20 years after the so-called “investigation” had been conducted.
A victory at last! But at what cost?
Is Seje Bala a Bangladeshi?
We at Team CJP have been persistently active on the ground addressing the Citizenship Crisis. Our experience has found that it is hapless, marginalised Indians, especially women, who are targeted and harassed, viciously slurred with the label of “Bangladeshi.”
CJP has already helped several such victims “declared Indian” before the Foreigners Tribunals after grueling and patient intervention and work.
So this too, finally, is another CJP victory achieved in the first week of November, 2023, Seje Bala Ghosh has been declared Indian (not foreigner or Bangladeshi)! However we finally received the order only on November 21, 2023 from the Tribunal. So, on behalf of team CJP, Assam state-in-charge, Nanda Ghosh, legal team member, advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim and his junior advocate, Sahidur Rahman, took Seje Bala Ghosh to complete final formalities and then handed over the copy of the judgement.
November 21 will (hopefully) be the last day that Seje Bala will ever have to visit the dreaded Foreigner’s Tribunal. After completion of all official formalities, Nanda Ghosh and Ashikul Hussain drooped her home.
“Before that, every time the team met her over the past three years and eight months, Seje Bala would be in tears. Yesterday, November 21, she was a changed person, talking and smiling a lot, looking well and healthy.” When CJP Secretary, Teesta Setalvad congratulated her over the phone, she showered the entire CJP team with prayers and best wishes.
Before we returned back to our homes, we spent some time with her. “I don’t know what to say! I have been severely harassed and I have to acknowledge that thanks to Baba (referring to both CJP volunteers and her nephew) I finally got my justice today, after more than three years. My advocate (Dewan Abdur Rahim) was also very supportive. I pray for you all, stay well!
The order may be viewed here: