19, Nov 2020 | CJP Team
When the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31, 2019, Zabbar Ali’s name was missing from it. A resident of Mazabar village in flood-prone the Char area alongside the Brahmaputra in Barpeta, Zabbar Ali was devastated at the exclusion from the coveted list.
Ali’s father Jalil Uddin Sheikh’s name not only appears in his 1951 legacy data, but also in the voters’ lists of 1966 and 1970. But those documents showed him as a resident of Balikuri village of Kamrup district. “About forty years ago, we moved from Balikuri to Mazabar,” says Zabbar Ali’s mother Ayton Nessa, explaining the change of address.
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.
The Char area suffers from constant erosion due to changing course of the river, often forcing entire villages full of people to relocate. Few are able to maintain or save any documents. Ali submitted the documents he had, but the address discrepancy raised concerns. Therefore, despite submitting all necessary documents and exhausting the meagre savings his job as a daily wage labourer permitted him, Zabbar Ali was declared a ‘foreigner’ some time ago and subsequently excluded from the NRC. Fearing the prospect of life behind bars in a Detention Camp, Ali fled home, leaving behind his widowed mother, his wife and his children; three sons and two daughters.
Zabbar Ali’s wife Hanifa Begum is now struggling to put food on the table with her earnings as a domestic help. “We are poor and I am not educated. My husband was born and raised here, as was his entire family. But despite spending one lakh rupees on his citizenship case, we lost and my husband fled,” she says. The Covid-19 lockdown had added to her woes. “I took up whatever jobs I could to make ends meet, now I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where my husband is and I’m left here looking after the children. Sometimes, I fear I have no option but to kill myself along with my children,” a dejected Hanifa Begum told the CJP team.
Upon hearing her plight, CJP State Advisor Zamser Ali and State In-charge Nanda Ghosh assured Hanifa Begum of our support. It was under their guidance and supervision, that CJP legal team member Advocate Abhijeet Choudhury, Dhubri District Community Volunteer Habibul Bepari, Kalgachia community Volunteer Active Social worker Amirul Islam Khan, Community Volunteer Asir Uddin Talukder had arrived at the village.
Due to the poor condition of the road, the team left their vehicles and walked on foot to reach the family that lives in a modest bamboo and straw hut. The house is in a village that is 41 kilometers away from the district headquarters and falls under the jurisdiction of Baghbar police station. As soon as the CJP team reached Zabbar Ai’s house, a number of neighbours came to testify that the family had indeed lived there.
Now, team CJP is examining Zabbar Ali’s case to chart out the best course of action for the family and hopefully reunite them with Zabbar Ali. “CJP is studying the case so that we can appeal against the FT order in the high court. We are aware of Hanifa Begum’s fragile mental health and are counselling her. Our community volunteer visits her regularly,” said Nanda Ghosh.