A 104-year-old man from southern Assam’s Cachar district, who was detained in 2018 after being declared a foreigner from Bangladesh, died on Sunday, his family has said.
Until his last breath, Chandradhar Das was hopeful that his woes would end with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), daughter Nyuti Das said.
“He was not keeping well for a long time. He had not been eating properly for months. He died at 10.30 last night,” she said.
Soumen Chowdhury, a Silchar-based lawyer who was Das’ counsel, said a foreigners tribunal in Silchar declared Das a foreigner in January 2018. “It was an ex-parte order after Das failed to appear in front of the Tribunal,” Chowdhury said.
Das’s request for adjournment of the case on grounds of ill health was rejected by the Foreigners Tribunal because of the absence of a medical certificate, according to a copy of the order reviewed by East Mojo.
Two months later in March, Das was picked up from his residence in Borai Basti village of Silchar by Assam Police personnel and taken to the detention centre at the Central Jail, Silchar. It is one of the six detention centres for illegal foreigners being run out of jails in the state.
Amid continuing criticism of Assam’s illegal foreigners’ detention regime, the Gauhati High Court, in June, asked the state government to submit an action taken report on steps taken to set up detention centres outside jails. The state’s first exclusive detention centre is currently under construction in Goalpara’s Matia village.
Das was unhealthy, frail, and could barely walk while he was in detention. In June, as news of his detention made it to some newspapers, Kamal Chakraborty of the Unconditional Citizenship Demand Forum, an advocacy group that demands unconditional citizenship for partition victims, approached the district officials citing Das’ ill health.
“We requested the then Deputy Commissioner, S Lakshmanan, to ensure his release on humanitarian grounds,” Chakraborty said.
Das was immediately shifted to a hospital. Days later, he was released on bail as the Foreigners Tribunal set aside the earlier ex-parte opinion and set to examine the case afresh.
Chowdhury said Das’s claim of citizenship rested on a refugee registration certificate issued in 1966 in Tripura’s Agartala, which notes that he was born in Comilla in the then East Pakistan. “The document is yet to be verified by the authorities in Tripura and that is why his case was pending,” Chowdhury said.
Das’s status as a foreigner had a ripple effect. His three children and grandchildren are out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is being updated in Assam to identify illegal migrants. “We had our names in the draft list,” Nyuti Das said, referring to the register’s draft, which was published in 2018. The final list was published in 2019 and excluded over 1.9 million names.
Daughter Nyuti Das said her father knew little about the system that declared him to be a foreigner. “When the notice first came, we had no clue what was going on. He was ill even then, and he got even more dejected when he realised what was happening. He could not believe that despite living here for so many decades, his citizenship was in doubt,” she added.
“He was uneducated, old, and did not know the procedure. That is why he was declared a foreigner,” said Chakraborty.
The passage of CAA in 2019 raised Das’s hopes. “He would say that now everyone would be okay and have their names in the NRC,” Nyuti said. But, the law is still waiting for the framing of rules amid opposition from various quarters including sub-nationalist groups in Assam.
“He always said Modi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) would solve all his problems,” Nyuti said. “He died with the pain that he was not a citizen,” Nyuti Das said.