Inventing 'Aliens' in Assam: The Story of Persecution with Impunity
Survivors of violence in Assam
GUWAHATI: Since evening of August 10, 2015, the private satellite television channels operating from Guwahati were running a ‘big breaking news’ that some ‘goons’ from a particular political party attacked a police team on duty, and had taken away three declared Bangladeshi nationals from their custody in the Morigaon district of central Assam.
Next day a few vernacular newspapers also carried the news on their front page with sensational headlines. One of the newspapers claimed that the police was not only attacked but the team shamefully ran away from the spot. But the facts seem to dispel this ‘news’ as reported by powerful sections of the media.
Morigaon has a history of mindless killings and violence based on the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. On February 18, 1983, a village called Nellie just around 30 KMs from Morigaon town witnessed the biggest massacre of independent India, where more than three thousand people were killed in broad daylight. Just a few days prior to the Nellie Massacre, more than hundred people were killed while they were taking shelter in a government manned shelter camp in Nagabanda High School which is also around 30 KMs in the opposite direction,from the same Morigaon town. All these gruesome killings happened only through propaganda branding the victims as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Thirty years hence, the situation around Nellie remains volatile and vulnerable.
Keeping in mind the sensibility and volatility of the issue, a fact finding team of lawyers, journalists and activists from Guwahati decided to check the veracity of the above news item, and the actual situation in the area. On August 11, 2015 as soon as our vehicle entered Morigaon town it was surrounded by a procession chanting inflammatory slogans against illegal Bangladeshis and their ‘protectors’. Somehow, reached Milanpur area of ward no. 3 in Morigaon town.
On that day, two police personnel in ‘civil dress’ came to one Rustam Ali’s house at Milanpur to apprehend his family and to send them to the detention camp. Rickshaw puller Ali was plying his rickshaw in Morigaon town as usual like any other day. Police asked Ali’s wife Sahera Khatun and 13 year old daughter Josnara Khatun to come to the police station and informed them that the Foreigner’s court, Morigaon has declared them as foreigners hence they will be arrested and send to the detention camp. Ali’s wife informed the police that her family had challenged the decree of Foreign Tribunal before the Gauhati High Court and the court has granted interim relief from detention and deportation. She also informed the police that the copy of the order has been submitted to the office of the Superintendent of Police and the case was pending before the High Court. However, the police team was not willing to listen. Sahera Khatun fled the house, but her 13 old daughter was unable to join her and remained in the house.
The police apprehended the girl child, dragged her into police vehicle waiting half a kilometer away from their house. The girl was frightened and was screaming and a crowd gathered. They tried to rescue her from the police. In this scuffle she was injured and traumatised, and passed urine in her clothes. She then lost consciousness. The police vehicle moved for about a kilometre and was again blocked by the angry crowd that now managed to free the young girl and admitted her into Morigaon Civil Hospital. In this scuffle, police officer Prasad Ali who was in civil dress sustained minor injury. He was also admitted in Morigaon Civil Hospital and was released after preliminary treatment. However, the police has registered a case against one Habibar Rahman, and interestingly villagers alleged that the accused used to be the police middleman and is the secretary of the ‘district peace and police coordination committee’.
On the other hand, the young girl is still lying on the floor of Morigaon Civil Hospital even after 24 hours of the incident, as per the medical records, she has developed severe psychological disorder and will take longer time to get back to normalcy. So far no officials from the government or any organisation have responded to her plight and come forward to help.
We tried to meet the SP of Morigaon to get responses to the crucial questions raised about the court orders. However, the SP delegated the responsibility to Additional SP who informed us that they had no clue about high court’s interim order. he also had no idea how the case was registered. However, he briefed us that normally the foreigner cases are registered based on any input from anybody, or just suo moto registration of a case by the police.
But the revelation made by Rustam Ali (alleged foreigner) was shocking in real sense. He said that the person from whom he purchased land around 20 years back demanded additional money in 2009, when he refused to pay; the former seller allegedly informed the police that Rustam Ali is a Bangladeshi! This is important to note that branding someone as illegal Bangladeshi in Assam is a cash cow for the police. Rustam Ali said that after the interim order from the high court, he and his five member family appeared before the SP along with three witnesses and submitted the interim order copy to SP. Despite doing all this as per the instructions of the court, the rickshaw puller said he wwas forced to pay hatpah (fee) to the police almost every month.
Rustam Ali is not an isolated case but an example of harassment and victimisation of persons who the authorities insist are illegal migrants. Bedridden, 79 year old Akmat Ali from village Sitoli of Barpeta district whom I met last year couldn’t speak as he was unwell. His eldest son said that the police comes regularly to take a goat, or hens and ducks as ‘payment’ for not arresting the ageing man.
In 1997, around two lakhs people were identified as doubtful citizen or D Voters. Their citizenship right has been revoked without any valid reason. According to a white paper published by the government of Assam, more than 92 percent of the resolved cases of D Voters have been declared as genuine Indian nationals. Out of the remaining eight percent cases, in most of those cases, the decree was awarded ex-parte or the doubtful citizen didn’t get the opportunity to prove their citizenship due to multiple reasons like poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to proper judicial services, communication and transportation etc.
As of now there are more than 38,000 people, who are declared as untraced foreigners; who were declared as foreigner based on D voters list, IMDT cases and arbitrarily registered reference cases by police. Recently, Assam Police put a list of such ‘declared untraced foreigners’ on public domain. We analyzed the list which contained name address and other details of the case of nearly 7000 people. The list has ‘declared untraced foreigners’ from 13 districts of Assam. Out of 13 districts, 3 districts provide the information regarding ‘manner of judgment’. The data of Mangaldoi district reveals that out of 208 cases disposed by Foreign Tribunal only one person contested his case, remaining 99.52 percent alleged foreigners didn’t contested their case. In Karimganj district the ratio ex-parte and contested case is 938:9 and in Hailakandi the ratio is 127:2. In other words it can be presumed that our judiciary has not heard or examined the nationality of over 99 percent of those people and straight forward declared them foreigner and asked the police to throw them into the detention camp from where there is little chance of getting free in the lifetime of any detainee. What kind of justice is this?
If the news reports are to be believed, Assam Police has recently created 500 special units to apprehend all those ‘declared foreigners’ including 99 percent of those people whose citizenship actually was not examined at all! And the special police units are in full-fledged operation since the first week of this month. It also heard that government is increasing the number of detention camps on war footing.
By the way for whom these detention camps are being set up? For 13 years old Josnara Khatun, rickshaw puller Rustam Ali or 79 year old bedridden Akmat Ali despite the fact that they have the documents defending their Indian nationality.
Then there is Moinal Mollah from Barpeta district of lower Assam. In 1998, the SP of Barpeta made three reference cases alleging Moinal Mollah and his parents to be Bangladeshi. In 2003, Illegal Migrants (Determination) Tribunal declared his parents to be genuine Indian citizens. Due to the negligence of their lawyer and being illiterate Mollah thought that he would not have to appear before the courts, as his parents were in the clear. After seven long years the Foreigner’s Tribunal declared him as an ‘untraced foreigner’ whereas no communication was received by Moinal Mollah even after two years of the decree. For the last two years Moinal Mollah is languishing in the detention camp, his poor family has already lost everything in the legal battle to prove their nationality and do not have the resources to fight the legal battle any longer.
The media, civil society, activists or the government no one is bothered about this persecution of the Bengali Muslims in Assam who are left alone with their pain and suffering despite being genuine Indian citizens. Many are counting their days in detention camps while thousands are under imminent threat of being dumped in the detention camps alias concentration camps.
[Abdul Kalam Azad is a community worker based in Guwahati.)