07, Aug 2021 | CJP Team
Each case that we encounter in Assam, around the ongoing citizenship crisis, has its own human angle and a shocking twist; an administrative dis-regard for document-related discrepancies, an absence of rationality or even basic common sense. Several shocking displays, then, of sheer institutional apathy. But none shook us more than what happened to Seje Bala Ghosh, the septuagenarian daughter of a freedom fighter.
We first met Seje Bala Ghosh in March 2020, living in abject poverty. She was widowed early in life and her son had also died recently, leaving her to fend for herself at this advanced age by working as a house maid. But that wasn’t the worst hand life had delt her.
Sejebala Ghosh, is none other than the daughter of Lt. Digendra Chandra Ghosh, a man who fought for India’s independence alongside none other than Chandrashekhar Azad, was now being asked to prove that she was an Indian!
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.
“I have all my father’s documents, but now I feel so ashamed. I am also a little scared of going to the court or interacting with the police,” Ghosh told the CJP team. “I have no money to fight my case in a foreigners’ tribunal. I have no earning member in my family. I have been working as a maid in my neighbour’s house to serve myself and my family. Now due to my old age no one is ready to employ me. How can I survive? How will I go to tribunal? How will I pay the advocate,” she asked breaking down in tears. CJP then decided to take on her case.
Brief background of Sejebala’s case
Seje Bala’s father Lt. Digendra Chandra Ghosh, was connected closely with prominent revolutionary and freedom fighter Chandra Sekhar Azad. Ideally, with such an illustrious legacy, she should be able to walk with her head held high, but today Ghosh feels ashamed at being forced to prove her citizenship before the FT.
It is noteworthy that her father Digendra moved from Sherpur town of erstwhile Maymonshing district of what was then called East Pakistan. The family has a refugee certificate, a document issued only by the Indian authorities. As per refugee registration certificate of March 7, 1951, Digendra Chandra Ghosh, son of Padma, is registered as refugee along with his four other family members. The refugee certificate bears the seal and is signed by Deputy Commissioner of the then Goalpara District of Assam. The family registered as refugees and took shelter in Bongaigaon. Today, however, Digendra’s daughter, Sejebala Ghosh is declared a non-Indian!
Their names were also included in 1951 NRC in Bongaigaon. The names included in 1951 NRC of her family were father of Seje Bala Ghosh, Digendra Chandra Ghosh her elder brother Dhiren Ghosh a.k.a Manik Ghosh, her elder sisters Manada a.k.a Usharani Ghosh and Sudharani Ghosh. This mattered little when it came to her present dis-enfranchisement.
However, her mother Barada Bala Ghosh’s name was not included in 1951 NRC only because she was away from home, having gone to her father’s house due to her pregnancy. A few days later, Seje Bala Ghosh was born at her maternal grandfather’s house in Bilashipara of Goalpara District, according to Sudharani Ghosh and Usharani Ghosh.
After staying few days in refugee camp at Bongaigaon, the family shifted to Darrang District. Digendra Chandra Ghosh as well as his four other sons and daughters had received passport in the year 1960. The address of Digendra Chandra Ghosh in his passport was recorded as resident of village Balagora, PS- Mangaldoi in the District of undivided Darrang.
According to the first person accounts of Seje Bala Ghosh and her younger brother Haribhakta Ghosh, their father died in 1961 in that village. The name Barada Bala Ghosh, wife of Digendra Chandra Ghosh and Manik Ghosh son of late Digendra Chandra Ghosh were included in 1966 voter list in the same address from where the passport of Digendra Chandra Ghosh was issued. The two persons who were included in 1966 voter list are mother and elder brother of Seje Bala Ghosh respectively.
Here are some of Seje Bala’s documents, including the receipt of a war-time donation made by her family to the Indian Army:
But the poor old lady was till served an FT notice, when the Border Police made a reference against her, asking this resident of North Bongaigaon (Ward 10) to appear before an FT in September 2020.
When she learnt about the possibility of an FT hearing in September, she was traumatised, fainted and fell to the ground breaking an arm! Physical and mental trauma stalks the people of Assam and we have seen this closely while we continue our task, upholding and defending the rights of our fellow Indians in Assam.
“I cannot eat because of the tension. I cannot sleep. I had to take sleeping pills,” she told CJP in early September. The hearing was postponed due to the Covid-19 lockdown, but could be scheduled as soon as the pandemic crisis abates. Seje Bala wonders how she will be able to travel all the way to the FT in her condition.
CJP is now gearing up to help Seje Bala with her case. CJP Assam team in-charge Nanda Ghosh, paralegal team member Papiya Das and Community Volunteer of Bongaigaon District Amrit Das have repeatedly met with Sejebala Ghosh at her home in Bongaigaon to discuss her situation, monitor the developments in the case and reassure her.
Help us fight to good fight
A grave injustice has been committed against Seje Bala Ghosh by a system that is not only apathetic, but also completely devoid of shame! This frail woman is not only at an advanced age, but the constant harassment is taking a toll on her health. Moreover, she is the daughter of a man who fought for Indian independence. Shouldn’t that count for something?
There are many others like Seje Bala, all enduring varying degrees of trauma due the citizenship conundrum. CJP hopes to reach out to as many of them as possible. You can help us help Assam. Donate now to support our campaign.