16, Sep 2021 | CJP Team
Gangadhar Pramanik, a man from west Bengal who was declared foreigner by a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam and thrown behind bars at the Goalpara detention centre, was finally reunited with his family in Bankura. His mother Bharati, could not believe her eyes as she saw her son for the first time in nearly 10 years.
“This is my son… My Ganga is back,” she kept saying as she hugged and held him. “I didn’t know what had happened to you,” she said, asking, “Couldn’t you have called me? Did they not let you call me?”
Every day of each week, a formidable team of community volunteers, district volunteer motivators and lawyers—CJP’s Team Assam – is providing ready at hand paralegal guidance, counselling and actual legal aid to hundreds of individuals and families paralysed by the citizenship-driven humanitarian crisis in the state. Our boots on the ground approach has ensured that 12,00,000 persons filled their forms to enlist in the NRC (2017-2019) and over the past one year alone we have helped release 41 persons from Assam’s dreaded detention camps. Our intrepid team provides paralegal assistance to, on an average of 72-96 families each month. Our district-level, legal team works on 25 Foreigner Tribunal cases month on month. This ground level data ensures informed interventions by CJP in our Constitutional Courts, the Guwahati High Court and the Supreme Court. Such work is possible because of you, individuals all over India, who believe in this work. Our maxim, Equal Rights for All. #HelpCJPHelpAssam. Donate NOW!
We had previously told you how CJP had found out about him from Dipak Deb and Fazar Ali, two other detainees we had helped get released on conditional bail. The men had been so demoralised, that they had contemplated everything from prison-break to suicide!
Gangadhar tells his story
33-year-old Gangadhar, had left his home in search of work all those years ago. “We lived amidst abject poverty, and my father’s income was not enough to sustain our four-member family. So, I decided to board a train and look for work wherever it took me,” says Gangadhar, finally sitting amidst friends and family at his sister Champa’s home. Gangadhar’s father Mantu used to work in local shops while Gangadhar who had received an education till 5th standard, supplemented the family’s income by working in a saloon.
The young man, who had until then been a resident of Radhanagar village, that falls under the jurisdiction of the Bishnupur police station of Bankura district in West Bengal, boarded a train from Bishnupur to Howrah and then another train and eventually found himself in Guwahati!
“I felt lost and I had no money. I spent a day at the station. A gentleman asked me some questions in Assamese, but I couldn’t understand a word,” recalls Gangadhar. “Another man asked me to come with him saying he would offer me a job, food and shelter. So, I went with him,” he says.
Gangadhar worked for this man at a restaurant, washing dishes fetching water and earning about Rs 40 a day. “But I had planned to save money and send it home and this meagre income was not allowing me to do that. So, I quit that job and took another one in a chocolate factory,” he says. But one day, a drunk coworker assaulted him and left him with a head injury! Gangadhar quit and went back to his old job, where his former employer agreed to pay him his full wages when he went home. “To that end, I lived and worked. But it was not to be. One day the police came and took me away. At the police station, they asked me my name and address,” he says recalling his fresh bout of misfortune. “They kept me there overnight and then took me to another jail. I found out that they thought I was Bangladeshi,” says a perplexed Gangadhar.
After Gangadhar went incommunicado on account of being arrested by the Border Police and being incarcerated in the detention centre, his father Mantu passed away, and his mother suffered from a bout of paralysis. Her mental health also deteriorated from the anxiety, and she moved in with Champa.
CJP swings into action
As we have shared previously, though we found out about Gangadhar in July, we faced an unprecedented challenge in helping him get bail as he did not have an address or family in Assam. “When we found his address in West Bengal, we discovered that nobody lived there anymore. Moreover, there was no way to contact them as they had left behind no forwarding address or phone numbers,” says CJP Assam state team in-charge Nanda Ghosh. But we did not give up, and based on information provided by their former neighbours, we traced his mother Bharati to his sister Champa’s house. That was also when we learnt that Gangadhar’s father Mantu had passed away. But what was perhaps most heartbreaking was that Gangadhar found out about his father’s passing from the CJP team, as he had not been able to establish contact with anyone from his family until then.
“The case of Gangadhar raises once again the utter and complete unaccountability with which the entire process is unleashed on working Indians,” says Teesta Setalvad, secretary, CJP. She asks, “Behind bars for over four years and the family has no idea where or why their son is. Is this the way a police in a democracy should be functioning?”
“When we contacted the Border Police to start release formalities, we were told one of the conditions was that the released detainee should remain in Assam. But this is not possible for Pramanik. He has no one here, he doesn’t want to stay here. He is scared,” says Ghosh who was then conferring with West Bengal authorities about a possible solution. Our next challenge was finding a bailor. This is because Gangadhar has no family or even an address in Assam. “When we did find bailor, there was a hiccup as there was a small mistake in his documents. So, we had to get another bailor, and again faced the same problem. Then we found a third bailor and started the process afresh,” says Ghosh explaining why it has taken this long to secure Pramanik’s release.
Luckily this time, all documents were in order, but since Pramanik did not have an address in Assam, CJP team incharge Nanda Ghosh and Advocate Abhijeet Chaudhury had to give written undertakings that they would take him home to West Bengal and take responsibility for him. They were also made to submit copies of their own documents such as voter IDs and passports. Additionally, the CJP team helped establish contact between police officials from both states via telephone, so that the entire process could be completed smoothly.
We were coordinating between the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (Border), the Additional Superintendent of Police (Bankura), and police officials from the Bishnupur police station under whose jurisdiction Pramanik’s village falls. “Now Pramanik will have to go and sign his attendance at the Radhanagar outpost of the Bishnupur Police Station every week. The officials from West Bengal Police will then send a copy of this via email to the Assam Border Police,” says Ghosh explaining the complex arrangement.
And it wasn’t just the tedious process of arranging bailors and paperwork for bail, there were long distances covered each day by the CJP team as we virtually moved heaven and earth to help Gangadhar Pramanik. “On just September 13, we worked from 6 A.M to midnight travelling 345 kilometers with CJP driver Ashiqul Ali behind the wheel. On September 14, when we finally got the greenlight from all relevant authorities to secure Pramanik’s release from the Goalpara Detention Centre, we (Nanda Ghosh, advocates Abhijeet Chaudhury and Ashim Mubarak) travelled 150 kilometers from the Detention Centre to New Bongaigaon railway station,” says Ghosh. There, CJP Assam office in-charge Papiya Das brought packed food for everyone as we were about to set off on an interstate journey. Nanda Ghosh and Abhijeet Chaudhury boarded the Saraighat Express to Bardhaman with Gangadhar Pramanik.
“On the train, during dinner, Pramanik told us that this was the first time in 1,373 days that he had eaten dinner after dark. At the detention centre, dinner is served at 4 PM and no other food items are made available to inmates after that,” says Ghosh. We reached Bardhaman at 3:50 A.M and boarded a taxi to take us to Pramanik’s village at about 5 A.M.
Some images of the team at the Goalpara Detention Centre, the railway station and on the train may be viewed here:
Finally, home safe
On our way to his village, Gangadhar watched with wonder as to how much his home state had changed. He couldn’t recognise any roads and was at a loss to figure out the road that led towards his home when we reached the bridge over Damodar River.
We reached Radhanagar on September 15, and there his entire village came out to greet the son they thought they had lost. As more and more people gathered, Swapan Ghosh, a local former MLA from CPI (M), came forward and arranged for all of us to sit in front of their party office nearby. He sent someone to call Gangadhar’s mother.
He said, “I came to know from you that you are bringing him back to his home. It’s a very commendable job. I really appreciate your organisation’s efforts.” Shedding light on the plight of people without documents, he further said, “It is observed that especially the backward class, the weaker section people are in danger because of NRC and CAB. 70 years ago, people didn’t have birth certificate, land documents and had very less opportunity to study. It’s very hard to collect these documents which are required to prove if a person is a citizen or not.”
Upon hearing the news, Gangadhar’s mother, his cousin, and even the owner of the saloon where he once worked and many people in the area came. And then, a victory celebration broke out. The people brought sweets, puri etc.
Friends and family gathered around him, and his mother Bharati remained in shock for a while, her eyes wide in wonder at the sight of her son. A peculiar scream escaped her lips once as she grabbed her son, before she fell silent again, almost stone like. The neighbours pointed to the CJP and told her that we had brought Gangadhar back. She turned to us and said, “Baba (term of endearment), stay well. God bless you!” Then she looked at her son and said, “This is my son, this is my son, this is my Ganga.”
She finally got to feed her son a home-cooked meal. The heavy downpour outside made it difficult to hear what was being said, so she asked loudly, “Why did you leave without telling me?” She went on to tell her son about how she had searched high and low for him. “I cried a lot. I asked many people where my Ganga is? I begged many people, no, no one brought you to me. I wandered around like a mad woman. I looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find you son. Your father wanted to see you just once. He died thinking you were lost, you never saw his face again,” she said, her voice filled with anguish. Then she fell silent again. But once again wide-eyed she announced to all present, “This is my son, this is my son, my Ganga.”
Then we went to Gangadhar’s sister Champa’s home. Here, as with his mother by his side, her eyes never leaving Gangadhar’s face, he told us, “I had lost hope. But I got it back when I met you. I got back home. I got my mother. But I didn’t get my father.” Emotionally scarred by his experience, he says, “I will never go out again. I will never ever go to Assam. I will do any work from home and will take care of my mother.”
Sushanta Jharemunia, who is the Radhanagar Vice President of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and local TMC Panchayat Member Mrs. Bijuli Bagdi including many people met us, had refreshments and discussed various issues including Gangadhar Pramanik’s employment, safe place for them to stay, food arrangements, weekly local police presence, etc.
“We will try to make his arrangements for food and shelter and also try to appoint him at some work so that he can live a healthy life,” said Jharemunja. “His mother used to cry every day. As we cooked served the food, she cried and hoped that her son will come,” recalled Bagdi.
Then Team CJP took Gangadhar to the local Radhanagar Police out post, where he is required to sign his weekly attendance. We were accompanied by Ashish Dey neighbour of Gangadhar, a conscious local young man. We carefully informed the officials of all formalities and procedures. Then our team made our way to Kolkata before making the journey back to Assam.