Other States

Tale of woe and misfortune from a village of ‘foreigners’

Foreigners’ Tribunal cases prevent many from making it to the National Register of Citizens

Kumarbori, a village 65 km west of Guwahati on Asian Highway 1, was immune to the February 1983 massacre at Nellie and adjoining Muslim villages 5-8 km east.

But the world for some 30 households in the village turned upside down a year before the exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) began in 2015. One after the other, they began receiving notices from the Assam Police Border Organisation — the wing of 1962 vintage tasked with detecting and deporting foreigners — forcing them to make the rounds of a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in district headquarters Morigaon about 40 km north.

The villagers, all Bengali-speakers, said they had settled in Kumarbori much before March 24, 1971, the cut-off date for detecting foreigners or illegal immigrants as per the Assam Accord of August 1985. But the FT cases prevented most of them from getting into the NRC.

Some did make it, but were later put in the additional exclusion list of 1.02 lakh people published on June 26. This list names those whose citizenship documents were not found in order. “We are devastated, don’t know what will happen to us,” said Surjya Lal Das, a small-time trader, who spent a week in the Morigaon district jail with his wife and daughter for allegedly providing wrong information to the NRC authorities.

“My father Nanda Lal Das came to India as a refugee in 1964. He had settled down at Buraburi (Morigaon district) on the banks of the Brahmaputra and figured in the 1965 voters’ list. We relocated to this place a few years later. This probably was the reason for suspicion that made me fight a foreigner case four times,” he said.

Detention and jail

Fourteen others from three families in the village faced a similar ordeal. The villagers said one of them, Banamali Das, has been lodged at the Tezpur detention camp while his wife Rati Das spent some time in Morigaon jail. Moyna Das and Binod Das faced a similar ordeal.

Relocation due to erosion is also believed to have put brothers Kunja and Hiru Mandal in NRC trouble. They settled down at Soru Matiparbat near Kumarbori 25 years ago. “We had a pre-1971 land deed, a document permissible for NRC, at Bahakajari village. But they [NRC authorities)]did not believe us because the village no longer exists; it was eaten up by the Brahmaputra,” the brothers said.

“This NRC has drained our resources and happiness. We are dying every day by the very thought of ending up in detention camps for years. It would have been better if the government sends the police to shoot us, not merely serve notices,” Mr. Surjya Lal Das said.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 10:10:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/tale-of-woe-and-misfortune-from-a-village-of-foreigners/article28827292.ece

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