BASIRON Bewa, 57, went door to door in her village Karbala in Assam’s Goalpara district to arrange sureties for her son Batchu Ali.
Now back home at Karbala, 39-year-old Batchu says he got the news in jail on August 4 that she had died, and was allowed to pay his last respects. Breaking down over the phone, he says he got his release orders finally on August 9. “She was not there when I came out… All these years, she would visit me once or twice a month. But in July, after the Supreme Court order, she came five-six times, as she was trying to get me out… Maybe all the hectic activity took a toll.”
For Nur Mohammed Ali, a daily wager in Goalpara, the release came as swiftly as the arrest — without announcement or warning. On a winter morning of 2010, Nur Mohammed was picked up and deposited in a jail 15 km away on the grounds of being an “illegal foreigner”. In the waning summer of 2019, the 61-year-old was released.
Both times, Nur Mohammed was taken by surprise. So when his cousin Ibrahim Ali came to receive him on August 9, Nur Mohammed burst into tears and fainted in his arms right after stepping out of the Goalpara District Jail.
An SC bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna had ordered on May 10 that “declared foreigners” who had spent more than three years in Assam’s detention camps could secure conditional release on the fulfilment of certain conditions: a bond with two sureties of Rs 1 lakh each, a verifiable address of stay after release, biometrics of iris and prints of all 10 fingers, and appearance before a specified police station once a week.
The order came following allegations of violation of human rights at these detention centres.
More than three months later, Nur Mohammed was part of the nine released in August in the first batch, from the Goalpara jail. The orders came only after the Assam government issued a notification to execute the Supreme Court order. But while the apex court had put the number of detainees who fit the bill at 335, the other 226 are struggling to meet the conditions of release.
Says Nur Mohammed’s lawyer Rakibul Islam, “To get him out was a struggle. This is what is happening with all. The court has said they can be released, but it is not simple for poor people like them.”
In Batchu’s case, on his mother’s pleadings, fellow villagers Robiul Mandal and Tayub Ali offered their land as surety. Both Basiron and Batchu’s wife Khadija Begum are in the NRC. Batchu, an illiterate daily wage mason earning around Rs 160 a day, was declared an “illegal foreigner” in 2013 and put in the Goalpara District Jail detention camp in December 2015.
Sudhan Sarkar got out — on August 9, having spent three-and-a-half years in detention — after his entire village of Asudubi in Goalpara district pitched in to raise the bond. A grateful Mintu Sarkar, his 16-year-old grandson, says they couldn’t have managed otherwise.
Back at their one-roomed hut in Kumaripara hamlet, Nur Mohammed, a man with a gentle face and smile, which keeps dissolving into tears, is now known as the “D Voter who came home after 10 years in jail”.
Sitting next to him, wife Saanbhanu Nessa, 40, talks about how she struggled all these years to raise Rs 30 to see him in jail.
“In the first week, many came to see Nur Mohammed, old friends, relatives, strangers,” says Jamiruddin, a neighbour, adding that around them there are many D-voter cases. “They all wanted to know what happens in jail.”
Nur Mohammed says he didn’t have many answers. “I do not know what to say, so I say I am well.”
As days pass on, he is himself struggling to hold onto optimism. “I do not know what to do with myself,” he says. “How do I earn money? Do I take up a job? Will anyone give me a job?”
The penniless Batchu shares the despair. Wondering if “people will employ an alleged Bangladeshi”, he says, “I have come out on bail, but to what? Extreme poverty and no job, five years of my life gone. I do not have money to fight the case in the high court.”
He doesn’t want to talk about life in the detention camp either, just saying, “It wasn’t easy.”
Khadija, 35, who barely supported herself and their four children (the eldest 15) working in people’s homes while Batchu was in jail, says, “I don’t know what he will do but I think he will earn something.”
About the NRC sword hanging over the state, jail kept Nur Mohammed unaware of it. He says he knows of no such list.
As per the updation rules — which rule out anyone declared a foreigner by an FT, or those whose cases are pending before a tribunal — neither Ali, nor Batchu, nor Sarkar, will figure in it.
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