Though assembly elections have ended in Assam, with the conclusion of the third phase on April 6, 2021, the politics over citizenship issue continues, with fresh panic being created in the form of Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) notices, that were found pasted on several electricity poles in Bongaigaon by the Assam team of SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).
Bongaigaon is one of the major cities of lower Assam, the region located downstream of the Brahmaputra. The instances of these FT notices first came to light on April 9, 2021. These notices mention names of people who are suspected foreigners and direct them to present themselves before a specific FT on the specific date mentioned in the notice.
Interestingly some notices carry remarks in Assamese, written with a pen, that translate as, “N.B:- In the presence of two witnesses, the notice will be hung at the last address of the other party and the report will be issued.”
Some images of FT notices discovered by the CJP Team led by State Incharge Nanda Ghosh may be viewed here:
CJP’s Assam team is constantly working on the issue of citizenship and human rights in the state. On April 10, Team CJP visited these places and spoke to the general public and people from marginalised sections of society to ensure that those who are socio-economically weak, or educationally backward should not start panicking over this issue.
Our team visited different parts of Bongaigaon city, including Babupara, Boubajar, Ghoshpara, North Bongaigaon etc. Most of the notices that were posted on various electricity posts were in the name of women. For example: Mira Rani Das, Parbati Singha, Sankari Ghosh, Prativa Dey etc. In some places, the writings on the notices were erased or became obscure and unreadable due to rain.
According to some local people, some notices without names and addresses were also pasted on electricity posts. We too found some such notices:
The notices have generated panic among people in a state where citizenship remains a contentious subject. There is also fear, as while off-camera people expressed disappointment, they were reluctant to comment on the subject on-camera. Many fear that they will get a notice in their own name, if they speak up.
Gopal Ghosh, a local youth from the town of Bongaigaon, said, “The winds of election have not yet departed, and people are already losing sleep over FT notices.” Ghosh is completely disillusioned by poll-politics and said, “During elections, leaders make many promises. They engage in dirty politics in the name of religion, language and so on. But they will not allow us to live peacefully in society.”
While the first phase of assembly elections was held on March 26, phase two took place on April 1 and phase three on April 6. 964 candidates were vying for 126 Legislative Assembly constituencies with a total of 2,33,74,087 voters. The results will be declared on May 2, 2021. At present the state is also grappling with the spread of Covid-19. The deluge of FT notices is just adding to people’s anxiety.
Amrit Das, a CJP community volunteer and the worker of All Assam Bengali Oikya Mancha, reacted to the development saying, “Our poor people of Assam are constantly worried about the problem of floods, unemployment and hunger. All these people are being harassed in the name of citizenship.” Das demanded that the harassment be stopped immediately.
Harkumar Goswami, a prominent social worker and the Chief Convener of the Forum for Social Harmony reacted to these incidents saying, “It is a secret conspiracy of the ruling party to harass people all over the country through NRC-NPR-CAA or similar processes. It is not only harassing the common people, but also a conspiracy to make these oppressed people a source of cheap labour, through the division of citizenship.” Goswami added, “This is not just a crisis of Assam, this is a nationwide problem. So, it is the need of the hour for conscientious people of the entire country to speak out against this inhuman deed.”
The final National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31, 2019 and 19,06,657 people were excluded from the final list. More than a hundred people including detention camp inmates have died, often by suicide, due to citizenship related issues. Meanwhile, the construction of the largest detention camp of the country is almost complete at Matia in Goalpara district of Assam. This along with the pasting of notices to electricity posts is only adding to anxiety among the common people of Assam.