14, Sep 2021 | CJP Team
It’s been a long arduous journey of emotional lows and highs, for CJP’s Team Assam. The sheer administrative callousness causing the hapless and marginalised to suffer a civil death and be rendered non-Indians is a bitter learning for us all. So, ever since CJP started working towards helping our fellow Indians defend their citizenship in Assam, we have come across many instances where people were declared foreigner and sent to a detention centre only because of a minor discrepancy in their data as entered in different government records. But Saken Ali’s case took this to a completely different level!
His citizenship was questioned because his name was spelt Saken in some documents and Sakhen in some others. A missing “H” paved the way to hell for this middle-aged fisherman who likes nothing more than to stand on the banks of his beloved Brahmaputra and watch the sun go down.
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.
We met Saken Ali in his ancestral village, which was more like a hamlet with a few huts inhabited by his extended family a few miles from Goalpara. He had just been released from the detention centre after being forced to spend five long years behind bars.
Ali explained the origin of his predicament saying, “I spell my name as S-A-K-E-N Ali and in some of my documents it was spelled as S-A-K-H-E-N Ali. Thus, because of one letter of the alphabet, a Foreigners’ Tribunal wondered how can one man have two names and ruled that I was a “foreigner” in my own country!”
Other than this minor discrepancy, Ali says there is no reason for authorities to doubt his citizenship. He asked, “I still wonder, why I was declared foreigner when everyone in my family was born here and has lived here since time immemorial?”
He hails from an extremely economically weak background and his family could neither afford a good lawyer, nor arrange for bail money to get him out sooner. During this period, Ali’s life behind bars came to a virtual stand-still. “Time passes very slowly behind bars and I was only let out of my cell for a few hours every day,” he said. “Meals comprised rice and dal, and we got tea. In the evening, we were locked away before sunset and only let out the following morning,” he recalled as he spoke to us standing by the mighty Brahmaputra River that flows by his hut. “That captivity makes me appreciate the sight of the Brahmaputra that I can take in today standing on its banks,” he says grateful for life’s small mercies.
Saken Ali was released after the Gauhati High Court granted him bail in connection with FT Case No. 751/G/06. Here’s a copy of his release order:
But a greater threat was already looming over the horizon. He may have walked out of the detention centre, but his status as a “declared foreigner” had cast a shadow over the citizenship of his siblings and children. He has three sons: Motidul, Shohidul and Johirul, and a daughter: Ambiya Khatun, who had all been served notice in June 2018 to appear before an FT. Even his aged father Babur Ali was not spared. “My bigger fear is that citizenship of others in my family is also under the scanner now, because I was declared a foreigner,” he told us as the entire family gathered to deliberate over their next move.
Here are copies of notices issued to Saken Ali’s family: