The Curious Case of Syamlal Ali The Making and Re-Making of Indians as Citizens in Assam: A CJP Series
07, Aug 2018 | Deborah Grey
In yet another example of the heartlessness with which the system operates in Assam, the father of a new born baby has been unable to even hold his son, because he is locked up in a detention camp. This man Abul Hayet was declared a ‘foreigner’ because Election Commission officials recorded his grandfather Saman Malik’s name as Syamlal Ali in the electoral rolls! They also recorded his father’s name wrongly. Now, his brother and brother-in-law have joined forces to move heaven and earth to get him out.
35 year old Abul Hayet was a tailor who ran his business out of a modest shop in Guwahati’s Vijay Nagar neighbourhood. But he was dumbfounded when he received notice of being a doubtful voter in October 2017, and was asked to submit evidence of being Indian before a Foreigners’ Tribunal.
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Hayet’s citizenship drew suspicion because of a rather curious discrepancy in his grandfather’s name as recoded in the voter’s list. Abul Hayet’s father’s name is Abdul Hakim and grandfather’s name is Saman Malik. But as per electoral records his grandfather has the rather improbable name of Syamlal Ali! Similarly his Voter ID gives his father’s name as Abdul Hakim in English but Abdul Kashem in Assamese, when it is actually Abdul Kashem alias Kashem Ali.
Abul Hayet presented documents showing that Abdul Kashem alias Kashem Ali was his father and his mother also testified to this effect. But since there was a double discrepancy, his documentation was found to be lacking authenticity.
While it was the Election Commission officials who made the mistake, it was Abul Hayet who paid the price with his freedom. In January 2018, he was declared a ‘foreigner’ and lodged in the detention camp that operates out of a makeshift facility inside the Goalpara jail. Hayet’s wife was pregnant at the time and gave birth shortly after he was incarcerated. Till today, Hayet has not been able to hold his new born son as detention camp inmates can have visitors but they can only meet them from behind a partition.
His wife 27 year old wife is distraught as she struggles to raise four children aged 12 years, 10 years, 7 years and a 4 month old infant! Her brother Rashidul Haq and Abul Hayet’s brother Hussain Malik have been running from pillar to post to have Abul Hayet’s name cleared. “We got to meet him twice at the Detention Camp from behind a green screen. We are not allowed to give him more than Rs 500. He needs money because he is not allowed to work for wages in prison because he is not a regular inmate. Actual criminals have more privileges than an innocent man,” says Hussain Malik. “While my brother-in-law’s health continues to deteriorate inside, my sister is falling apart in body and spirit outside,” says Rashidul Haq. “We know he needs nutritious food, but we are only allowed to give him dry food like fruit and chiday (beaten puffed rice),” adds Hussain Malik.
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