The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to a woman from Assam’s Barpeta district who was earlier declared “illegal foreigner” concurrently by a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) and the Gauhati High Court.
The woman, Sofiya Khatun, in her 50s, has been lodged at Kokrajhar detention camp since 2016. Barpeta Foreigners’ Tribunal and Gauhati HC declared her a foreigner after she could not prove a link to her father, Hasan Munshi, due to a mismatch in the spelling of his name in various voters’ lists.
The HC and the tribunal held that she was not able to give her correct place and date of birth, which are vital to prove citizenships. But Khatun’s parents, brothers and her husband are all Indian citizens. Coming out in her defence, they filed affidavits in SC. On August 20, SC asked the Assam government to file a report by September 5, explaining how she could be a “foreigner” if her parents, five brothers and husband were all Indian citizens.
The FTs – 100 across the state – are quasi-judicial bodies meant to “furnish opinion on the question as to whether a person is or is not a foreigner under Foreigners’ Act, 1946”. In October 2016, FT number 8 of Barpeta declared Khatun an “illegal migrant” and subsequently the order was upheld by Gauhati High Court in April 2017.
Kokrajhar detention camp, which was established in April 2010, shelter women declared “foreigner”. There are six detention camps in Assam, which have over 900 illegal foreigners.
In his affidavit filed in the court, Deputy Secretary, General Administration Department, Government of Assam, said that the persons in question were all “Indian citizens on the basis of their names appearing in 2018/2017 voters’ list, 1997 voters’ list, electoral photo-identity cards as well as the 1965 and 1970 voters’ lists.”
The court also permitted the state to conduct a “full-fledged inquiry” while asking Khatun to report to the police on the last working day of every month till the inquiry is completed. Khatun’s lawyers say the FT and HC judgments were primarily based on finding discrepancies in the age and spelling of the names of her father and grandfather.