Sesapani, Kokrajhar, Assam: Ekabar Rahman is a worried man. The 44-year-old resident of Sesapani in Kokrajhar, Assam, is on the run as the local police are looking out for him suspecting him to be a D voter or doubtful voter.
“I have been evading police arrest, as I know that I am not a D voter. Two years ago, the police had sent me a notice. Now, a case has been registered in the Gauhati High Court and has been going on for the past two years,” he explains.
‘D voter’, sometimes also referred to as ‘dubious voter’ or ‘doubtful voter’, is a special category of voters in Assam who are disenfranchised by the government on the account of their alleged lack of citizenship credentials.
The situation at Sesapani, a village located just 2 km from the Kokrajhar railway station, is particularly tense, as several other villagers are already languishing at the detention camp as D voters. Inhabited by a population of over 3,000, both belonging to the Hindu and Muslim communities, villagers here claim that some of their fellow villagers have been kept at the detention camp despite having all ‘necessary’ documents.
‘D voter’, sometimes also referred to as ‘dubious voter’ or ‘doubtful voter’, is a special category of voters in Assam who are disenfranchised by the government on the account of their alleged lack of citizenship credentials. The D voters are determined by special tribunals under the Foreigners Act, and the persons declared as D voters are sent to detention camps. These detention centres have been carved out of jails and human rights activists complain about the appalling conditions under which they are lodged, often with little prospect of release.
Bachiran Bibi (38) has been lodged at the Kokrajhar facility as a D voter for over a year now. Villagers here claim that her great grandfather, Biraj Ali, has his name on the legacy data (legacy data code: 200-0008-9126), but apparently even this piece of evidence doesn’t seem to convince the authorities concerned.
Interestingly, while Bachiran was spending her time at the detention camp, her name was included in the voter list published this year. She also holds a ration card (bearing card no. 0521845, EastMojo has a copy) and is reportedly a beneficiary of the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana (PMGAY), a social welfare flagship programme created by the government of India to provide housing for the rural poor.
“I am having sleepless nights as my daughter is lodged in the detention camp for more than a year now. Even after submitting all the required documents, we are yet to get justice. Now, we are wondering what kind of document will actually help to get her release,” laments Muskat Ali, Bachiran’s father.
Coming down heavily on the inhuman treatment meted out to the inmates at the Kokrajhar detention camp, Saubar Ali Sheikh (28), whose mother Sharmala Bibi (45), is lodged at the facility, alleged: “There is no proper arrangement in the camp for inmates. There is no provision for proper food or medication.”
“We have already spent a huge amount of money (up to Rs 2 lakh) for the release of my mother. Now, we are in deep financial crisis. Will we ever get justice?” questions Saubar.
The Kokrajhar detention camp houses inmates hailing from various parts of the state. When this correspondent visited the facility last week, Aged Hasan Ali, a resident of Naitor village in Kamrup (rural) district, had come to visit his wife Rahiman Nessa, housed as an inmate inside the camp. Like almost all others, Ali claims that his wife has all the “necessary” documents. “However, in some of her documents, her name has been mistakenly written ‘Rahiman Ali’ instead of Rahiman Nessa,” he explains. That, possibly could have led to the authorities concerned to doubt her credentials, he adds.
The government of Assam has recently got the green signal from the Centre to build a new detention facility for holding people who were unable to prove their citizenship at the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) in the state. At present, there are six detention camps in Assam – housed within the district jails in Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Silchar – and are home to some 1,000-odd ‘declared foreigners’. Overall, the FTs in Assam have declared 85,000 people as ‘foreigners’ so far.
Explaining the rationale behind some of the ‘genuine’ Indian citizens languishing in detention camps, Aman Wadud, a Guwahati-based lawyer says the border police and the Election Commission of India sometimes mark genuine Indian nationals as doubtful citizens without even carrying out the investigation process properly. Wadud has been criticising the process of identification of D voters and sending them to detention camps for a long time now.
“At the Foreigners Tribunals, sometimes people are declared ‘foreigners’over clerical mistakes like age, differences in their fathers’ names and spelling mistakes in their own names, among others. This is nothing but human error. It has been happening ever since the country achieved independence from the Britishers in 1947,” he adds.
Incidentally, natural calamities like the erosion of Brahmaputra river also add to the woes of D voters, Wadud explains. “Most of these people are living in riverside areas. Several villages have been washed away by the Brahmaputra and its tributaries over the years forcing residents to shift to other places. “Due to such reasons, their residence addresses may differ from time to time. Tribunals sometimes overlook this,” he adds.
Wadud also attributes one of the reasons for their ordeal to poverty and illiteracy. “They can’t afford to hire expert lawyers. Because of weak legal representation in the court, several people have been declared foreigners even when they are not so,” he adds.