29, Dec 2020 | Zamser Ali
It was a cold morning. I was awakened by my ringing mobile phone at 5.30 AM. I answered the phone as no one calls me this early given how it is well known that my work keeps me awake till late at night. In fact, I could only go to bed at 3.30 AM, that is just a couple of hours before I was woken up.
The biting cold made me shiver. This despite the temperature never dipping below 5 degree Celsius in my area. The cold here feels more severe because of snowfall in the Himalayas nearby. I was facing feverish and had hoped to wake up later in the day when it was warmer.
But the call was from someone I knew was in distress – Uday Das of Bamnijhora village, that falls under the jurisdiction of the Panbari police station of Chirang District. The village is situated in a remote area near the Indo-Bhutan international border.
Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.
Uday informed me that, his uncle Gopesh Das breathed his last at midnight and it is utmost necessary to secure Gopesh’s wife Amala Das’s release from the Kokrajhar detention camp for completion of rituals and funeral ceremony. Amala has been lodged in the detention camp since May, 2019. I promptly called back to Dhanai Das, son of Gopesh Das and Amala Das. He was in extreme trauma. He also requested me to do something so that his mother can attend the last rites of his father as without breaking Sakhas (traditional bangles) and wiping sindoor from her forehead, last rites would not be completed as per Hindu religious rituals.
After talking to the duo, I checked my mobile messages, where I found 41 messages about the same issue. Some eminent persons who sent the messages are CJP community volunteer and Journalist Rajiv Barman, All BTR Bengali Youth Students Federation (ABBYSF) leader Sukdev Barman, Jogonnath Rajbongshi and CJP Assam State Incharge Nanda Ghosh who was on his way to Dhubri also asked to contact the family.
I was astonished at Gopesh Das’s death as he had no diseases, he was a man of good health. On the day he breathed his last also Gopesh Das had walked about 20 km, something that would not have been possible for a man who was in ill health.
There was only the disease he was bearing in his mind. Whenever he found someone educated and seemed to be an aware citizen, he would tell them about living in extreme sorrow as his wife have been declared ‘Foreigner’, and was languishing in Kokrajhar detention camp. She has all sorts of documents including citizenship certificate of his father-in-law Haricharan Das of 1951, Land holding documents of his father-in-law from 1957. He tried to persuade that person, whether he could do anything to release Amala from the hell? He also met CJP volunteers and having close contact with us for the last one year and six months. CJP could do nothing as the family members had submitted all documents to an Advocate to move the case at Guwahati High court before meeting CJP volunteers. Team CJP have been constantly asking to submit the Gauhati High Court case number of Amala Das but the family could not avail it from their advocate for the last one year and six months. So, team CJP assured him not to be worry, and assured him that after completion of two years, it will do the needful to release her from detention camp as per Supreme Court directives of conditional bail.
It seems that Gopesh Das was partly relieved, as after just 4 months his wife could come out of the detention with CJP’s help. On December 15, 2020 evening, Amala Das make an arrangement to call her husband from detention camp and talk. It was beyond imagination that a man walked and talked, fully healthy all through the day, would feel unwell just after talking to his wife in detention camp, and die 6 hours later!
Just after confirmation of death of Gopesh Das (63), husband of detenu Amala Das, we contacted Superintendent of Police, Chirang District at 8 AM as well as officials of Border branch of Assam Police. The SP and Border Police said that they have no power to release anyone in detention camp and if necessary we can approach Foreigner’s Tribunal as she has been declared foreigner by the FT.
When we contacted Member of Foreigner’s Tribunal, they said that after declaration of a person as Foreigner, they usually handed over him to Border branch of Assam Police for deportation. Whether the declared foreigner is deported or not that is not known to tribunal. So, as a declared Foreigner status of Amala Das is only known to Border branch of Assam Police. They have nothing to do with the case. If necessary, we can approach before Gauhati High Court.
Looking at the push and pull between Police and Foreigners Tribunal, we contacted Deputy Commissioner of Chirang District. We apprised him about an incident of Bongaigaon District a mother languishing in Goalpara detention camp was allowed to attend funeral ceremony of her only son as there were none to perform the Mukhagni ceremony. After a thread-bare discussion, the Deputy Commissioner of Chirang District asked us to submit a formal application enclosing a provisional death certificate of Gopesh Das.
A draft application and provisional death certificate were prepared on the spot and those were sent to ground team. Sukdev Rajbongshi and Jogonnath Rajbongshi along with Uday Das bringing out the print copies of application and provisional death certificate, they collected the seals and signature, wherever and whatever was necessary, approached for District headquarter. We reached District Collector (DC) office at 11 AM, but the DC was busy with an important administrative meeting. But, we could feel the time constraints. So, all the documents were sent to DC over whatsapp. By that time, no one present there didn’t have even a glass of water since last night!
We went to have a cup of tea in front of DC office leaving one so that he can call us promptly as the meeting is over. When we reached the tea stall, he informed that DC was searching for us. We hurriedly returned and came to know that the DC have asked to wait us till the meeting is over.
We met DC at about 1 PM. The DC said that he has already talked the matter to SP and as the matter is sub-judice in Foreigners Tribunal, we will have to approach the Foreigners Tribunal. We protested it strongly and informed him that Amala Das have been declared foreigners in 2017. He asked us to enclose the Foreigners Tribunal’s judgement copy. It was a worrying situation as the Advocate of the victim family hadn’t supplied the judgement copy over the last three years. CJP team members promptly collected the judgement copy in thirty minutes and submitted it before DC. The DC forwarded the copy to SP and also to home department, Government of Assam.
As per directives of DC, we reached SP office. But, SP declared his helplessness as highest authority of Border Department of Assam Police was of the opinion that Police and Administrative department has nothing to do in the case. He cited the general judicial procedural case and suggested, “Whenever a person is convicted in civil and criminal procedure, and remains in jail, if he needs leave in parole, that is only decided by civil and criminal judges. Why in this case FT will not heard?”
We contacted Mukesh Agrawal, IGP of Assam Police and Special Superintendent of Border Police were also of the same view. We tried our level best that to convince them the difference between general judicial system and Foreigners Tribunal, but failed.
After a high degree debate, we rushed to Foreigner’s tribunal once again at 4 PM. Our Advocate Sanowar Alom filed the petition promptly which was not even accepted by Member of the Foreigners Tribunal as it does not have any merit for admissibility. Losing all hopes Dhanai Das, son of detenu Amala Das started to weep. Another round of debate we started in Administrative level. The DC and SP of Chirang District finally contacted and convenience the DC, Kokrajhar to take him appreciate steps for appearing Amala Das in the last rites of Gopesh Das. As per that initiative process of completing the formalities from SP office, Chirang started at 7 PM. It was decided that Amala Das will attend the last rites and completing the formalities of rituals she will have to return to Kokrajhar detention camp the same night.
Family members and villagers of Gopesh Das was quite unhappy with the development. They said that it is impossible for Amala Das to reach the Bamnijhora village at midnight, as herds of elephants come out from dense forest every night and run amok. During the last 30 days herds of elephants had trampled houses and even killed a man in the area. So, it may be dangerous for Amala Das and her companion to reach and return from the village at midnight. So, entire procedure was postponed for releasing Amala Das temporarily.
By that time, Nanda Ghosh, CJP Assam State Incharge also joined the team and started journey for village Bamnijhora. While we reached the village, it was 9:45 PM. Villagers were ready start the last rites of Gopesh Das. An elderly man come out and approached the team CJP, “We never felt that, you will come alone. Our government has become inhuman. Anyway, I would request you once again, if possible, please take Amala Das only for 3 hours on choutha (the fourth day after the demise of Gopesh Das). If it possible, then we will arrange a program to break her Sakhas and wipe her sindoor from her forehead on that day. Otherwise, we will not able to perform the Adyasradhya (last rituals) of Gopesh Das.” We promptly replied them in affirmative and requested them organise that program.
On the next day, Nanda Ghosh and CJP Advocate Abhijit Choudhary, and I, reached SP office at 10 AM. It was December 17, 2020. We completed all formalities there by 3 PM and started for Kokrajhar DC office. Though the office time was over DC, Kokrajhar Mr Bhaskar Phukan was waiting for us with his team. He asked me, “Will she able to bear the pain of demise of her husband? Will not there anything unwanted happen if she come to the pathetic news? Will you able to assure that she will be returned in normal condition?” We had no concrete answer to all these questions. Still, we have to assure him so that religious rituals of Gopesh Das can be completed.
While we reached the room of office clerk, we had to face most troublesome situation. Office clerk started to shout that it is the result of his sin of his part life. Otherwise, he would have been not compelled to work after shut down of his office. He asked, “Who are you the VIPs for which, DC have asked to complete all formalities over night?” Advocate Abhijit Choudhary and Nanda Ghosh tried to pacify him but every time anger broke out by their single word. When we received the releasing letter at about 9 PM, I tried to give my identity as the person was known to me for the last 30 years. But he hid everything and said we never met earlier!
After taking our first meal of the day we started our returning journey.
On December 19, 2020 we started our day long mission at 6 AM. After releasing Amala Das from Kokrajhar detention camp, we reached Bamnijhora at 10:30 AM.
Govt has taken the life of my husband, it will pacify only by taking my life
___ Amala Das
It was the most hectic and painful day of the mission. Though Amala Das was released for 24 hours by the other of DC, Kokrajhar, no one could confirm the fact that if she spends the night at her home, contiguity of her detention period will break or not? If it breaks the contiguity, then she will have to wait for another 24 months starting from December 20, 2020 to get conditional bail as per supreme court directives. Otherwise, she will be released under same provisions in month of May, 2021. Taking into account this situation, we started our mission of the day in the early morning so that, she can spend much more time at her home. When we reached their home, huge numbers of local people gathered there. It was an emotional attachment of the mother and 7 sons and daughters while she was getting down from the police van. Dhanai Das embraced her and took her to the house compound. She looked at everyone and didn’t find single one, with whom she is having emotional attachment of 49 years. She asked her elder son Dhanai Das, “Why your father is not coming?”
No one had the answer to this question. Everyone broke down again due to this question. Amala Das didn’t take much time to understand the reason as why everyone is keeping mum to her questions. She uttered, the government has taken him far away from me! It will be pacified only if I die!”
People gathered around could not control their emotions. Tears were coming out from the eyes of even police team members. Security was tightened there. As many as 19 numbers of Armed police was deputed there so the ailing and old woman Amala Das can’t escape! Slogan shouting was started against BJP government for its inhuman atrocities over Indian citizens falsely dubbed ‘Bangladeshi’.
Team CJP tried to pacify the situation and formalities of the rituals as per Hindu religious faith can be completed. After getting his grandmother in a long gap of 20 months, son of Dhanai Das fainted with grief. All necessary religious rituals were completed as per time schedule. We tried to feed her something repeatedly but failed. She started her returning journey towards detention camp once again at 4 PM. We asked her as dinner for the detenus of detention camp will be served at 4 PM, she should eat something so that, she does not stay in starvation over the night. She denied all our requests!
We felt helplessness, which we have been feeling every day in every cases!
While she took the seat in the police van once again, she cried, “You should pray everyone so that this inhuman government goes to hell!”
*This is a first-person account by CJP Assam state team adviser Zamser Ali