Here are some of the untold miseries of ‘foreigners’ in Assam and their battle against misrepresented identity
D voters or Doubtful voters as they are also called, these residents of Assam state have been disenfranchised during electoral roll revision for their reported lack of citizenship credentials. Their cases are pending in one of 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) across the state. Once adjudged a foreigner, a person is sent to any of the six detention camps — housed within jails — before deportation.
Abhayapuri: Alorani Deb, 56, has been languishing in the Kokrajhar detention camp meant for 'foreigners' for the past two-and-a-half years.
Despite "possessing" all legal documents to prove her citizenship, the native of Abhayapuri in Assam's Bongaigaon district was tagged a D voter in 2016. What makes matters worse is that Alorani is a heart patient. She reportedly underwent a pacemaker operation at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) last year.
“My mother has all related documents like 'link certificate', marriage certificate, name in the voters' lists from 1989 to 1997. Apart from this, her father’s name featured in the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC), legacy data etc,” said Mithun Deb, a daily-wage labourer and Alorani's second son.
Mithun's elder brother is a diabetic. "To help me in paying the lawyers’ bills to fight my mother's case, my youngest brother, Ranjan Deb (25), had to go to Chennai, Tamil Nadu. But destiny had other plans for us as he returned home handicapped after he was brutally assaulted by some miscreants there,” said Mithun, adding that the family has nothing left to sell now. Whatever they had, everything has been sold to pay the lawyers' bills.
Once adjudged a foreigner, a person is sent to any of the six detention camps — housed within jails — before deportation.
However, it is broadly alleged that a large section of detainees in all the six detention camps in Assam are passing sleepless nights not for the issues relating to their doubtful nationality but for petty issues such as lack of proper education, destruction of important documents during floods or ethnic clashes, besides, of course, their abject poverty conditions -- all those things because of which their nationality is under doubt, in the first place.
A village which houses several of such D-voters is Amguri, Abhayapuri in Assam's Bongaigaon district.
When this EastMojo team recently visited the village, located almost 200 km from the state powerhouse Guwahati, harrowing stories of D-voters came to the fore.
Sambhuram Das, 61, a contractor by profession, is fighting a never-ending legal battle to get away with the D-voter's tag.
“I have all necessary documents to prove my nationality. Despite submitting them, I was made a D-voter,” Das, who claims to be an indigenous Assamese, said.
Das is not alone. Motilal Mandal (75 years, name included in 1960 voter’s list), Chaitanya Sarkar (75 years, 1966 voter’s list), Subhash Das (65 years, 1985 voter’s list), Madan Kumar Das (55 years, he has land documents of 1958 and name in voter’s list), Sunil Das (47 years, has land documents and name in voter’s list), Gaduram mandal (72 years, land documents of 1963, name in voter’s list), Aduri Das (57 years, casted ballot 1985 onwards), Dilip Das (50 years, casted votes in 1985, 1980), Madshu Sudan Das (65 years, casted votes on many occasions), Lakshaan Mandal (55 years, casted votes), Faluram Das (85 years, names on voter’s list), Nepal Mandal (47 years, casted votes), Tarapad Das (70 years, already casted votes on various occasions)... the list goes on and on.
“I am a resident of Haripur. Since 2010, I have been tagged a D-voter. I have all required documents from of 1951 onwards. I have been casting votes from 1985 till 2014. It’s not me alone. Lots of people in the village have their documents. Still they have been labelled as D-voters,” Das said.
A majority of the villagers here are daily-wage labourers. “Only we know how we are leading our life. We have already invested huge amounts of money to our lawyers. We have sold all our belongings,” he Das added.
Ignorance killing them
A bulk of the D-voters in Amguri are illiterate. So, most of them don't realise what is happening to them in the courts. Also, a majority of them were declared 'foreigners' via ex-parte or one-sided -- in their case, the state -- judgement.
Madan Chandra Das (55) is one such 'victim. “I was declared a D-voter due to a mistake made by electoral officials. In the voter’s list, while I have been shown alive in one position, I have been declared 'dead' in the other. This confusion is creating the problem," he said.
Madan Chandra Das
Aduri Das (57) has also been casting her votes since 1985 onwards. “But I have also been declared a D-voter. I have submitted all related documents, including those relating to my husband and father-in-law, etc, but still, I am a D-Voter officially. I don’t have money at all to give to lawyers. Now, what I should do?” she asked.
Kids worst affected
All the members of Hareswar Das’ family have been declared as D-voters. While Das (40), the head of the family, is in a detention centre, his wife Kamala Bala Das (35), siblings Pabitra (16), Biswajit (14), Rupali (12) and Nabajit (5) are struggling to make ends meet at home.
In their father’s absence, both Pabitra and Biswajit have stopped going to school and have started working as daily-wage labourers.
“They are yet to attain the age of 18 years, so people are reluctant to take them. Even if somebody takes them, they offer very less money. I am absolutely helpless. I can’t run the family if they don’t earn. Apart from this, we have to pay a hefty amount to lawyers regularly,” Kamala Bala said.
‘These are sheer violation of human rights’
Terming it a case of sheer violation of human rights, Samrat Bhawal, general secretary (Central Committee), All Assam Bengali Yuva Chatra Federation, has urged the state government to look into these “genuine” cases as soon as possible.
“It’s really unfortunate that these people, even after having all related documents, are languishing in various detention camps,” he said.
Bhawal, whose name is also missing in the NRC draft, further said that everyone in his family, including his father, mother, wife and even his son found their names in the NRC, except for him, despite submitting all related documents twice. “Now what should I say? I have born and brought up here. I have my birth certificate from the government civil hospital along with other required documents. If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone in this state,” he added.