Hasina Bhanu | Image: The Indian Express
Hasina Bhanu is all set to leave the dreaded confines of a detention centre in Assam following an order of the Gauhati High Court that has set her free. But the truth is she shouldn’t have been sent there in the first place, given how the same Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) that declared her a “foreigner” had previously found her to be an Indian!
The 55-year-old woman hails from Shyampur Village (No-3), which falls under the jurisdiction of Shyampur police station in Darrang district of Assam. After she was first served notice by Mangaldoi’s FT-4, she had submitted as many as 16 documents including 1966 records of her father’s and grandfather’s names in the voters’ list. Based on this plethora of evidence, the FT in August 2016, declared that she was not a “foreigner/illegal migrant of any stream.”
However, the same FT sent her another notice based on a referral from the Assam Border Police who suspected her of being a foreigner. In 2017. Bhanu again submitted her documents, but according to her lawyer Zakir Hussain, “This time the tribunal said her linkage documents were not okay.” Therefore, in March 2021, the FT declared her “foreigner”. Bhanu was sent to the detention centre in Tezpur.
When the FT order was challenged before the Gauhati High Court, the court was flummoxed at how the same person could be first found to be Indian and subsequently declared foreigner. In its order, the HC said, “Considering the nature of the case, we are of the view that the current petition can be disposed of at this stage without calling for the records.”
The court relied on Abdul Kuddus Vs. Union of India, (2019) 6 SCC 604, in which it has been held that “the principle of res judicata will be applicable even in a proceeding before the Foreigners Tribunal.” The HC observed, “That issue has already been settled and this Court in a number of decisions has already applied the aforesaid decision and interfered with the subsequent proceeding initiated by the Foreigners Tribunal against the same proceedee.” The court therefore ruled, “In view of above, we are of the opinion that the second proceeding as well as the second impugned opinion dated 18.03.2021 passed FT-4th Case No.463SHYM/2017 cannot be sustained.”
Setting Hasina Bhanu free, the court said, “For the reasons discussed above, we allow the present petition by setting aside the impugned second opinion dated 18.03.2021 passed in FT-4th Case No.463/SHYM/2017 by the Foreigners Tribunal-4th, Darrang, Mangaldai and if the petitioner has been detained in terms of the aforesaid opinion, she shall be released forthwith.”
The entire order may be read here:
Darrang Superintendent of Police, Sushant Biswa Sarma, who is incidentally the brother of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, told the Indian Express that Bhanu’s release order had been approved and, “She can walk out any time now.” Bhanu’s brother-in-law Akram Hussain was frustrated by the entire ordeal and told the publication that FT had “made us run around, spend a lot of money and harass(ed) us.”
This is, however, not the first time a person has been repeatedly put through the grind, and forced to defend their citizenship before an FT more than once. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has been on the ground in Assam since 2017, helping people navigate the complex citizenship conundrum. During this period, we have come across many other such cases, the most notable of which was Shamsul Hoque, who was forced to defend his citizenship before an FT four times!