09, Aug 2023 | CJP Team
In a remote corner of Assam’s Dhubri district, a haunting tale of struggle, despair, and hope unfolds. CJP’s District Voluntary Motivator (DVM), Habibul Bepari and by CJP community volunteer Moon Kazi came across a moving story and witnessed the harrowing plight of FT notice victim, Matleb Ali.
Matleb Ali, a 36-year-old migrant worker, has had to toil outside of Assam to provide for his family for years. Compelled to stop his studies due to financial constraints at a young age, he took on the burden, like many others in his community, to take care of his family. However, despite residing mostly outside the state, he took pride in exercising his democratic rights, and was proud about the fact that he never missed a chance to vote. Armed with all essential documents, from ration cards to Aadhar cards and his family’s name in the 1951 NRC, Matlab Ali always felt secure in his status as an Indian, in fact it was something he had never thought would be questioned.
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!
Yet, this monsoon his joyous return to his family for Eid turned into a nightmare when the police arrived in civil attire, serving him with the dreaded Foreigners Tribunal notice. The ultimatum to appear in court and the prospect of facing the risk of being tagged a foreigner left Matleb devastated and shattered. Desperate for help, he sought support from fellow villagers while preparing to battle the state’s aspersions about his citizenship.
Tragedy had struck Matleb’s family before, this was not the first time, with the untimely death of his father and the loss of their home in a fire near the Indo-Bangladesh Border in Ramraikuti village. Their strength and resilience had led them to rebuild their lives near his parental home, where they shifted their votes with the help of BLO in 1997.
In his pursuit to cement his status as an Indian, Matleb worked feverishly and accumulated as many documents as possible during the NRC process, successfully obtaining some land documents and the 1951 NRC records. However, the sudden FT notice shattered their sense of security that having government documents would be sufficient.
Adding to the despair, corruption reared its ugly head when a police officer surfaced and demanded a bribe of 3000 rupees from Matleb’s wife to help smoothen the case. The brave woman refused to succumb to the illegal demand, as such incidents of bribery by the police continue to plague the region and are common knowledge.
The weight of the notice had prevented Matleb from praying in peace on Eid when he returned home to find an FT notice. Amidst this turmoil, Matleb found a glimmer of hope when he met CJP community volunteer, Moon Kazi, who introduced him to the organisation and the humanitarian work it does in Assam. CJP’s helping and aides him in the pursuit of justice which has strengthened Matleb’s resolve.
“I have no idea why I am targeted? My father left me at a young age, and now I don’t want to go to a detention centre, leaving my children alone. Please help me!” Matleb’s voice reflected his desperation, echoed by his tearful wife and mother.
The fear and urgency in Matleb’s voice were evident as he expressed his concerns about being targeted unfairly. When CJP’s DVM Habibul Bepari met Matleb, he found a man whose education had not prepared him for legal battles and one who was on the edge of his life due to his circumstances. Habibul counselled Matleb and his family too, providing assurance that they need not worry if they follow the proper procedures.
Matlab Ali’s story reveals how the citizenship crisis in Assam affects the individual in all sorts of ways. CJP’s efforts in Assam too are thus curated to help and aid people in multiple ways, beyond just providing help for bureaucratic processes. CJP is invested in actively reaching out to people who are not even aware that such organisations exist. It also ensures that there is a sustained relation and communication channel between the people whether the citizenship process has ended or not. CJP routinely checks up on not just those newly struggling for regaining their Indian status, but also those who have been released from detention camps or those who’s status as Indian has been proven, and hence, proves the very humane approach of the organisation.