A month after NRC, no one has an an­swer to what hap­pens next

Lives Are Put On Hold Due To Un­cer­tainty Over Ap­peals Process For Those Left Out Of Cit­i­zens’ List Even As Work Pro­gresses On A Mas­sive De­ten­tion Cen­tre

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport - Naresh.Mi­[email protected]

Goal­para: For four years, Sha­ja­han Ali Ahmed helped il­lit­er­ate Mus­lim fam­i­lies put their NRC pa­pers in or­der. A doc­u­ment ac­cepted as proof one day could sud­denly be in­ad­mis­si­ble the next. Rules kept chang­ing. But Sha­ja­han kept up, and made sure th­ese fam­i­lies did too. When NRC was pub­lished a month ago on Au­gust 31, Ahmed found he hadn’t made it to the list.

“I’m a cit­i­zen. I had all doc­u­ments. But I’m not on NRC,” said Ahmed. “How is one to put to­gether new ev­i­dence of cit­i­zen­ship? I don’t know what will hap­pen next.” No one can say for sure. Not yet.

About 90 km away, Renu Bala Ha­jong, aged 64, has a clearer view of what could hap­pen if a tri­bunal de­cided some­one was a “for­eigner”. Renu was eight when her fam­ily fled strife-torn East Pak­istan to set­tle at lit­tle-known Ma­tia in Goal­para dis­trict. That was in 1964. In re­cent days, she has seen Ma­tia turn into a metonymic ex­ten­sion of the fear and anx­i­ety sur­round­ing As­sam’s cit­i­zen­ship tests. It’s where a mega de­ten­tion cen­tre is com­ing up and should be ready by this year-end.

It’s in this struc­ture’s shadow that Renu lives. Like many who en­tered In­dia from East Pak­istan in the 1960s, Renu had sub­mit­ted her refugee cer­tifi­cate for in­clu­sion in NRC. That didn’t cut it. “The refugee cer­tifi­cate is all I have. Ev­ery time I step out, I won­der if I’ll end up in the de­ten­tion cen­tre that’s com­ing up,” she said.

Renu has ur­gent ques­tions, like hun­dreds of thou­sands now do. If a higher court were to clear them now, would they be able to ap­ply for NRC again? What about those born after 2015, when ap­pli­ca­tions were closed? Will those ex­cluded from NRC and sub­se­quently de­clared for­eign­ers by a tri­bunal be placed in de­ten­tion right away? Or will of­fi­cials wait while they file ap­peals in higher courts be­fore tak­ing ac­tion? Guide­lines are still to be framed. There are gaps in the process that need to be plugged.

Un­til now, de­ten­tion cen­tres op­er­ated

A child­hood friend (pic­ture left) holds up a photo of Subrata Dey, 37, who died last year of a heart at­tack at a de­ten­tion cen­tre. (Right) Dey’s mother An­ima and widow Kamini at their home. An­ima, Kamini and Dey’s son have their names in the NRC

They sent my son’s body to Ashudubi (where they live). They should have sent it to Bangladesh. But how could they? I am here, his fam­ily is here, he was here all his life


out of jails: in Goal­para, Tezpur, Jorhat, Di­bru­garh, Silchar, Kokra­jhar. Fam­i­lies got sep­a­rated, there was no sup­port for the el­derly or those with mental health is­sues and barely any ac­cess to le­gal aid ex­isted. Th­ese cen­tres do not meet any glob­ally ac­cepted norms. After years of out­rage over “sub-hu­man” con­di­tions there, as CJI Ran­jan Go­goi put it, the Cen­tre came up with two so­lu­tions — a stand­alone fa­cil­ity and con­di­tional re­lease of those who have com­pleted a fixed term at such cen­tres.

Sev­eral is­sues crop up again: what hap­pens to those who’ve com­pleted their term, are re­leased on bail but, sub­se­quently, not held to be In­dian cit­i­zens by higher courts? Or to con­victed non-na­tion­als who’ve adDREAD PLACE: A mas­sive de­ten­tion cen­tre com­ing up in Goal­para dis­trict. Renu Bala Ha­jong, 64, whose name doesn’t fig­ure in the fi­nal NRC, says she wor­ries if she’ll ‘end up in the cen­tre’

mit­ted to en­ter­ing In­dia il­le­gally and are ready to go back?

Five days be­fore NRC’s pub­li­ca­tion, nine de­tainees were re­leased after Supreme Court al­lowed those who have com­pleted three years in camps to be freed on bail after fur­nish­ing surety of Rs 1 lakh each from two In­dian cit­i­zens and bio­met­ric de­tails. They have to re­port to po­lice reg­u­larly while they fight the le­gal bat­tle to prove their cit­i­zen­ship in higher courts.

“The ad­dress au­thor­i­ties had was of my res­i­dence at Kr­ish­nai. I don’t have a Bangladesh ad­dress, though the tri­bunal ver­dict would im­ply so. Why didn’t they send me to Bangladesh then?” asked Rabi Dey, 54, who was one of them.

This irony of be­long­ing frames all cit­i­zen­ship de­bates. In March last year, po­lice picked up Subrata Dey, then 37, after he was de­clared a non-na­tional. Two months later, he died of a heart at­tack at a de­ten­tion cen­tre. His death hit head­lines.

Subrata’s widow Kamini, 35, makes Rs 60 a day by stitch­ing plas­tic bags. Their son Vicky, 18, has dropped out of school and works at a gar­ment shop for Rs 5,000 a month. In death, Subrata was no more a “Bangladesh­i”. His 68-year-old mother An­ima said, “They sent my son’s body to Ashudubi. They should have sent it to Bangladesh. But how could they? I am here, his fam­ily is here, he was here all his life.” An­ima, Kamini and Vicky all fig­ure in the NRC.

There’s been a clam­our to de­port “il­le­gal” mi­grants but In­dia and Bangladesh don’t have a repa­tri­a­tion treaty. Be­sides, for re­moval from state, a per­son has to be ac­knowl­edged as a cit­i­zen by the pur­ported coun­try of ori­gin. Lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges vis-a-vis NRC and ab­sence of a clear guide­line on de­tainees are not lost on any­one.


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