People of Assam Shocked at Sudden Increase in FT Notices
Residents of Assam’s Dhubri district are suddenly inundated with notices telling them that as they are suspected foreigners, and that they must appear before the local foreigners’ tribunal (FT) and defend their Indian citizenship. In some villages recipients also include people from indigenous communities.
“We have observed an increase in the number of notices served in four districts over the last two weeks. These are Dhubri, Bongaigaon, Chirang and South Salmara-Mankachar,” says Nanda Ghosh, CJP Assam state team in-charge. “In one village named Shennagar in Dhubri, notices had been served in almost all homes, despite the fact that the village is inhabited predominantly by Deshi Muslims, a community that traces its ancestors back to undivided Goalpara, and that has recently been granted the status of Indigenous community by the state government,” he says.
Readers would recall that on July 5, the Assam Cabinet led by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma approved the inclusion of five sub-groups in a list of Indigenous Assamese Muslims in the state. The Cabinet has identified Goriya, Moriya, Jolha, Deshi, and Syed sub-groups of Assamese Muslims as Indigenous.
This week the CJP team comprising Ghosh, District Volunteer Motivator Habibul Bepari and our local community volunteers visited the villages of Shennagar, Moisha and Kherbari to assess the situation. We discovered that all the people who were served notices hailed from extremely economically backward families.
We found fear and confusion on all faces, as we met these people clutching the FT notices delivered to them. Many of these people are homeless, most are daily wage labourers who cannot afford to miss even one day of work, or else they will have to sleep on an empty stomach that night. Some of them work as agricultural labourers in fields owned by others, and most are uneducated. They said they had no connection to Bangladesh.
In Shennagar, we met Nasir Uddin Sheikh and his wife Jahira Bibi. They are in their 70s and still forced to work to sustain themselves as they have been abandoned by their children. “Our duty was to raise them, but we must have failed in that duty as they are not looking after us,” sighed Jahira Bibi who appears to have made peace with her fate. But the couple was flummoxed to receive an FT notice essentially asking them to prove their identity. The CJP team found that they had documents from 1966 and 1971. Nasir Uddin Sheikh wonders, “Perhaps they are mocking us,” and then engages in some dark humour himself, “We will happily join them if they arrange food for us.”
In Golakganj, Aklima Sarkar can’t comprehend how her life got to be just a series of tragedies. She had just recovered from a serious illness when she was served an FT notice. She has lost sleep, cries helplessly and has lost all hope. When the CJP team visited her after getting information from community volunteer Elias Sarkar, she tried to hide the FT notice, but her anxiety gave her away and she broke down.
Sarkar does not even have a home and lives with the family for whom she works as a domestic help. “Even if I did have a home, who would I go back home to? Who is waiting for me?” asks the 70-year-old childless widow. “All I want at this stage in my life is to life in peace. But now I have to go to an FT! I have never set foot outside alone!”
Nanda Ghosh informs, “We examined her documents and CJP will assist her in the FT case. But first we had to counsel her to stay strong as her emotional state was very fragile. It took a few hours, but we were able to help her gain composure.”
At present the CJP team is taking stock of many similar cases and will then assist these people in defending their citizenship before FTs.
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