Anowara Khatoon, a resident of Assam who had been unjustly served a notice and accused of being a foreigner by a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in Darrang District, can finally breathe a sigh of relief. After eight months of relentless efforts by the CJP Team to disprove the false allegations, Anowara has been officially declared an Indian citizen. It was in a reference case by the Assam Border Police that robust written arguments and evidences need to be provided before the herculean task was achieved!
Born and brought up in the village of Nagajan under Kharupetia Police Station, Darrang District, Assam, Anowara’s journey to reclaim her identity has been long and arduous. She comes from an impoverished household, and she and her family have no socioeconomic resources. Her husband earns a living as a cart driver. Her father, Asaruddin Deu, cast his vote in 1966 and 1970. Her mother’s name is Moiful Nessa, and she expired a while ago.
In 1988, due to the erosion of their original village, Satrakanara, by the Brahmaputra River, Asaruddin Deu and his family were forced to relocate to Nagajan, where they have since settled permanently. Anowara and her family have been residing there and participated in the 1989 elections as legitimate voters.
Anowara, along with her own substantial set of documents, including the 1997 voter list, Aadhaar card, and land documents, submitted everything she had to prove her Indian citizenship. When she received notice of being a suspected foreigner, Anowara was stunned and in shock; she could not eat or sleep for days. Being economically and socially disadvantaged, Anowara sought legal representation after receiving the notice from the Foreigners’ Tribunal. However, to her dismay, she found out she could not afford the fees. It was at this critical juncture that she reached out to a member of the CJP team for help. CJP immediately took up her cause and fought tirelessly on her behalf.
CJP’s legal team presented a robust case based on documents of Anorwar’s parents as well as grandfather, along with other evidence they had painstakingly collected in the FT. CJP also facilitated evidence of two brothers of Anowara’s who took to the stand and testify as witnesses for her.
To disprove allegations of being a suspected foreigner, there was a hurdle. Her father’s name was registered differently in the voting lists of two different regions. Due to climate change, the river Brahmaputra is prone to floods. The river, when it shifts its course, often submerges existing villages and settlements. This presents a huge hurdle for people in Assam, because for the residents of the erstwhile submerged village, their village has sunk underwater. Several people every year are erroneously relegated as suspected foreigners due to this reason. Another hurdle was that Anowara’s father’s name was spelt differently in the voter lists. The difference between Asudeu and Assaruddin Deu that seems to be nothing more than a spelling mistake due to local dialects as well as due as a variation that often arises in documents due to haste and bureaucratic slips, even illiteracy. Often when making documents, especially in Assam, people who have no education depend on an officer or a bureaucrat in charge to spell and write out their name. This exercise, if performed mechanically or even indifferently, with no cross-checking with previous records can cause such bloomers: the same person gets a document with a changed spelling of their name, such as in the case of Anowar Khatoon’s father. This small error can cause someone to become potentially stateless. Women, as well as other marginalised communities, have been disproportionately affected by the citizenship crisis, and due to a lack of resources, have to face the brunt of the process, despite having documents to prove their residence in India since their birth.
Thereby, not only are Asudeu and Assaruddin Deu (as proven in the FT judgment later) one and the same person, given the presence of his name in 1966, 1971 and 1989 Voters Lists of the state, but moreover, he was not an illegal immigrant. Besides the legitimacy and presence of the mother of Anowara, Moiful Nessa in 1989 and 1997 Voters’ Lists irrefutably established her to be the daughter of legitimate citizens whose names were in the voting lists, and hence claims by the Assam Border Police in the notice that she was an illegal immigrant were categorically disproved.
Based on this, the Foreigner Tribunal Darrang Mangaldai has held Anowara Khatoon to be an Indian rejecting the claims in the reference case made out by the Border Police.
Both issues presented a challenge to CJP’s legal team.
Therefore, the legal team laboured intensively to produce documents along with her existing family members, namely her brothers, as witnesses. The team showed voter lists with Anowara’s parents’ names in them from multiple years and argued that her father initially resided in Baghbar but later relocated to the Darrang District. To substantiate her assertion regarding the citizenship status of her parents, the team presented voter lists from 1966 and 1970, respectively. These lists featured Anowar’s father’s name as Asudeu. Additionally, a copy of the 1989 voter list includes the name of Asaruddin Deo as a registered voter. The legal team argued that Asudeu and Asaruddin are one and the same. Upon comparing the 1966 and 1970 voter lists with the 1989 voter list, it was concluded that despite the difference in names, Asudeu and Asoruddin Deu this is the father of Anowara, much to her relief.
On 21 May 2023, CJP Assam State Incharge, Nanda Ghosh, along with DVM (District Voluntary Motivator) of Darrang, Joinal Abedin, and CJP legal team member Advocate Abdul Hai, presented Anowara with the judgment copy, marking a victorious moment for her and her husband. Overwhelmed with joy, Anowara expressed her gratitude, saying, “May Allah bless you.” Her husband, relieved from the fear and uncertainty they had endured, spoke words of gratitude, stating, “We are poor people. We were truly scared after receiving the notice. But when the case was handed over to the CJP, there was no more problem.” He added, “We are eternally grateful for your sincere support during this time of crisis, completely free of charge.”
Anowara Khatoon’s triumph serves as a symbol of hope for the countless marginalised individuals who have faced similar struggles and injustices at the hands of the state. CJP, dedicated to safeguarding humanity and defending rights, stands firmly by their side, ready to fight for justice and bring relief to those who have long suffered and been deprived of their rights.