The family of Dulal Chandra Paul, a declared foreigner who died at Gauhati Medical College and Hospital here on October 13, finally accepted his body on Tuesday following chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal’s intervention.
The family members had stood firm on not accepting Paul’s body unless he was declared an Indian but reportedly softened their stand after Sonowal appealed to them on Saturday, during a meeting with the All Assam Bengali Youth Students’ Federation, to accept the body for the last rites.
Paul, 65, a resident of Alisinga village in Sonitpur district, was declared a “foreigner” by a tribunal in 2017. Gauhati High Court upheld the order around nine months ago. Soon after the tribunal’s order, Paul was lodged in Tezpur detention centre and remained there till he was admitted to GMCH on September 28 with diabetes and heart problems.
Dulal’s second son, Ashok Paul, 25, said, “Sonowal appealed to us to take my father’s body back home. He said he would help us with the last rites and with legal help and gave us in writing that he would attend the shraddha. We have accepted the body on the request of the chief minister, the All Assam Bengali Youth Students’ Federation and the people of our village.”
A source, quoting Paul’s family, said Sonowal had assured them that a review committee would be set up to look into the orders of foreigners tribunals in their area and a state-appointed lawyer would represent Paul’s case in the Supreme Court.
The federation’s president, Deepak Dey, told The Telegraph, “Paul’s family trusted the chief minister’s assurance to them that the government would provide legal assistance if the family members so want. He also ordered the setting up of a medical team to provide prompt treatment to detainees and said the government would expedite the process of releasing on bail detainees who have completed three years in detention.”
Earlier, cabinet ministers Parimal Suklabaidya and Ranjit Dutta had visited Paul’s family to convince them to take the body but failed. Before them, the Sonitpur deputy commissioner, the superintendent of police and local MLA Ganesh Kumar Limbu had tried to convince the family.
Ashok said, “No one should suffer the way our family did. My father’s death should be the last in the detention centre.”
Paul’s body was taken to Alisinga from the GMCH morgue, a distance of 180km, around 2pm. A senior official of Sonitpur district, Alisinga village headman, Dey and Hojai MLA Shiladitya Dev were present at the GMCH and visited his house. The cremation took place around 6pm.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novelist Arupa Patangia Kalita, author Manorama Das Medhi, journalist Ankur Tamuli Phukan, academicians, activists and litterateurs appealed to the government to investigate the functioning of detention camps and resolve the issues in a proper way.
“The declaring of Indian citizens as foreigners should end and the government should accept the demand of Paul’s family. Declared foreigners should be kept in detention for a maximum of three months,” the statement said.
Paul’s three sons have also been left out of the NRC but his widow is in the final list. Altogether 19.06 lakh applicants in Assam did not make it to the final NRC published on August 31.