‘They called us illegal. How is it possible?’ Family declared Indians after 12 months in detention

After a year-and-a-half in a detention centre as ‘illegal foreigners’, the New Year has introduced freedom and citizenship to Mohammad Nur Hussain, 34, his spouse Sahera Begum, 26, and their two minor kids, who’ve been declared Indians in a re-trial by a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT).

“We are proud Indians. We belong to Assam. They wrongly accused us of being Bangladeshis and said we illegally crossed the border. How is that possible? I was born here,” Hussain, a rickshaw puller in Guwahati who hails from Lawdong village in Assam’s Udalguri district, informed The Indian Express on Wednesday.

While the names of Hussain’s grandparents characteristic within the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951, his father’s identify, together with that of his grandparents, was within the 1965 voters’ checklist. Begum’s father too had appeared in NRC 1951 and the voter checklist of 1966, and the household has land paperwork relationship again to 1958-59. The deadline to establish an Indian citizen in Assam is March 24, 1971.

Yet, none of this was price a lot as police in Guwahati started investigating the couple’s citizenship credentials in 2017. In August that 12 months, Begum’s case was referred to FT No. 4 of Kamrup (Metro) district and in January the next 12 months, the identical was accomplished for Hussain.

“We are both unlettered and were in no position to make sense of the documents or what we were supposed to do,” Hussain stated.

While Hussain managed a lawyer for himself by paying Rs 4,000, his spouse went unrepresented on the tribunal. On August 28, 2018, nevertheless, Hussain’s lawyer pulled out of the case, after which he missed successive hearings on the FT.


FTs have cleared 2 lakh instances

Foreigners’ Tribunals are quasi-judicial our bodies that give opinion on whether or not an individual is an ‘illegal foreigner’ or not. FTs hear instances of these referred by the state police and people marked Doubtful Voters by election authorities. Till July 31, FTs had acquired 4.34 lakh instances, of which over 2 lakh have been disposed.

“The lawyer told me that I would not be able to afford his fee and other expenses. He said I should consider fleeing Guwahati or else police might arrest me. But I told him, ‘Why should I flee? What wrong have I done?” stated Hussain.

On May 29, 2018, the FT declared Begum a ‘foreigner’, and Hussain was declared one on March 30 the next 12 months. Section 9 of the Foreigners’ Act says the onus of proving that an individual will not be a foreigner lies on the particular person. Thus, when he/she doesn’t seem earlier than the FT, the member can proceed ex parte.

In June 2019, because the couple have been arrested and despatched to the detention centre in Goalpara district, their world collapsed round them.

“There was no one to take care of the children. Our relatives are in the village, so we took our children (aged 7 and 5) with us to the detention centre,” Begum stated, including that her elder son Shahjahan needed to be pulled out of faculty.

“In jail, my children kept saying they wanted to return home,” she stated.

With the couple in jail, a few of their family reached out to Aman Wadud, a Guwahati-based human rights lawyer, who, together with advocates Syed Burhanur Rehman and Zakir Hussain, represented them within the Gauhati High Court and in a while within the FT.

“Not everyone who is accused of being a ‘foreigner’ gets lawyers. Many Indian citizens are becoming stateless because they can’t even afford legal representation,” Wadud informed The Indian Express.

On October 9, the HC put aside the FT’s orders and ordered a retrial.

On December 16, a few weeks after the couple walked out on bail, the FT declared Hussain an Indian citizenship.

On Wednesday, Begum too was cleared of the foreigner tag. That day, because the attorneys and the couple celebrated the decision, Wadud requested little Shahjahan, “What will you become when you grow up?” “Ukil (lawyer),” the 7-year-old replied.

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