20, Sep 2022 | CJP Team
Residents of another village in Assam’s Dhubri district are experiencing shock and anguish at receiving a virtual barrage of notices issued by Foreigners Tribunals (FT). Villagers of Soulmari are the latest to be inundated with notices telling them that as they are suspected foreigners, and that they must appear before the local FT and defend their Indian citizenship.
In August 2022, the Assam Border Police sent FT notices to virtually all of the dwellings in the villages of Moisha, Ramraikuti, and Shernagar. The CJP team had discovered that all the people who were served notices in these villages hailed from extremely economically backward families, and even people from indigenous communities had been targeted.
Now, the same FT notices have been served to the people living in the village of Soulmari part I. Soulmari is a char settlement that experiences floods each year. It comes under the Dhubri Legislative Assembly Constituency (LAC) and falls under the jurisdiction of the Dhubri police.
This week the CJP team comprising Assam team incharge Nanda Ghosh, district volunteer motivator Habibul Bepari and our local community volunteers visited the village of Soulmari to assess the situation and meet with the people who had been served such notices.
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 over 50 people 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!
“When we visited the village, people from all over the place came to us. Community Volunteer, Ilias Rahman Sarkar, had also joined us. The locals who were carrying the FT notice were frustrated and helpless,” says Ghosh. They were all anguished as “the government declares that we are Deshi (indigenous) people one day and then slams us with a piece of paper to prove our identity the next.” People from this village are either daily wage labourers or are migrant workers. Because there is a very low level of literacy in the community, no one knows how to respond to an FT notice. They now live in uncertainty as a result of the FT notice, which has disrupted their way of life.
Additionally, the people of Soulmari told the CJP team that not a single leader had come to assist them at this crucial moment. “They just visit during election periods to solicit votes; they no longer take the time to comprehend our condition,” said the villagers.
Is it essential to note that it was Deshi Muslims and Rajbongshi Hindus, who share similar surnames with Bengali-speaking Hindus, who received FT notifications in the village of Soulmari.
Two Rajbongshi women approached the CJP team while they were documenting the cases of others. “Listening to their story made us realise that these two women experienced the very same sorrow and suffering as others,” observed Ghosh. They were served with the FT notice years ago, but are currently unaware of the status of their case. They had appeared in court and had also hired a lawyer to handle their cases. However, the only communication that was happening with their lawyer was regarding the payments, which they sent every month. “We went to court every month, paid the advocate fees around 1,500 and 2,000 rupees, and then he gave us a sign and sent us home. My husband became unwell more than two years later, and I was forced to choose between his medical treatment and court visits,” said one of the women, asking, “Now tell me what I ought to have done?”
This problem is not exclusive to these two women; several families who received FT notices more than two to three years ago are still dealing with their situations. They have had enough with paying advocates each month and are now exhausted.
The CJP team comforted the people of the Soulmari village by assuring them that CJP is working with each and every one of them to find a viable solution. We assured the families who just received FT notices or who have not retained any lawyers that their cases will be handled by CJP’s Advocate Iskendar Azad. In addition to this, in case of victims whose cases are being handled by any other advocate, the CJP team will get in touch with them and do everything they can to assist the victims.
Later, we traveled to South Tokrerchora Pt. IV, another village. The village falls under the jurisdiction of the Golokganj police of the Dhubri district, under the Golokganj LAC. People there have also received the FT notice. We spoke with the family and gathered their papers, too. Now the CJP Team will analyse and document these cases before proceeding with step-by-step legal aid for the victims.
Among the victims was one who asked, “Why doesn’t the government just shoot us with a bullet instead of giving us this notice?” Devoid of all hope and exhausted by the tortuous ordeal, she said, “All of the papers they requested were obtained, linked, and collected by us. But as you can see, they are all meaningless. We always voted, and even though they claim we are foreigners today, we picked them.” Not only her voice, but everyone’s frustrated speech is the same. She further added, “After working all day in the fields, we collect 200 to 300 rupees. Now, do we spend it on running the family, saving for illness, educating the children, or paying legal fees?”
Led by Nanda Ghosh, CJP Assam state team in-charge, the CJP team had a brief discussion with villagers regarding the citizenship problem and convinced them that CJP was on their side, fighting for their rights. During the visit, the Team also met Iskendar Azad, the CJP legal member for the Dhubri area, and we discussed cases and other legal matters.
In May, 2021, the CJP had approached the Deputy Commissioner, Bongaigaon, Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam and Superintendent of Police (Border) with a memorandum to take cognisance of some instances where FT notices were not being duly served upon the noticee/proceedee and were instead, pasted on electricity poles in Bongaigaon. Highlighting such arbitrary practices, CJP has urged the authorities to take necessary action against the serving body and set up an enquiry into this matter to find out how many such notices were served without following due procedure under the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964.