28, Mar 2023 | CJP Team
How many times does one have to fight the system to prove and re-prove and re-establish their citizenship in Assam? Can he still be a suspected citizen despite being declared an Indian by the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) way back in 1999 because he has all the necessary documents? Can the tribunal send a man a suspect foreigner notice even after he has been declared an Indian not once, but twice by the same agency, the FT? Is it only in Assam can an Indian, a Muslim who was declared Indian by a Tribunal in 1999, be condemned as an illegal immigrant / foreigner and tested three times? Under the guise of the Assam citizenship test, the Assam Foreigners Tribunal and border police continue to follow arbitrary mal-practice targeting the innocent and marginalized, affecting their right to life (Article 21) with equilibrium and without repeated harassment, equality before the law (Article 14) and a life without discrimination (Article 15).
Pertinently who will provide reparation (compensation) for the 24 years, two dozen years, of continual harassment by the State?
Usman Ali, a daily wager, has had to go through the arduous process of the Foreigner Tribunal no less than three times in Assam. He was tortured mentally each time, labelled “illegal” and a “foreigner” in his own land. He had to “prove himself as an Indian” each time despite having all the documents. For two interminably long decades, Usman Ali spent valuable time and energy trying to break free from this web of injustice.
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!
Usman Ali is a typical marginalised Indian, of which the country has millions, working through his day as a daily wage earner to support his family. He was born in the village of Barbakhra, which was then part of the Bijni Police Station and is now part of the Bongaigaon district’s Manikpur. Jorimuddin Sheikh, his father, was also a son of this soil. Jorimuddin Sheikh’s name had even appeared in the 1951 NRC. However, in later years, his name was recorded –as often happens in a bureaucratic slip in spelling –as Joshimuddin, Joshi, or Josim Sheikh. Millions in this country have their names and surnames spelt, in varied official records or documents, differently. An unlettered person, Josim could not figure out which spelling of his name was correct and had to rely on the authorities to write his name correctly –for him!
Usman Ali was only a child when he was abandoned by his parents. Despite these hardships thrown his way, the man worked hard to raise a happy family. It was the government’s repeated and arbitrary attempts to target him made his life harder, terrified as he was of losing his citizenship.
It was in the year of 1997 when an IM(D)T case was registered against Usman, simply based on “doubts”. As he recalls now, receiving such notice questioning his citizenship was a terrifying and numbing experience.
Usman dug his heels in, fought for and finally, received justice. After a thorough examination of his and his father’s documents, the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) of Goalpara district dismissed the case against him in 1999, and the tag of illegal migrant was removed. Or so he thought!
“Jorimuddin Sheikh, father of Usman was listed in SL no 1 in village Khariabari under the PS Bijni as per the NRC of 1951,” the Tribunal stated clearly in the order copy. The Tribunal also discovered that his father’s name was recorded under the 42 Abhayapuri LAC in the 1966 voter list. As a result, the issue of illegal migration or those who arrived in India after March 25, 1971 does not arise.
Usman was, to some extent, satisfied and pleased to have won the case and having proved his citizenship. The State had just begun testing his endurance. Again, in 2017, 18 years later, he was again sent a notice via the border of the local police station to prove his citizenship once more. Two identical cases were filed against him, with the case numbers BNGN/FT/CASE NO. 1396/09 and BNGN/FT/CASE NO. 51/10.
Usman was perturbed, but he accepted the challenge. He spent several sleepless nights, however. There was the ominous, ever-present threat of being taken to a detention camp. “I used to weep at night, the thought of detention camp shook my heart,” Usman recalls. According to him, it was through his family that he was able to gather courage and fight. And thus, for the second time in his life, he was recognised as an Indian in his own country in the year 2017.
Then came the third blow! In May 2022,Usman was, for the third time, accused of being a suspected foreigner. In the inquiry report filed in his case, the investigating officer of the case had, without even looking into the previous back ground and speaking order of the FT in 1999, without therefore properly investigating the case, falsely alleged that he is from East Pakistan (Bangladesh). While doing so, the I/O of the case never once visited his home or the homes of the so-called witnesses, as mentioned in the inquiry report.
The I/O had simply and falsely written/recorded the opposite party’s and so-called witnesses’ statements without questioning them, and then proceeded to submit a false inquiry report. Arbitrary action?
Desperate, Usman then contacted the ground team of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) team, working tirelessly in 19 districts. He explained his case: that this foreigner notice is the third such notice that he has received, and he has dealt with this twice in the past too. “It has become common for me now, the way government targeted me, there seems there is no escape from it” Usman today states that since he wanted to give a strong and substantive fight, he had made bold to approach Team CJP.
In the arguments before the FT, a member of our CJP legal team stated unequivocally that Usman is Indian by birth. According to the written statement submitted, it was mentioned that “The I/O of the case did not seize and submit any documents, passport or any other documents along with inquiry report in connection with the above-mentioned case to prove the opposite party as a foreign national.” To substantiate that the case’s I/O submitted a false inquiry report against the opposing party, the CJP legal team highlighted that in the inquiry report, the I/O of the case did not disclose the interrogation report or the address of the foreign national. It was further provided that the I/O seized no documents from the opposing party that could be used to prove that the opposing party is a foreign national.
The CJP’s legal team also emphasises in arguments that the I.O. in this case never accepted any statement from the opposing party. The names of the witnesses attached to the case record served the purpose of only making a false case against the opposing party. During the investigation, the I.O. of this case did not issue any notice to the opposing party to appear or show any documents to prove the opposing party’s citizenship as required by law. After these elaborate and substantive submissions, CJP has now been able to claim Usman’s citizenship for the third time.
On behalf of the CJP team, Nanda Ghosh, the head of the Assam CJP team, and legal team member Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim went to Usman’s house to hand over the judgment copy.
Usman was irritated as well as pleased when he received the copy of the judgement that declared him, for the third time (!!!),to be a citizen of India. The only expression visible on his face was a small, tentative smile accompanied by silence. After looking through the judgment, Usman poignantly demanded, “Who will compensate me for the repeated harassment?”
A question so difficult to answer. There appears no tribunal or court that will answer or resolve this. Case after individual case, our team tries to ensure substantive and procedural justice while the state with its vast machinery continues, cynically in its march to hunt down people like Usman Ali. The question that begs an answer: how long will innocents have to struggle to establish they are Indians and live in their own country?
The judgment copy of the year 2023 can be read here:
The previous two judgment copies, of 1999 and 2017, can be read here.
The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 was a legislative attempt to correct the rapacious test of citizenship in force under the Foreigners Order of 1964 and the Foreigners Act, 1946 but was struck down by the Supreme Court in Sarbanda Sonowal v/s Union of India in 2005.