EXCLUSIVE: 15 days after release from an Assam Detention Camp Sofiya Khatun still traumatised Unable to speak, lives in constant fear despite freedom

01, Oct 2018 | Zamser Ali

It has been a fortnight since her release, but 50 year old Sofiya Khatun is not the same. After spending two years and eight days in a detention camp, she is a shadow of her former self and even though she is back home, her life has not returned to normal. She lives every day with the trauma caused by her time at the detention camp.

Sofiya Khatun, a resident of Jamadarbori Village of Barpeta District in Assam was sent to the Kokrajhar Detention Camp after being declared ‘foreigner’ by a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Barpeta in October, 2016. But on September 12, Sofiya, the “foreigner” daughter of an Indian father was finally released when the Supreme Court of India passed a historic judgement that enabled the release.

Over four million people have been left out of the NRC draft, most of them from socio-economically backward communities. Now CJP, drawing from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, will step in with a  multi-faceted team of lawyers and volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 15 of the worst affected districts. Your contribution can help cover the costs of a legal team, travel, documentation and technological expenses. Please donate generously here.

A division bench of Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul heard the Special Leave Appeal(C) No(s) 8252 and ordered the Government of Assam to release Sofiya Khatun from the Detention Camp on the signing of a Personal Release Bond.

The pleadings before India’s Supreme Court had established that Sofiya’s natal family, the father, mother and brothers of Sofiya Khatun had been found to be Indian as per the special Verification Report of the Assam Police, which was submitted to Supreme Court in accordance with directives passed earlier. The Assam Police in its inquiry report found that the father, mother and brothers, ’projected’ (read claimed) by Sofiya Khatun, all are Indian. The Assam Police also reported to the Supreme Court of India that some aspects of their citizenship needed to be investigated further.

The two member bench of the Supreme Court of India disregarded  the “Projected” theory, a construct that has emerged and been legitimised, first by the Foreigners Tribunals of Assam. Lately, even the Guwahati High Court has been responding this construct. As a result of the SC Order, that dealt with the matter without allowing the objections for the need of further investigation raises by the Assam Police, Sofiya was ordered to be released from the Detention Camp. The entire SC judgment may be read here.

The prompt relief granted by the Supreme Court of India sent a message down the line. An urgent message was directly sent to the Kokrajhar Jail Authority for the speedy release of Sofiya Khatun. Following these directives, the Kokrajhar Jail  Authorities released Sofiya Khatun from the Detention Camp on  September 13, 2018.

Life is not the same, even after release

How has life been for Sofiya Khatun after her release from the Kokhrajar Detention Camp? A fortnight since her release, after spending two years and eight days in a detention camp, Sofiya Khatun’s life has not returned to normal. Sofiya Khatun is now a shadow of her former self. We managed to have a brief conversation with Sofiya. She is unable to smile, fearful of articulating details about her years in detention. Fear worsens her trauma or rather extenuates it. When we tried to get her to speak on camera, she just stood there… petrified in silence. You can watch her video here:

Price of Justice

Meanwhile, Sofiya’s husband Gulzar Hussain is relieved to have her home. However, it has taken a huge financial toll on the family. Speaking to CJP he said, “I have to spend Rs. 30,000 in Foreigners Tribunal, Rs, 70,000 in the High Court and Rs. 1,50,000 in the Supreme Court. My economic condition was not enough to spend that huge sum of money. A small amount of that sum was paid by myself and the rest was given by my father-in-law’s family. They paid it even while working as wage labourers outside the state.” But he also declined to speak on camera.

Shahjahan Ali Ahmed, President of the Assam Citizenship Rights Preservation Committee, who has been following Sofiya Khatun’s case, said, “I am grateful to the Supreme Court for finally giving Sofiya Khatoon justice. But, the family had to run from pillar to post. from the Foreigners’ Tribunal to the Gauhati High Court and finally the Supreme Court. This case has destroyed them financially. They had had to mortgage land, even sell their cows!”

Sofiya Khatun’s story may be viewed here:

Meanwhile, the Assam Citizenship Rights Preservation Committee have raised a demand for the paying of  Rs. 10,00,000 for the illegal harassment of Indian Citizens by dubbing them ‘foreigners’. Ahmed also says that the condition of detention camps needs urgent improvement. He says, “The food is inedible, the sanitation facilities are deplorable. The conditions are inhuman!” Shajahan Ali Ahmed also demands that the Foreigners Tribunals should function under direct supervision of the Supreme Court of India.


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