Updated: August 12, 2019 5:35:55 pm
Among the many things Bishal Sah carries on visits to his mother in Tezpur District Jail is sattu, or chana dal, tied securely in a polythene bag. “My mother loves it,” says the 20-year-old student, whose forefathers migrated from Bihar in the ’40s to work in the tea gardens of Assam.
Nearly two months after Amila Sah was taken to the jail, Bishal says he is still to understand how his 39-year-old mother, who has no inkling even of what Bangladesh is, could be kept in “a jail for Bangladeshis”. Everyone in the family, except Amila, figures in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) “When the notice from the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) came in June 2018, our village headman told us it was nothing to worry about. We had documents, we had come from Bihar. He told us it would be solved in two days,” says Bishal.
While figures are not public, maximum exclusions from the NRC are believed to be from the Bengali community (both Muslims and Hindus). Cases like Amila’s have slipped unnoticed through the cracks, even as the deadline for the final NRC list, August 31, draws near. In July 2018, when the NRC final draft was published, many Hindi-speakers from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar found themselves left out. “We immediately met NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela and Home Minister (at the time) Rajnath Singh, and our problems were solved to some extent. The Bihar government stepped in to verify our documents,” says Kailash Gupta, of the All Assam Bhojpuri Parishad.
In May 2018, Dinesh Prajapati (41) and wife Tara Devi (38), whose ancestors had migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Assam, were put into detention camps. Released in September, they were directed to enrol at the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) at Tinsukia.
Amila is the fourth of eight children of Keshab Prasad Gupta and Chandrawati Gupta. While Keshab’s family migrated in 1949 as garden workers to Pratapgur Tea Estate in Assam’s Biswanath Chariali village in Sonitpur district, Chandrawati’s family had been settled in Sonitpur before that. After marriage to Dulalram Sah, a chana-seller, in 1992, Amila moved to Dholaibeel village.
“We submitted my sister’s voted ID, my father’s 1951 NRC proof, hospital records, school certificates,” says Amila’s brother Ramesh Gupta, who runs a petrol pump in Biswanath Chariali. Two weeks ago, he went to Bihar to get a copy of their family tree authenticated by a village panchayat.
Ramesh adds that while it is true Amila’s school certificate and voter ID card spelt her name wrong, they had documents to show this happened by mistake. “She is Urmila Kanu as per her school certificate and Amila Sahu in her voter ID card… Anyway, most voter ID cards in India have mistakes, and no one bothers to correct them,” he points out.
Her lawyer D Bora, who says they have taken the matter to the Gauhati High Court, adds, “Apart from the inconsistencies in the name, during cross-examination at the FT hearing, Amila and her mother Chandrawati both made mistakes. Their statements did not match the documents they had provided.”
The order declaring Amila a foreigner who “crossed illegally over to India from Bangladesh” notes that while Chandrawati said Amila was her daughter, she could not remember “when her daughter was born or when her own marriage took place”. Bishal points out that Amila studied only till Class 3. “We don’t really celebrate birthdays. She probably got nervous and made a mistake at the hearing.”
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Tinsukia-based Prem Upadhyay of the Bhojpuri Sammelan, a body that looks after the rights of the Bhojpuri-speaking population in the state, says, “It’s sad that in Assam, Hindi-speakers are treated like second-class citizens. I am a Bihari myself but we always introduce ourselves as Assamese… I agree there might be inconsistencies in their documents, but shouldn’t the Border Police know better, that surnames like Sah, Prajapati, Gupta, Prasad cannot be Bangladeshi?”
Amila’s case was heard at the Tezpur FT for a year. Bishal, the youngest of four siblings, says they had thought the June 15 hearing from where Amila was taken away to the district jail would be a routine one like the others. “But they just picked her up.”
Now he tries to visit her every other day, and says she begs him to get her out each time. On days he cannot afford the Rs 240 bus ride from Biswanath Chariali to the jail, he barely talks to anyone.
Chandrawati has not visited her daughter in jail till now. “What kind of mother am I who could not protect own daughter?” she asks, breaking down.
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