Two centenarians from Bangladesh on opposite ends of immigrant ruling
Imprisoned for violating the Foreigners Act, 110-year-old Unamati Biswas was acquitted after a 2015 order but 101-year-old Chandradhar Das was sent to a detention camp for illegal aliens.Updated: Jun 04, 2018 07:33 IST
Lodged in Assam’s Silchar Central Jail for violating the Foreigners Act, two Bangladesh-origin 100-year-olds found themselves on the receiving end of contradictory verdicts.
While 110-year-old Unamati Biswas was acquitted on the basis of the September 9, 2015 notification which grants protection to minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India before December 2014 and sought shelter, 101-year-old Chandradhar Das was declared a foreigner and sent to a detention camp in the same jail, apparently because the tribunal did not consider the automatic application of the notification in his case.
Around 10 years ago, Unamati and her son Datu Biswas (60) had crossed over to India from Jagannath Pur, in neighbouring Sylhet district of Bangladesh, coaxed by a cousin on this side.
“I carried my mother in a cane basket as we crossed through a churai rasta (secret crossing),” he said, explaining how he sold his house for Rs 7 lakh and came to India, leaving his wife and three children behind, hoping to build a house here.
“I left them with another cousin thinking that I will call them once the house is built,” he said.
Unamati did not want her only son to go alone, and accompanied him, not knowing the fate that awaited them.
After crossing over, the two paid all the money to the cousin. “Rs 1 lakh was what was barely left with us,” Datu said.
But when they demanded the money back, the cousin threw them out of the house and they were subsequently apprehended by the Cachar police in May 2017 from a school in Silchar where they had taken shelter.
On Tuesday, relief came. The local court acquitted both mother and son, in what is reportedly the first instance of an Assam court opting for the Centre’s 2015 notification to acquit a person.
Sitting on a wooden chair, Unamati says she may be even 125 years’ old. “I even remember when Indira Gandhi got married (in 1942),” she said as Datu looked on.
Now, all the centenarian wants to do is go back to Bangladesh. “There is nothing left here. I want to go back to my grandchildren,” she said, tears welling up her eyes.
But while she deals with a complex extradition process, the other 100-year old in the jail, Chandradhar Das waits for relief.
Das was declared a foreigner ex parte (before the tribunal heard his side of the story) as he could not appear before it despite being summoned thrice.
He was not well and “it was impossible for him to travel in that state”, said his daughter, Nyuti Roy, adding that Das has been in the jail hospital since his detention. “He sobs every time I visit him.”
Das, who used to live in Dhaka, came to Tripura in 1955. There were about 20 families, including Das’s who fled fearing religious prosecution in what was then East Pakistan, according to his relatives. “He even has a refugee registration card from those days and has been a voter,” Roy pointed out.
But the family is left with no option, but to move the high court now.
Das is among more than 1,000 people who have been put in detention camps which work out of six jails in the state after they were declared as foreigners. There are 116 of them in Silchar Jail alone where they live with convicted criminals and under-trials in gross violation of human rights.
While Muslims will have to approach higher courts to appeal against the tribunal’s verdict, Hindus, including Das, and several minorities from Bangladesh could be set free immediately if the tribunals were to implement the 2015 notification, lawyers say.
“The Centre, in an affidavit to the Calcutta high court in the case of Ranajit Mazumdar has said how the notification would apply automatically. Yet, the tribunals and the courts in Assam are not doing it,” explained Dharmananda Deb, a lawyer in Silchar.
“The tribunals are appointed by the state government. Is Assam not a part of India?” he asked.
He, however, said the judge considering the 2015 notification and acquitting Biswas is a welcome sign.