03, May 2021 | CJP Team
On April 30, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) was able to help two men hailing from extremely economically weak backgrounds secure release on bail from the Goalpara detention camp in Assam. While Abdul Sheikh is a riot survivor whose home was burnt down during ethnic clashes in the state, Gopal Mandal never had a permanent home as his father, a traditional Baul singer was constantly on the move as he toured across the state performing in different villages.
Therefore, both men could not prove that they were indeed residents of Assam and ended up being declared foreigners in their own homeland. They were forced to spend two years behind bars before CJP came to their rescue.
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.
Abdul Sheikh’s ordeal
In his 60s, Abdul Sheikh is a frail old man who has led a life scarred by violence and poverty. The home where his family presently resides is in Satibargaon village that falls under the jurisdiction of Dhaligaon police station in Chirang district of Assam.
Son of (late) Palan Sheikh, Abdul was born in Assam. He even has 1966 legacy data in his father’s name. The father of six is married to Aisa bibi, who is now old and ailing herself. Their eldest son, 21-year-old Asmot Ali takes care of his mother and five other siblings: three brothers Shanidul, Sukur and Asad, and two sisters, Saji and Asia. He is making sure they get to go to school. The youngest, Asad, is a student of class three.
Aisa Bibi, Abdul Sheikh’s wife, was born in Kotargaon village in Bilasipara subdivision of Dhubri district in Assam. Extreme poverty forced her father Sekendar Ali to send the girl to her grandfather Kusumuddin in Malibhita. “My grandfather brought me here when I was 7 or 8 years old,” says Aisa.
Abdul Sheikh who at that time was a resident of Salbari in Barpeta used to work with Kusumuddin in Gelephu near the Indo-Bhutan border. She was married off to Abdul Sheikh when she was just 12 years old and since then her life has been a roller coaster. The homes of Sheikh and her grandfather were burnt down during ethnic clashes in the state. Aisa’s family was slaughtered. “I watched my grandmother, cousins and aunt die,” she recalls.
The family was then evacuated and rehabilitated first at the Runikhata camp and then at the Kashikhotra camp, both in Assam. From there, they moved back to Sheikh’s home Salbari and then to Satibargaon. But they struggled to survive amidst extreme poverty and the family temporarily moved to Shillong in Meghalaya for work. Both Abdul and Aisa worked as daily-wage labourers to raise their family. Four years later they returned to Chirang.
Shortly after this the Assam Border Police sent Sheikh a foreigners’ notice. In case number BNGN/FT/CHR/220/07 PE No. 220/06, a foreigners’ tribunal in Chirang declared him a foreigner on June 13, 2018. On April 30, 2019, the border police arrested him and sent him to the Goalpara detention camp in Assam. Meanwhile, Aisa’s health began to deteriorate. In the absence of his father, Asmot who was then just 19-years-old took care of his younger siblings and his sick mother. In the last two years the family has survived floods, storms and Covid-19.
But in some relief, the family now has Abdul Sheikh back. He was released from the Goalpara detention camp after sustained efforts by CJP’s Assam team.
“It’s a lot of pain, just pain inside the prison,” Sheikh told team CJP after his release. He had an emotional reunion with his family and immediately hugged his younger son.
“We are very happy to have him at home. My health is not good. Moreover, I used to feel very helpless with small children,” said Aisa adding, “We are grateful for the support of the CJP. We pray to Allah that you all be well.”
Abdul Sheikh’s release order may be viewed here:
The curious case of Gopal Mandal
When CJP learnt about Gopal Mandal’s case we paid a visit to his home in Jharbishpani village, near the Indo-Bhutan border. It falls under the jurisdiction of Panbari police station of Chirang district.
Gopal is the son of a Baul singer, who never had a permanent home as he kept travelling across the state. As per BNGN/FT/CHR/220/07 PE No. 220/06 Gopal had been declared foreigner on June 13, 2018 by the Chirang FT and sent to the detention camp on April 30, 2019.
We found Mandal’s wife rummaging through an old trunk for his documents. Inside were old letters addressed to Gopal’s father, Ramkinkar Mandal from 1949, 1953 to 1968 from Dhaka and Mumbai. In these letters, Ramkinkar’s different addresses were given as Majher Alga Char of Goalpara District, Assam (now in Dhubri District of Assam), Karimganj, Assam and Gopal Mandal’s present address.
Though we found a 1997 voter-certified copy of Gopal Mandal’s name, we could not find any documents from before 1968. Thus began CJP’s most unique challenge till date… trace somebody who could tell us more about Gopal and his father, so we could find some usable documents.
A team including CJP adviser Zamser Ali, and Assam CJP State Incharge Nanda Ghosh searched all the places based on the addresses of the letters. After visiting various parts of Dhubri and South Salmara- Mankachar District of Lower Assam and Karimganj District of Barak Valley of Assam we discovered more about Ramkinkar Mandal from a retired Rajbangshi teacher of Oidubi village of Jogighopa in present day Bongaigaon district.
The teacher said, “Ramkinkar Mandal was a famous Baul artist. He used to sing Baul in many villages in the area.” He added, “Ramkinkar Baul’s house was Majer Alga char, I have seen him singing baul and kirtan in our house with my father many times.”
But as Goalpara district was divided into several new districts, CJP could not find any old document in Ramkinkar’s name in any government office in the last two years despite many attempts in separate office cycles.
But finally on April 30, 2021, Gopal Mandal, the Assam-born son of a Baul artist with a nomadic lifestyle, was released on bail on April 30, 2021 with the help of CJP after spending two years in a detention camp over Bangladeshi allegations. This was because of Supreme Court directives for decongestion of detention centers due to Covid-19.
A newly released Gopal told us, “I am very ill, I have difficulty breathing, I spent many difficult days in detention camps, I did not get good treatment.” But he was grateful to CJP and said, “I came home with the grace of CJP, God bless you!”
His wife and son also thanked the CJP too. His son said, “The CJP has done everything from handling legal costs to car rental. We will always be grateful for this help.”
But his failing health has Gopal concerned about the weekly visits to the police station that are the terms of his release. He said, “You released me, but it’s very difficult to report to the police station every week because I can’t walk or breathe properly. I don’t have money, I don’t have the ability to work again. If I go to the police station during the week, I can die at any time!”
Gopal Mandal’s release order may be viewed here:
Challenges faced by CJP team
Over the last few months, the team has been looking for a total of four bailors, two each for Abdul Sheikh and Gopal Mandal. But the real challenge arose in the last 20-22 days of official work due to Covid related 6 P.M lockdown and night curfews. Things got especially challenging in the last 48 hours because of the earthquake that took place in the state and the subsequent incessant rainfall.
CJP team working on this case comprised Assam CJP State Incharge Nanda Ghosh, District Volunteer Motivators Abul Kalam Azad and Habibul Bepari, team member Papiya Das, Community volunteers Ajay Basak, Bittu Roy, Sukhdeb Rajbongshi, Rajib Barman and Suken Das. CJP legal team member Advocate Dewan Abdur Rahim and Advocate Jeherul Islam assisted in legal work.
On the last day, Nanda Ghosh, Abul Kalam Azad, Ajay Basak, the two advocates, four bailors and office driver Ashikul Hussain went to the Chirang District SP (Border) office while Papiya Das co-ordinated the operation from CJP’s Bijni office.
After completing formalities there Ghosh and Ajay Basak went to the Goalpara Detention Center with the police. While travelling to the office of the Chirang SP (B) from Goalpara detention center, the team faced a lot of rain and thunderstorm. But they made it and completed the last leg of formalities. However, this is when the night curfew came into effect. But as per our discussion about this specific hurdle with the administration during the day, we were assured of their support.
We then made our way to Satiborgaon to drop Abdul Sheikh home. After this we dropped off Gopal Mandal to his home in Jharbishpani village near the Indo-Bhutan border. Driving during that time of the night was more difficult given how there were often cases of herds of elephants in the area trampling homes and vehicles of humans. Many people have died as a result of this. But it was our responsibility to ensure that Gopal Mandal and the bailors reached home safe.
Some images of this campaign may be viewed here: