A 50-year-old woman in Assam, who was declared an undocumented migrant from Bangladesh in 2017 due to inconsistencies in her name in multiple voters’ list, has been acknowledged as an Indian citizen, reported the Hindustan Times.

Dulubi Bibi, a resident of Cachar district’s Udharbond area, was declared a “foreigner” by a member of Foreigners Tribunal-3 of Silchar on March 20, 2017. The judgement came in a 1998 case under the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act.

In 1997, the Electoral Registration Officer found during the revision of electoral rolls at the Udharbond Assembly constituency that her name listed as Dulubi Bibi in the draft electoral roll had not featured in the previous voter lists, reported The Indian Express.

Bibi received a notice from the foreigners’ tribunal in 2015. During a hearing in 2017, the court found that her name had appeared as Dulubi Bibi, Dolobjan Begum and Dulabjan Bibi in different voters’ lists. There was also a mismatch between her father’s and grandfather’s names in the lists and she was unable to establish a connection between her parents’ names.

Tribunal member BK Talukdar had ruled that Bibi was a “foreigner” and migrated to India after March 25, 1971. He ordered the police to arrest her and keep her in detention until she was sent back to Bangladesh. Bibi was arrested on April 18, 2018, and shifted to a detention camp in Silchar. She was released from the camp on April 27, 2020, on bail.

Bibi then approached the Gauhati High Court with voters’ list as old as 1965 where her grandfather’s name appeared as Majmil Ali. In the voters’ list of 1985, her father’s name appeared as Sirai Mia Laskar, son of Majmil Ali Laskar. In a 1993 voter list, her father was referred to as Sirai Mia, son of Majmil Ali, while she was referred to as Dolobjan Begum, daughter of Sirai Mia.

The High Court said in April that charges against Bibi could be dropped if this continuity could be confirmed. It remanded the matter back to the tribunal to verify if Majmil Ali and Majmil Ali Laskar, Sirai Mia and Sirai Mia Laskar, and Dolobjan Begum and Dulubi Bibi were the same people.

On October 7, Talukdar ruled that Dolobjan Begum and Dulubi Bibi were the same people on the basis of the National Register of Citizens of 1996, printed voters list of 1993, Gaon Panchayat Certificate, voter identify card and an affidavit.

“In view of that my considered opinion is the OP [Dulubi Bibi] is a citizen of India born out of Indian citizens living in Indian soil,” Talukdar wrote in the order.

Citizenship conundrum in Assam

In August 2019, Assam published a National Register of Citizens with the stated aim to distinguish Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants living in the state. According to its terms, anyone who could not prove that they or their ancestors entered Assam before midnight on March 24, 1971, cannot be considered a citizen.

Over 19 lakh people, or around 6% of the state’s population, were excluded from the final citizens’ list.

The state government had called the final draft of the National Register of Citizens “faulty” and alleged that it has excluded several indigenous people of Assam. Foreigners’ tribunals were tasked with hearing their appeals against exclusion. Those whose claims are rejected face detention.

Most persons deemed to be foreigners and detained in the camps “lacked even elementary legal representation and had not been heard by the tribunals”, human rights activist Harsh Mander wrote in an article for Scroll in July 2019.

“They were mostly detained on the basis of ‘ex-parte orders’, or orders passed without hearing the accused person, because they allegedly failed to appear before the tribunals despite being served legal notices,” Mander had said.