13, Mar 2019 | Tabassum Barnagarwala
In Mumbai for a public hearing organised by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) on Monday, Rashminara told The Indian Express that she has never cast a vote.
Assam is set to vote in three phases starting April 11, but Rashminara Begum’s right to vote continues to be a subject of a legal battle in the Supreme Court (SC) as she struggles to retain her Indian citizenship.
In Mumbai for a public hearing organised by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) on Monday, Rashminara told The Indian Express that she has never cast a vote. “It is painful. to not get recognised as an Indian and be able to vote,” she said.
The woman claims that soon after she had turned 18, her name had appeared in doubtful voters’ list in 2005 owing to discrepancy in some documents — while her primary school certificate states she was born in 1987, her high school certificate claims she was born in 1983. The 2005 voters’ lists puts her birth year as 1990.
In 2005, the EC put the names of Rashminara and her husband Monirul in the doubtful voters’ list and referred the case to Krishnai police. When the couple failed to submit relevant documents to prove their identity, their case was transferred to the Foreigners Tribunal. The tribunal observed that there were discrepancy in the age of her deceased father Ramjan Ali in voters’ list of 1966, 1989 and 1997, and ruled she is a Bangladeshi.
On November 9, 2016, Rashminara was lodged in North Assam’s Kokhrajhar detention camp. She spent seven months in the camp and drew media attention after locals came together to back her claim that both her father and grandfather were Indian freedom fighters.
Rashminara said her father Ramjan Ali, from Khorija Manikpur village in Assam’s Goalpara district, had participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942, while her grandfather, Haji Roz Mahmood, had revolted against the British in 1888 in Goalpara. “I was three-month pregnant when they put me in a detention camp. I had to leave my four-year-old daughter behind,” she said. She claimed there were a total 136 people —more than the camp’s capacity — in the Kokhrajhar camp, who were mostly senior citizens and poor people who could not afford legal aid.
Monirul, a tailor by profession, had to sell his property to fund the legal expenses. Eventually, Rashminara was released from the camp in June last year on the SC’s intervention following the birth of her daughter, Nafisa. The one-year-old now sucks her thumb in her mother’s arms — her citizenship undecided just like her mother.
“We sold our land and also borrowed money from others. I don’t know how we will repay it,” Monirul told The Indian Express. But he is determined to cast his vote. “This is my constitutional right,” he said.
With her case still stuck in the apex court, Rashminara knows it will be a long battle ahead. But the shock of having to go back to the detention camp still gives her a chill. “If I don’t get justice from the court, I will prefer to go to heaven. I cannot leave my family,” she said.
Zamser Ali, who works with CPJ in Assam, said several local residents in Assam have been labelled as “doubtful voter” due to lack of documentation or printing errors.
“Most of these people are illiterate and are overwhelmed by the legal procedure. They remain in (detention) camps for years because they don’t know what to do,” he said.
Ali claimed that he has come across at least 41 cases where people lodged in detention camps have committed suicide. “We counsel, but one cannot imagine what they go through. The fear of being separated from family lingers in their mind,” he said.
The complete original article may be read here.