Monday, 30th October 2017

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Carpenter with family in Bengal is declared foreigner in Assam

Asgar Ali's family is trying to collect money so that he can be freed from the detention camp on a bond

By Furquan Ameen in New Delhi
  • Published 5.06.19, 7:12 PM
  • Updated 5.06.19, 7:12 PM
  • 3 mins read
The family of Asgar Ali in Calcutta. Photo source: Calcutta-based group called Know Your Neighbour

This is the second Eid in Asgar Ali’s family without him since he was sent to the Goalpara detention camp in Assam in July 2017.

Asgar’s family says he moved to Assam from Bengal in search of a better life in the 1980s but is now in a detention camp meant for foreigners.

Eid ya koi parab aata hai, hum log kuchh nahin manata hai. Aisa lagta hai jaisa ghar me koi maatam hai (we don’t celebrate Eid or any festival. It feels like our entire home is in mourning),” said Asgar’s brother Arshad Ali.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had said her state’s doors would be open to those struck off the National Register of Citizens in Assam. Asgar Ali is perhaps the first Bengal resident whose citizenship has been challenged in the northeastern state.

After Asgar was declared a foreigner by a tribunal in Assam, the 50-year-old carpenter approached Gauhati High Court. The high court upheld the foreigner tribunal’s order. Asgar then challenged the order in the Supreme Court. On May 10, his appeal was dismissed by the apex court bench of the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjeev Khanna.

Asgar used to visit his Calcutta home occasionally. His family, his aged parents, two brothers and four sisters still live in Calcutta.

In 2015, a notice was served on Asgar Ali that he had been marked a doubtful-voter or a D-voter in Assam. In some Assam documents he is mentioned as Ajgar Ali, in electoral documents in Calcutta he is Sk Asgar.

Asgar had to prove his Indian citizenship in front of a foreigners’ tribunal. The problem was that Asgar had never voted or applied for inclusion in any electoral roll in Guwahati. He was a registered voter in Ballygunge, south Calcutta. The other problem was that Asgar's father had two names in different sets of documents.

“We don’t know why a notice was sent to him. He was even registered as a voter in Bengal, not here. There was no need to find out whether he was a D-voter or not,” said Zeeshan Ali, Asgar’s 28-year-old nephew, who lives in Paltan Bazaar, Guwahati, and used to work with Asgar. He remembers police visiting their Paltan Bazaar house eight to nine years ago for a verification. “We submitted all our documents at the Paltan Bazaar thana and we were sent back after they took our biometrics.”

Zeeshan said that no one went to Calcutta to verify from Asgar’s family if he had lived there earlier.

In a trial that stretched for nearly two years, Asgar’s father’s name became a hurdle.

Asgar's brother Arshad, who lives in Calcutta, told this website that his father's name was Sheikh Moral, and documents such as his passport have the same name.

However, in his father’s voter card, the name is Mohammad Jarif.

Arshad said people confused his unusual name with morol (the word signifying village headman in Bengal) and so he changed his name to Mohammad Jarif. So, some papers mention him as Sheikh Moral, others as Mohammad Jarif.

To assure the foreigners’ tribunal that Moral and Jarif were the same person, Asgar submitted a certificate by a councillor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and an affidavit from an Alipore court, issued in the presence of his father.

Another affidavit stated that his father Sheikh Moral and mother Jarina Bibi were included in the voter list of 1966.

The foreigners’ tribunal wasn’t satisfied. On July 14, 2017, it said: “It is crystal clear that the opposite party is not a citizen of India by birth but a foreigner who entered into India after 25th day of March 1971.”

They accepted that Sheikh Moral was an Indian, but Mohammad Jarif wasn’t. Therefore, Jarif’s (not Sheikh Moral) son Asgar Ali was a foreigner.

“On July 12, his last hearing, he was assured that he would be declared a citizen the next time he comes, so he left the court happy. He had fought for two years. In two days the judgment was written and he was declared a foreigner,” Zeeshan said.

He was arrested on July 14.

Asgar was unlettered like his father and brothers and had tried to escape abject poverty. Living and working in the Islampur area of Guwahati’s Paltan Bazaar, he managed to save enough to send some money home.

“We are not educated, nor do we have any knowledge about these things. We’ve never seen a court or a thana in our life. We work as daily labourers, what can we do? We don’t even have enough money to help my brother,” Arshad said.

Asgar’s family lives in a Park Circus slum in south Calcutta. His two brothers, including Arshad, are tailors.

A Calcutta-based group called Know Your Neighbour in an attempt to help the family out started a crowdfunding campaign.

They aim to raise enough money to help Asgar with a bond.

Last month, the Supreme Court allowed the release of “illegal foreigners” who have completed three years in detention camps on a bond of Rs 1 lakh with two Indian sureties and biometric details.

By next Eid, Asgar will have completed three years. Arshad and Zeeshan, for whom earning a livelihood is a daily struggle, wonder when, and if, they will have enough money to free him when the day comes next year.