The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to a woman from Assam’s Barpeta district who was earlier declared an “illegal foreigner” by a Foreigners’ Tribunal and the Gauhati High Court, The Indian Express reported.
Sofiya Khatun, who is in her 50s, has been living at a detention camp in Kokrajhar since 2016. She was declared a foreigner after she failed to prove a link to her father Hasan Munshi because of a mismatch in the spelling of his name in various voters’ lists. The High Court and the tribunal ruled that she was not able to provide details of the place and date of her birth, which are vital to prove citizenship.
Foreigners’ tribunals are quasi courts set up to adjudicate on matters of nationality in Assam, according to the provisions of the Assam Accord, 1985. They are governed by the Foreigners Act 1946, which places the burden of proof on the accused to prove that they are Indian citizens.
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, who appeared for Khatun, sought her immediate release citing the Assam government’s admission in its affidavit that her parents, brothers and husband are Indian citizens, News18 reported. The court accepted Hegde’s submissions on Wednesday and directed the state to release the woman on bail. A bench headed by Justice Kurian Joseph said the state government can conduct its inquiries in the meantime, and asked Khatun to appear before the police station in Barpeta once every month.
The Kokrajhar detention camp was established in April 2010 to shelter women declared foreigners. There are six detention camps in Assam, which house over 900 undocumented immigrants.
Since 2015, Assam has also been updating its citizens’ list known as the National Register of Citizens. The stated aim of this exercise is to identify all “genuine citizens” living in Assam and root out “illegal immigrants”. According to the terms of this exercise, anyone who could not prove that they or their ancestors had entered the state before midnight on March 24, 1971, would be declared a foreigner. The register’s final draft, published on July 30, had left out nearly 40 lakh people, including some MLAs and a former chief minister. In August, state coordinator of the register, Prateek Hajela, said those left out would get an opportunity to submit fresh sets of documents during the claims-and-objections process.
On September 5, the top court deferred until further orders the process of considering claims and objections in connection with the National Register of Citizens in Assam.