CAA: Indian Citizenship Still Eludes the Hindu Bengalis of Assam

Many Hindu Bengalis who are out of NRC are hopeful that they can become Indian citizens when CAA is implemented.

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Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Cameraperson: Biswa Kalyan Purkaysthya

Chandradhar Das, 104, a resident Amraghat area under Dholai constituency in Cachar district of Assam, was declared a foreigner in January 2018.

It was an ex parte judgment by the Foreigners Tribunal after he missed the notices of the tribunal and didn’t appear for the hearing.

104-year-old Chandradhar Das had to spend three months in a detention camp in 2018.
104-year-old Chandradhar Das had to spend three months in a detention camp in 2018.
(Photo: The Quint)
“My father left Bangladesh in mid-1950s due to the continuous threat from the majority community. He entered India through Tripura and started working as a daily wage labourer in Teliamura. He got married and had kids there. But soon local militant groups started creating problems so he moved to the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley. But he was declared an illegal foreigner by the tribunal court. Even our names are not in the NRC.”
Niyati Rai, Chandradhar Das’ Daughter

The then 102-year-old Chandradhar Das was taken to the detention camp in Silchar Central Jail in May 2018. As his health condition started deteriorating, he was given bail after three months on humanitarian grounds.

After the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was passed in Parliament in December 2019, the family was hopeful that Chandradhar Das would finally get his Indian citizenship.

“After the CAA, we thought finally we can live without the fear of losing our citizenship. But nothing has changed in the last one year. My father really likes the Narendra Modi government. We were really happy that the Modi government has finally come to our rescue. But we haven’t got any benefit yet.”
Niyati Rai, Chandradhar Das’ Daughter

The Weekly Visit to the Police Station

Whatever may happen, there’s no way that 70-year-old Sulekha Das can miss visiting the Udarbond police station every Wednesday. If she does, she can be immediately sent back to a detention camp. That was the pre-condition when she was released from the detention camp in Silchar in May 2020.

Sulekha Das was declared a D-voter in 2018. She was in a detention camp for two years.
Sulekha Das was declared a D-voter in 2018. She was in a detention camp for two years.
(Photo: The Quint)
“Even during the lockdown, she had to visit the police station every week.”
Surabala Das, Niece of Sulekha Das
“My family spent lakhs of rupees on lawyers. We are poor people, yet every week we have to spend money to travel to the police station.”
Sulekha Das, Spent 2 Years in a Detention Camp

Sulekha Das and her husband's names are in 1965 voters’ list. Yet she was declared a D-voter, she didn’t even make it to the draft NRC.

In May 2018, Sulekha Das was summoned to the Udarbond police station on the pretext of NRC verification. But the police took her to the detention camp in Silchar Central Jail. Her family was informed that she had missed three notices issued by the Foreigners Tribunal. She was declared a foreigner in an ex parte judgment.

“During the elections, the leaders told us we will get Indian citizenship. But nothing has happened so far. Even after the CAA, every week I have to visit the police station.”
Sulekha Das, Spent 2 Years in a Detention Camp

‘I have to Prove My Indian Citizenship, Yet Again’

Bhakta Das was declared an Indian citizen in 2011. He got a D-voter notice again in 2017.
Bhakta Das was declared an Indian citizen in 2011. He got a D-voter notice again in 2017.
(Photo: The Quint)

Sixty-year-old Bhakta Das earns his living by plying his rickshaw on Silchar’s Ashram road. In 2009, he was served a D-voter notice by the Foreigners Tribunal, in effect making him a doubtful citizen of India.

“I got a D-voter notice in 2009. I won the case in 2011. I showed my father’s documents from 1964.”
Bhakta Das, Declared a D-Voter in 2017

In spite of being declared an Indian in 2011, six years later he got another notice from the Foreigners Tribunal – he had to prove yet again that he was not a D-voter. This time his wife Sumita Das was also served a D-voter notice. She, too, is facing a trial at Foreigners Tribunal Court-IV in Silchar.

They have the option to approach the Gauhati High Court to challenge the Tribunal notice. But Bhakta Das’ financial condition is such that he can’t afford to hire a lawyer and approach the court.

“I have heard that the CAA has been passed. I am uneducated, I don’t know anything more. We haven’t benefitted yet. They said that the problems of immigrants like us will be solved, but there’s no solution still.”
Bhakta Das, Declared a D-Voter in 2017

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act hasn’t been implemented since the rules are yet to be framed and notified.

Though there are no official figures, it’s estimated that almost 5.56 lakh Hindus are out of the Assam NRC, many of them Bengali Hindus. A lot of them are dependent on the CAA for their Indian citizenship.

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