Purnima Biswas: I couldn’t bid my husband a proper goodbye Part of CJP’s Stories from Assam series

20, Sep 2021 | CJP Team

In many of the cases the CJP team has handled in Assam, the lives of detention centre inmates change significantly by the time they are released. Many go back to empty homes and memories of loved ones who have passed. The story of Purnima Biswas too, had a bittersweet ending.

The 58-year-old Biswas hails from Juilaga village near the Bhutan border in the Chirang district of Assam. She was arrested by the police when she had gone to offer prayers at a Shiva temple! A suspected foreigner, Biswas was declared foreigner and sent to the Kokrajhar detention camp where she was been behind bars for two years and ten months. The Kokrajhar detention centre is especially meant for women inmates.

Over the last three years, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has had the opportunity to help several of our fellow Indians in Assam. We have helped them navigate the complex process of having their names included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC), first via document collection and form filling, and then by guiding them through the Claims and Objections process. CJP has also helped eligible inmates get released from Assam’s detention camps and continues to support many of the most impoverished families by providing them food rations. As you take a deep dive into the trials and tribulations of some such people, remember, we have been able to help them only because of your continued support. Please donate now, so we can help more of our fellow Indians in Assam.

No last goodbye

For Purnima Biswas, the trauma of being falsely implicated and jailed does not match the grief of losing her husband without one, last farewell. Her husband, Hira left without a proper goodbye. “My husband died six months after I was incarcerated. I didn’t even see him for the last time. I couldn’t even attend his funeral,” she says.

“I used to wear coloured sarees, sindoor, shankha and pala when I went to jail. Now I wear white and no sindoor or shankha-pala…” her voice trails off.

When she first found about her husband’s death, she fainted with grief, inside the jail. Four days later, when her younger son visited her, jail authorities cut down their visitation time to just 30 minutes fearing another fainting spell or emotional trauma to Biswas.

“It was traumatic for me to hand over a white saree to my mother and request her to avoid eating onions, garlic and non-vegetarian food as is a customary ritual in case of death in our community. But she understood. We pleaded for more time, but her emotional state was fragile,” recalls her younger son.

Meanwhile, Biswas’s older son performed all formalities related to Hira’s death. “We had to choose between my father’s funeral and visiting my mother in the detention camp,” he recalls.

CJP steps in

Moved by her plight, CJP swung into action. “CJP team worked on her case for two months arranging for bailors and documentation verification,” explains Nanda Ghosh, CJP Assam state team in-charge. After ensuring all paperwork and documentation was in order, we proceeded to Kokrajhar detention centre to secure her release. Advocate Dewan Abdul Rahim, Volunteer Motivators Abul Kalam Azad and Pranjal Choudhury, and community volunteer Pijush Chakraborty played a key role in this process.

Biswas was released on conditional bail on May 13, 2020. This was a period of Lockdown, due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Conscious about our responsibility to the detainee, the bailors, as well as personnel from various authorities we would encounter in this endeavour, CJP resolved to abide by all hygiene and social distancing protocols.

CJP ensured we had all necessary permissions to travel from relevant authorities given how we were operating during the Lockdown. We also arranged separate vehicles to ferry Biswas and her bailor. After the formalities were completed, we also ensured that both were dropped home safely while following all social distancing protocols.

Jana Murmu, Mithun Adhikary, Ratan Goswami, Sushil Sharma, Mandir Barman, Chaya Rani Barman, Umar Ali, Mrinal Kanti Saha, Swagata Mitra and Najrul Islam provided their invaluable support to the CJP team during this process. CJP team members namely Volunteer Motivator Pranay Tarafdar and Community Volunteers Papiya Das and Aminul Islam also played a significant role in the efforts.

“But the bigger question is what happens next? This family is below poverty line and has already undergone extreme trauma,” says Ghosh.

With this in mind, CJP still checks in on not just Biswas, but also all out other detainees from time to time, often providing them with food rations and other essentials.

A few images of our interaction with Purnima Biswas and her family may be viewed here:

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