Simon Nessa: Will someone tell me how my husband died? Part of CJP’s Stories from Assam series

06, Aug 2021 | CJP Team

The denial of citizenship is much like a civil death as the ‘right to have rights’ is arbitrarily snatched away by an unfeeling State. In our work upholding and defending the rights of our fellow Indians in Assam, we came across many instances of mysterious deaths of detention camp inmates. Seemingly healthy people, suddenly dropping dead. Then there were people who succumbed to a bout of ill health brought about by poor hygiene and over all bad conditions in the detention camps.

One such man was Jobbar Ali, a 61-year-old man who had been languishing behind bars at the Detention Camp in Tezpur, was found dead on October 5, 2018. Ali lived with his wife Simon Nessa, two sons, daughters-in-law and their six children in a small hut in Dhanshrighat village, which falls under the Udalguri district of Assam. Ali was declared a foreigner by the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) at Mangoldoi, Darrang District in 2007. His family alleges that he was declared foreigner despite possessing valid documents proving he is an Indian citizen.

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.

Brief background of Jobbar Ali’s case

Jobbar Ali’s father Sutko Ali had his name in the NRC data from 1966 and 1971. They had legacy data filed in the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) forms. Ali had his name in a voters list from 1985 but was arbitrarily labelled a D voter since 1997 according to his family. Incidentally, in the voters list from 1997, Ali does not have a D voter label. His case was referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunal and Ali had claimed that he had paid huge amounts of money to a lawyer to take him to the tribunal but it never happened.

When Ali was declared a foreigner in 2007, he was not informed. The decision appears to have been taken ex parte (without hearing all parties as is required under due process of law). Ali was taken into custody by the Assam Police in 2015 and lodged first at the Goalpara detention camp and then the Tezpur detention camp.

Interestingly, Ali’s elder son Jahar Ali was also labelled as a D Voter but has been declared Indian by the Foreigners’ Tribunal and ironically enough, based on his father’s and grandfather’s documents. Nekbor Ali, Jobbar Ali’s younger brother, was also declared a foreigner in 2007.

After being detained, Jobbar Ali’s family filed a writ petition which the Guwahati High Court rejected saying that it was not filed according to the stipulated time frame. The family then filed a review petition which was listed for hearing on Oct 12, 2018. But Jobbar died a week before that, after spending three years and four months amidst the squalor and deprivation prevalent in the detention camp.

Widow suspects foul play

53-year-old Simon Nessa met her husband for the last time on September 27, 2018. “I went to Tezpur jail to see him. He was fine when I met him. He came on his own to the main gate of the jail. We talked for a few minutes. I asked him about his health. He said he was fine but the conditions of the detention camp were bad,” Simon Nessa told the CJP team. “On Thursday, Oct 4, I called the policeman on duty at the camp to ask about my husband. He said that he was okay and said that he had spoken to him and he was comfortable,” she recalled, but wondered, “How is it possible that he was just no more the next day?” She was told he succumbed to an illness, but she is unwilling to settle for that explanation.

Interestingly, in July 2019, in a shocking revelation before the Assam state assembly, the state government has admitted that 25 people have died while incarcerated in the state’s six detention camps. The state claims they all died “due to illness”.

CJP accessed the list of people who have died and have discovered that Goalpara detention camp has proved to be the deadliest and leads the list with ten dead inmates. The Tezpur facility follows closely with nine dead inmates. Meanwhile, three people died in at the Silchar detention camp in Cachar district, two people including one woman died in the Kokrajhar detention camp, and one person died in the Jorhat detention camp. The dead include 14 Muslims, 10 Hindus and one member of the Tea Tribes.

The above includes not only Jobbar Ali, but also Subrata De and Amrit Das, whose heartbreaking stories we have brought you earlier. Interestingly, both De and Ali died under mysterious circumstances and both their families suspect foul play. Yet the cause of death as per the government submission is “due to illness”.

By November 2019, this figure climbed to 27; CJP was closely tracking each death. We discovered that the youngest person to die in an Assam detention camp was 45-day-old Nazrul Islam (died 2011), whose mother Shahida Bibi was detained at the Kokrajhar detention camp.

Mounting expenses, crushing debt

To manage the expenses on defending his citizenship in a bid to get him out of the dreaded facility Jobbar Ali’s family had to mortgage their small piece of land for Rs. 50,000. They have been left with an insurmountable debt of Rs. 1. 25 lakh and Simon Nessa has become the sole person liable for it as her sons are separated. What’s worse, Simon Nessa has also been registered as a D Voter. She fears that she will be ousted from her hut where she lives with her family and thinks it will be impossible to repay the loan.

“The piece of land where my hut is situated has been bonded for Rs. 50,000. I don’t earn from anything else and I have a small patch where I have planted paddy. I borrowed some money from the village money lenders on the assurance that I will pay them with 8 quintals of paddy. I have spent everything I had to pay the lawyer and legal expenses,” she said.

With tears brimming, she said in a choked voice, “We are Indian citizens, we were born here, my husband’s parents were born here. How could they declare us foreigners? Why have they listed me as a D voter?”

The family was confident that their troubles will end and Jobbar Ali will get justice and be declared an Indian. “I took loans and paid the lawyers whenever it was needed. I believed that my husband will be declared an Indian and after his return from the detention camp, he will earn to repay the loans,” she said.

Help CJP, Help Assam

In this overwhelming battle for the right to have rights, the struggle for citizenship rights in Assam, millions have been impoverished even as an unfeeling government pursues an unviable and discriminatory process. At CJP we believe in the individual justice for those wronged, reparation from the state for the immeasurable human and material losses incurred and a collective solution to this humanitarian crisis that stalks Assam. Donate Now to help us expand our team to enable para legal and legal aid, to ensure well-documented class action suits and interventions in the Constitutional Courts to halt a process that is, inherently anti-Constitutional and discriminatory.


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