23, Apr 2020 | CJP Team
In a huge victory for nine inmates of Assam’s infamous detention camps, CJP has managed to secure their conditional release allowing them to go home to their families. The inmates hail from Chirang and Bongaigaon districts and were lodged in detention camps in Kokrajhar and Goalpara. They were released on April 22.
CJP Assam state team coordinator Zamser Ali explains, “We had been working to secure the release of detention camp inmates since even before the May 2019 Supreme Court order allowed conditional release for those who had completed three years. And while we were successful in helping many people go back home, things picked up speed after the Supreme Court order on April 13, 2020 that reduced time served requirement to two years and sureity amount to just Rs 5,000/- from the previous Rs 1 lakh. After the SC order, the Gauhati High Court had also ordered on April 15, that maximum number of eligible detainees be released within a week.”
Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. We are also helping secure the release of detention camp inmates as per the Supreme Court order on their conditional release. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.
The nine people released are:
1) Parbati Das: A 73-year-old woman from a Scheduled Caste who had been languishing behind bars at the Kokrajhar detention camp for 3 years, 7 months and 8 days.
2) Asthami Das: A 60-year-old woman who also hails from a Scheduled Caste and had spent 2 years, 2 months and 16 days at the Kokrajhar detention camp.
3) Shantibala Ray: A 60-year-old Koch Rajbongshi woman who spent 3 years, 7 months and 8 days in captivity at the Kokrajhar detention camp.
4) Khitish Singha: A 58-year-old Dalu tribal from an extremely impoverished background who spent 2 years, 10 months and 27 days behind bars at the Goalpara detention camp.
5) Bongshidhar Rajbongshi: A 63-year-old member of the Koch Rajbongshi community who is also from an extremely economically backward family, and had spent 2 years, 9 months and 18 days at the Goalpara detention camp.
6) Kiswar Barman: A 49-year-old Koch Rajbongshi man who had spent 3 years, 2 months and 29 days in captivity at the Goalpara detention camp.
1) Hellal Ali: A 70-year-old Muslim man who had spent 3 years behind bars at the Goalpara detention camp.
2) Chitta Ranjan Ghosh: A man who had previously been released on bail two years ago, but was sent back to the detention camp after the court ruled his school leaving certificate to be fake.
3) Gour Mandal: Who spent 2 years and 6 months in the Goalpara detention camp.
Apart from Zamser Ali, the efforts were also led by CJP senior team members Pranay Tarafdar, Nandu Ghosh and Abul Kalam Azad. Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim, assisted by Advocate Jahera Khatun and Advocate Prity Karmakar, was also a key member of the team that also comprises hundreds of community volunteers, paralegals, assistants and drivers.
Explaining the logistics of operating during the lockdown, Zamser Ali says, “We had already done a lot of leg work and travelled to the villages of all the detainees on multiple occasions over the last one and half years. But when the lockdown was ordered, we could not stop our work. Also, we were engaged in providing rations and relief materials to impoverished people at the time. We managed to get permission for one vehicle for this purpose. Since the detainees’ families also comprise extremely poor daily wage earners who had lost their source of incomes and were facing starvation, we were able to provide two different forms of service to them.”
Nandu Ghosh, elaborated on the procedural hurdles faced by the team saying, “For every person who agrees to bail out a detainee, we have to get their ‘Jamabandi’ document (proof of land ownership), their land valuation document and their tax clearance document. All these had to be verified by government authorities who would often reject documents due to minor discrepancies causing us to run from the Mandal department in the Circle Office to the Sub Divisional Office (Civil) and back multiple times.”
Additionally, each bailor had to provide legacy data and certified copy of voters list and voter ID. Ghosh says many times the procedure took as long at four months to complete because they were made to jump through bureaucratic hoops. But the team remained patient, and did not budge.
“But we all got very emotional in the cases of Kshitish Singha and Bongshidhar Rajbongshi. Singha’s wife is ill and bed ridden. One of his children works in another state and is stuck there. The other child is in class five. They are extremely poor and helpless. In case of the Rajbongshi family, we discovered that they had been forced to go hungry for two consecutive days as supplies ran out and they did not have any source of income during the lockdown. Though we immediately provided them with rations, it was very difficult to get over what we saw that day,” recalls Nandu Ghosh.
Ghosh and Tarafdar often had to make multiple trips to far flung villages to help families with the documentation process and get bailors. “Many times, we would go to the village to help the families, but they would be out trying to find work. So, we would return at night, but by then they would have fallen asleep exhausted from toiling all day.”
Zamser Ali elaborates, “Often people would be reluctant to become bailors as nobody wants to get into the long drawn out process. Sometimes people would want to help, but they did not have adequate documents. There are 2500 people living near Kiswar Barman’s home in Phaisobari village who do not have a single permanent land patta (land ownership document). Around 3,000 people are living in the Borpathar village, where Bongshidhar Rajbongshi lives, but only 25 of them have permanent land patta documents. Most tribals don’t have permanent land pattas and basically depend on produce from the forest land. In many villages it is only the upper caste people who have them and they are usually unwilling to help detainees unless they can get something out of it.”
Explaining how CJP had to step in and often protect vulnerable families of detainees from bailors with ulterior motives, Zamser Ali says, “People would expect the family to turn over their land in exchange for help in securing the detainee’s release. They would then be expected to work as bonded labourers on this land. This is virtual slavery and we could not allow helpless people to be exploited like this!”
But the CJP team soldiered on, with the objective of protecting and defending the vulnerable people. At last, our perseverance paid off, and when word came that release was possible for these nine detainees, CJP swung into action and arranged for 6 vehicles to first take the bailors to complete the last leg of formalities at the office of the Superintendent of Police, and then to take the detainees back home.
“The night before the release neither Zamser da, nor I slept a wink as we meticulously went through all paperwork with our legal team with a fine-tooth comb to ensure nothing went wrong at the last minute. We left at 6 AM the next day and formalities at the Superintendent’s office got completed only around 11 PM. By the time the detainees were released it was midnight. Our community volunteers ensured that they were all dropped home, all the while maintaining social distancing measures,” says Nandu Ghosh.
“Because of social distancing, we could not have more than two detainees and a bailor in one vehicle, forcing us to make multiple trips. By the time everyone reached home, it was well past 2 AM! But we had to be responsible,” says Zamser Ali.
So far, through direct intervention by CJP, 15 people have been able to walk out of detention camps. The team is now gearing up for the release of five more people over the next seven days. Here is a powerful video of detainees after their release.
Meanwhile CJP volunteers and volunteer motivators have also worked closely with people from Prayash and Aikyatan, two local organisations, to help secure the release of 50 more people. Here is a list of people who have helped in this enormous endeavour. While some have physically run from pillar to post through this tedious process, gone door-to-door and helped with document collection, form filing and verification, many of the following people have provided much needed emotional support as well as support from outside:
Bipul Sarkar, Pijush Chakraborty, Papiya Das, Gauranga Karmakar, Raj Barman, Mohanbashi Das, Dilip Kumar Ray, Sayan Kumar Singha, Chirang District BJP General Secretary Rintu Kumar Das, Kalicharan Barman, Sukdev Rajbongshi, Prahlad Das, Krishna Das, Ashananda Mondal, Ajit Barman, Rakhal Rajbongshi, Kartik Debnath, Ranjit Mondal, Manoj Saha Mrinal Kanti Saha, Ratan Goswami, Raju Saha Mondal, Swapan Saha, Raju Ghosh, Sushankar Ghosh, Subhas Ghosh, Samir Ghosh, Amal Kanti Raha, Ujjal Ujjwal Bhowmick, Aminul Ahmed, Ananta Kalita, Rituraj Kalita, Shantiranjan Mitra, Ratish Deb, Ak Goldsmith, Teesta Setalvad, Pranjal Choudhury, Faruk Ahmed, Majidul Islam, Mubarak Ali, Sanjay Chakraborty, Amritlal Das Sushanta Kar, Har Kumar Goswami, Jamir Uddin Talukdar, Hasinus Sultan, Zesmin Sultana, Chitta Paul and many more.