New Delhi: The tag of being a “foreigner” continues to haunt ex-Army man Mohammad Sanaullah even after walking out of Goalpara detention centre after the Gauhati High Court released him on bail on June 8. He was sent behind bars on May 28, six days after a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) at Boko in Assam’s Kamrup district declared him a “foreign national of post 25-03-1971 stream”. March 24, 1971 is the cut-off date for citizenship, as per the Assam Accord of 1985.
“I was called by a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) to North Guwahati police station on the evening of May 28. I had the apprehension that I could be detained as per the procedure because I had lost my case in the FT. It was true. I was asked to surrender. The next morning, I was taken to the detention centre – one of the six such centres housed within the district jails of Assam that are meant for declared foreigners,” the 52-year-old retired Subedar with the Army’s Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineer (EME) told Newsclick over phone.
Sanaullah had joined the defence forces on May 21, 1987 and retired on June 1, 2017. On January 26, 2017, he was awarded the rank of honorary captain by the then President. A resident of Guwahati’s Satgaon area, he was recently appointed as a sub-inspector (SI) with the border wing of the state police after clearing the qualification test. The Border Police is tasked with identifying illegal migrants, lodging a “reference” case against the person in the FT concerned, arresting them once declared a foreigner and finally deporting them from the country.
“The condition of detention centres – which are regular prisons having a separate section for declared foreign nationals – are horrible. The cell in Goalpara detention centre where I was lodged had around 40 people. Like other prisoners, I was also given two blankets, a mosquito net, a plate and a glass. The quality of food is extremely bad,” he said.
When asked for details of his interactions with fellow detainees, Sanaullah said: A majority of detainees in the detention center - say sources, are illiterate and very poor. They have been lodged there for the past several years. There are people who have been in the detention centre for approx eight-nine years. They have been declared foreigners by over 100 FTs in the state. Several of them have been declared ‘foreign nationals’ on account of minor discrepancies (such as spelling errors in their names and age mismatches) in the papers they had submitted to prove their Indian citizenship the sources said
ALSO READ: After Serving Indian Army for 30 Years, Retired Soldier Rendered Stateless in Assam
They are so poor that their family members cannot afford to challenge the FT order in the high court. There are a few people who have not seen their nearest and dearest once for years, as the latter have stopped visiting them because of not being able to bear travel expenses. There are detainees in the age group of 18-30 years who have been declared ‘foreigners’ but their parents and siblings are Indian citizens.
The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation process, had last month ordered conditional release of the detainees who had completed over three years behind bars on furnishing a bond with two sureties of Rs 1 lakh (each of Indian citizen) and after taking their place of stay, biometric, iris and all 10 fingerprints and photos.
Taking about his case, Sanaullah said he came to know about his D-voter (doubtful voter) status in 2018, after the first draft of the NRC was published in December 2017. The case against him was initiated in 2008.
“After I did not find my name in the draft NRC, I filled claims and objections form at the NRC Seva Kendra >(NSK), which informed me that my citizenship has been doubted by the Election Commission as there is a ‘D’ against my name in the electoral roll. I went to the SP office and got my files traced so that I can get a notice to appear before the FT. I was confident that I would win the case as I had all the papers to prove my citizenship. But unfortunately, that did not happen and I was declared a ‘foreign national’ based on a fabricated report prepared by an investigating officer of the Border Police,” he said refusing to talk much about the merit of his case as it is sub judice in the high court.
“I am extremely thankful to the honorable High Court for granting me bail. I am out on bail but I am sure justice will be done to me. I got support of everyone – the Army, which extended legal support; the media, which aggressively reported my case on facts; and the lawyers who argued well and secured my release,” he said. After Sanaullah’s detention hit headlines, the former police officer who had investigated the ex-soldier said it was a case of mistaken identity.
The Border Police officer – Chandramal Das – who is now retired, earlier told NDTV that Sanaulla was “not the man he had investigated”. But the man whom he investigated was also called Sanaulla, which is why a mix-up of reports at the administrative level may have occurred, he said.
However, Sanaullah said his village does not have anyone who has the same name. “Except me, there is no one in my village whose name is Sanaullah,” he concluded.
The inquiry report submitted to the FT in 2008 claimed that Sanaullah was 50 years old and his profession was “labour” (sic). The report stated that he came to India through a secret route for a better living. His wife’s nationality was also suspected, the report said. When the border police’s report was prepared in 2008, Sanaullah was serving in a counter-insurgency operation in Manipur, documents submitted by him showed.
However, the ex-Armyman told the tribunal that the investigating officer neither visited his house nor issued any notice to him. “The report says the IO (investigating officer) visited him on two dates. One of those dates shows that he was in Manipur as a part of Operation Hifajat, a counter-insurgency act. So, how could the IO meet him at his house?”, Shohidul, who is married to Sonaullah’s eldest daughter Shahnaz Akhtar, was quoted as saying in an earlier report.
ALSO READ: Ex-Army Man Held After Being Declared 'Foreigner', Moves HC
The three men who allegedly signed the case report on the former soldier to came on record, claiming no investigation has been done in the case. The men have filed a complaint with the police, accusing Das, of fabricating the investigation report.
The trio – Ajmal Ali, Suwahan Ali and Mohammad Kuran Ali – alleged that Das never called them for giving any statement or sign on any document as witnesses. They also claimed that they came to know that they were made witnesses to Sanaullah’s statement from the social media.
The three persons also said Sanaullah was a genuine Indian citizen and was being “harassed by the Border Police, which has conspired to declare him a doubtful voter”.
Based on their complaints, three separate FIRs have been lodged against Das.
Sanaullah served the Army for 30 years. He took part in the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan that took place between May and July 1999. He was posted in Manipur, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.