18, Mar 2023 | CJP Team
Sukur and his story is the most fitting representation of those Indians who are oppressed by state functionaries. Sukur, born and brought up in India, was the only son of Abdul Jalil @ Abdul Jalil Sheikh and Majiran Nessa @ Majiran Bewa. He was born in the village of Kawadi No. 2 (Sonaikhola) under the Manikpur police station of the Bongaigaon district in 1981. He grew up in the same village.
Kaiya Sheikh was Sukur’s grandfather. His grandfather and father had both died a long time ago. He has previously stated that he is his parents’ only son and is entitled to the rights, privileges, and protection guaranteed by the Indian constitution and other laws.
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!
Notably, Sukur is also a regular voter. It was only after careful verification and investigation that the Election Officer of the concerned area recorded/enrolled his name in the Electoral Roll. Since, only Indian citizens can have their names added to the electoral roll, no doubt should even have arisen regarding his citizenship. Additionally, his parents and grandparents are both Indian citizens, thus, making him an Indian citizen by birth.
Meeting Sukur Ali and his family:
Throughout CJP’s journey of assisting Indian citizens in Assam, the team has come across many instances of people from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds facing greater challenges in defending their citizenship. However, about a year ago, we came across the case of Sukur Ali, a man who begs for a living and was expected to defend his citizenship, even though his name was already present on the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Sukur Ali’s neighbor had informed the CJP team that the Bongaigaon Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) had served him with a notice. When the team had promptly gone to meet Sukur Ali at his house, it was discovered that both Sukur Ali and his mother had developmental issues.
“They are extremely impoverished and lack the resources to fight a case in the FT. Please assist them,” the neighbours had requested the CJP Team.
While the nature of their mental disability remained unclear due to the absence of proper certificates describing their mental disabilities or disorders, the economic hardship this FT case would place on the family became clear when the team had met them. In Sukur’s family, there is his 80-year-old mother Marijan Bewa, who was struggling to stir a pot with a ladle in her wrinkled feeble hands, as she cooked the family’s meal over a low flame in the open, and his wife, Jameela Khatun, was caring for their 2-year-old daughter.
Sukur also has a 4-year-old son who was completely unaware of his family’s predicament. Behind them was a hut that was so dilapidated that it was a surprise that it was still standing.
“He left home this morning and has yet to return,” Jameela said of her husband, who was out begging for food so his family could eat for one more day. It was evident that the family was clearly traumatized by the FT notice.
The case against Shukur and CJP’s helping hand:
The case against was based on the allegation that Sukur was a suspected foreigner. In the inquiry report submitted by the investigating officer in Sukur’s case, false allegations had been submitted against him, deeming that he had migrated here from East Pakistan (Bangladesh).
It is crucial to note here that no proper investigation had been conducted in this case. The Investigative Officer of the case had never even visited his home or the homes of the so-called witnesses in the case, as mentioned in the inquiry report. The I/O had falsely written/recorded the statements of the opposite party and the so-called ‘witnesses’, without even questioning them, and then submitted a false inquiry report.
Before the FT, a member of our legal team had stated unequivocally that Sukur is Indian by birth. In the written statement, it was clearly mentioned that “The I/O of the case did not seize and submit any documents, such as the passport or any other relevant documents, along with an inquiry report to substantiate their claims of the opposite party (Sukur) being a foreign national.”
It was further mentioned in the statement that the I/O of the instant case never took any statement from the opposite party (Sukur). “Thus, it would not be a reach to say that the names of the witnesses tagged with the case record are nothing, but an attempt to build a false case against the opposite party.”
It was also pointed out that during the time of investigation the I/O of this instant case had not even issued any notice to the opposite party for appearance or produced any documents to prove the citizenship of the opposite party, as is the due process of law.
The Legal Process and the hurdles faced:
The CJP Team began reviewing Sukur’s documents and discovered that his name was on the NRC. The name of Sukur Ali’s late father, Abdul Jalil Sheikh, was also present on the 1966 voters list. Additionally, Sukur’s mother was still a voter.
When it came to land documents, however, there appeared to be some sort of family feud. Despite the fact that they had some land documents, one of Shukur’s relatives took possession of all of them and had refused to part with them. Despite repeated requests from Sukur’s neighbours, who were doing everything they could to assist the impoverished family, he was still unwilling to share the photocopies.
In light of this, we enlisted the assistance of Mr. Rahim Ali, a well-known and highly respected retired teacher who lives in the same village, and is also a supporter of CJP. “This is very unfortunate,” he had said after learning about the family’s predicament, particularly the issue of land documents. “I will do everything I can to help you,” he said, promising his full support.
Thereafter, the team began with the process of arranging for a bailor. This is because, according to the rules of the Bongaigaon Foreigners Tribunal, a bailor is required for the primary level hearing of FT cases. We located a bailor and asked him to retrieve his documents. We also asked the villagers to stand by Shukur Ali’s, providing him moral support and other assistance, as was needed.
It is worth noting here that FT’s cases are frequently decided in unconventional manners, with unusual terms being used. Sometimes the individual declared as a foreigner is made to use the terms ‘projected father’ or ‘projected mother’. For minor spelling errors or surname changes, people are sometimes classified as foreigners.
Thus, another issue that needed to be tackled was that in the written statement of Sukur, it was claimed that the actual and correct name of the mother of Sukur is ‘Majiran Nessa’. Traditionally, in Muslim communities, after the death of the husband, some Muslim women change their title to ‘Bewa’ rather than ‘Khatun’. thus, in this case, Sukur’s mother’s name was written as ‘Majiran Bewa’ after his father died. This meant that ”Majiran Nessa” and ”Majiran Bewa” were the same person.
The problems mentioned above are only a small sample of the challenges that the CJP team encountered while conducting groundwork and legal work in this case. Many issues also came up while obtaining the necessary documentation from various offices. Since there was no one to assist the team with any type of documentation from his family, they had to visit various government offices several times, especially for certified copies.
The gains and the losses:
Sukur Ali was finally declared an Indian citizen by the tribunal after a year of hard work. But, this victory was also accompanied with losses, as Sukur Ali’s ailing mother, who remained concerned about the case till the end, passed away just a few days before he was declared Indian. With this fear and apprehension that her son will be a foreigner, his old mother left forever, and could not hear the good news.
When the CJP team went to Sukur’s house with a copy of his judgment, his wife became emotional and began crying.
“We don’t have anyone,” she explained. “My husband is also physically and mentally disabled. Although he appears to be in good health, he does not understand anything and cannot speak properly,” she continued.
“However, the children and I have little to eat with what he has begged for all day. My mother-in-law recently died. Meanwhile, only Allah knows how much of my time is spent in trouble and worry as a result of this foreign case!” she added.
“Thank you very much for assisting us,” she continued.
“We could not have prosecuted this case without Citizens for Justice and Peace. We are overjoyed to be getting justice. It was critical for us to obtain justice for this helpless family,” she said, expressing her gratitude.
The important question that the story of Sukur leaves us with is that, until when will innocent and helpless people go through this pain, till when will we find a permanent solution? How long will this hateful politics continue where people who are barely making ends meet are suddenly declared foreigners, being seen only for their surnames? Who is benefitting from targeting these poor, helpless, deprived people, half of whom have no other wish than to lead their simple lives?
The full judgment copy can be read here.