16, Apr 2022 | Nanda Ghosh
Life had already dealt Champa Das a tough hand. Not only was she a Dalit woman, she had been living in penury after the death of her husband and son. But things got even worse when she was served notice to appear before a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam and defend her Indian citizenship. But she was spared the cruel fate of spending life behind bars in a detention centre after Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) took up her case and after long and persistent efforts, helped her get a judgment that recognised her as a “stream refugee”.
75-year-old Champa Das, widow of Dharani Das, was a resident of Boro Lechigaon village that falls under the jurisdiction of the Bijni police station in Chirang district of Assam. She was served notice by the Border Police on November 10, 2020 to appear before the Chirang FT by November 26, 2020.
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 52 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!
Champa Das’s entire life fell out of gear as she grappled with this new challenge. The unlettered woman suffered from high blood pressure and constant worry only made her health worse. CJP found out about her when a neighbour contacted one of our Community Volunteers.
Our team met her the day after she received the notice and discovered that the wrong village had been mentioned in the FT notice. “We took the FT notice to the border police office and pointed out that it said Batabari instead of Boro Lechigaon. After eight days they took the notice back,” says CJP’s Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh. But it did not end there…
Shockingly, on November 24, 2020 Das was served another notice in FT case no BNGNFT(CHR) 129/08. The CJP team comprising Ghosh as well as Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim and Advocate Abhijeet Choudhury immediately swung into action.
A traumatised Champa told us, “I will die! Please save me from the detention camp!” She narrated the plight of an unfortunate neighbour saying, “She was taken to the Kokrajhar detention camp and came back home recently after being released. She told me about the horrible conditions of the jail. So, death is better than detention camp!”
CJP legal member Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim look into the case and appeared before the FT. Due to her illness, it was difficult to take Das to the FT. She had to be taken to the hospital first and we sought more time to produce her before FT. We took her to the FT only after she had regained her health enough to manage the travel.
Champa Das’s case in unique. Her family came to India from erstwhile East Pakistan in period preceding the Bangladesh war, and settled in the Coochbehar district of West Bengal. She lost both her parents at an early age and took up daily wage work and also worked as a domestic help to survive. She had no connection with any of her other family members.
One of her employers got her married to Dharani Das and she moved to Assam. But Champa was neither enrolled in a school or even in the voters’ list before she got married. It is only after marriage that her name appeared along with that of her husband in the voters’ list from 1997 onwards. At present, she has a Voter ID, Aadhaar Card, and a ration card.
CJP followed her case diligently and completed all necessary legal formalities. The FT case went on for a year and it was only recently that the FT recognised that she was part of a stream of refugees who came to India between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971. As a result, her name will now have to be struck off the voters’ list for ten years after which she will have to apply afresh for inclusion. But at least she will not have to go to a detention centre which could have been the likely outcome if Das never went to the FT and the case was decided ex parte.
She was overcome with emotion as we handed her a copy of the judgment and said, “First I lost my husband, then I lost my son. When I got the notice, I couldn’t breathe!” Acutely aware of what happens next, she has made peace with the outcome of the judgment. She says, “For the last one year, I have spent sleepless nights. Now you say that my name will cut from the voters’ list for ten years? It is nothing… Now I’m free. At least police can’t detain me and send me to that horrible jail.” Expressing gratitude for our team she told Ghosh, “CJP, you, Advocate Rahim baba have done so much for me, I never forgot to you!”
A copy of the judgment may be read here: