22, Sep 2021 | Kajal Chatterjee
One of the basic principles of the criminal justice system is that the benefit of doubt must always be extended in favour of the accused — 1000 culprits can escape, but not even 1 innocent should be punished. Also the United Nations had incorporated the principle — Innocent till proven guilty — in its Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Yet, by disregarding all norms of legal ethics and human rights, the absolutely innocent and full-fledged Indian citizen Gangadhar Pramanik was thrown into Goalpara detention centre of Assam on the accusation of being a “foreigner”; with the concerned authorities perhaps inventing their own theory of “Guilty till proven innocent”!
What was the “crime” of the Bankura-lad Pramanik; venturing to Assam for jobs though he holds every Constitutional right to go there as an Indian. Or for being a Bengali-speaker on the soil of Assam?
By which legal or moral right could the Assam authorities put Pramanik behind the bars for more than 3 years? What was the proof that he was a “foreigner”? It should be the responsibility of the authorities to provide proof of a person’s “alienness” if there lies any semblance of doubt and thereafter take necessary legal action! Why should the burden of proof lie with the accused? How can the life of a person be destroyed just on the whims or figment of imagination of the authorities or the complainant? Pramanik was not a deranged man that he would have failed to furnish his residential address of Bankura. The Assam authorities could have easily contacted their Bengal counterparts and enquired about his background. Yet they had simply “forgotten” the man after throwing him behind bars which compels us to doubt whether Pramanik was branded “foreigner” just for the sake of branding the Bengali-speaking “termites” as “foreigner” with the Bankura-lad emerging as a “soft target” on account of being especially vulnerable for being a migrant, poor and that too without any documentary proof of citizenship.
Though Pramanik has lost 3 years of precious life with his unfortunate father passing away while repenting upon the “disappearance” of his son till his last days and hapless mother barely existing on the philanthropy of her kind-hearted neighbours; still he was “fortunate” as he miraculously came under the radar of the officials of “Citizens for Justice and Peace”(CJP) who have ensured provisional bail and reunited him with his family.
But innumerable innocents are on worse ground and still languishing in Assam prisons or detention centres with both the victims and their helpless family members in dire straits. Countless Bengali families of Assam have got compelled to sell off their agricultural lands, water bodies; mortgage their properties or take huge loans from banks/money lenders just to fight legal cases so as to release their innocent near and dear ones branded “foreigner” by the whimsical authorities.
If Indian Hindu Gangadhar Pramaniks meet this fate, what is in store for the Bengali-speaking Indian Muslims is beyond any scope of imagination.
The Original piece may be read here