Asgar’s sister Radia Bibi with one of her nephews. (Express photo by Partha Paul)
In a dingy lane near the under-construction Ghulam Rasool Masjid in Kolkata's Park Circus, an 85-year-old ailing, bedridden man and his six children are counting days for the month of July. That month, the octogenarian's eldest son – Asgar Ali, 50 – has a “slim chance” of being released from the detention camp in Assam.
Asgar, who worked as a carpenter in Guwahati since the 1980s, was deemed a foreigner by the state's Foreigners' Tribunal and sent to Goalpara detention camp under the NRC on July 14, 2017.
In Kolkata, the family is now banking on the Supreme Court order that anyone detained for more than three years at any Assam detention centre should be released. They desperately hope that Asgar, who used to their main breadwinner before his detention, picks up the pieces again – and help his sister get married, after the wedding was called off last year due to lack of funds, or help his father, Mohammed Jarif, consult a good doctor.
“Asgar Ali’s SLP (special leave petition) was dismissed by Supreme Court last year. But he will be out after July 14, 2020, because of an order of SC, which said anyone detained for more than 3 years should be released,” Asgar's counsel, Aman Wadud, told The Indian Express over WhatsApp.
Asgar Ali was deemed a foreigner in 2017 in Assam.
Wadud, who is abroad at present, also said, “He was declared a foreigner by the Tribunal for technical reasons – he was detained to be deported. But when an Indian citizen is declared a foreigner, where do you deport him? And if deportation is not possible, why detain at all? Even after release, he will remain stateless.”
Arshad, Jarif's youngest son, said their family has been in Kolkata “for ages”. “Our elder brother went to Assam to work – he earned well and stayed back. He later got his voter card made there,” Arshad, who works at a handbag manufacturing unit in Kolkata, said.
Asgar later got married in Kolkata and took his wife to Guwahati. Their son is 12 now.
After the Tribunal declared him a foreigner, Asgar first moved Gauhati High Court, which upheld the Tribunal’s order. He subsequently challenged the order in Supreme Court. On May 10, 2019, the apex court bench of then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjeev Khanna dismissed his appeal.
Family members said his father's decision to change his name years ago – in the voters' identity card in 2008 and in Aadhaar sometime in 2013-14 – landed Asgar in trouble in Assam.
Radia Bibi, Asgar’s sister, said: “My father’s name in voters' list (earlier) was Sheikh Morol. People used to taunt us over that name (the world Morol in Bengali means a village headman, or a powerful person). He changed it to Muhammed Jarif – his Aadhaar card has that name. But this spelled trouble for Asgar at the Tribunal.”
“We all went, including my ailing father, with affidavits and documents. But they did not listen to us and sent my brother to detention camp,” she said.
Tough times began for the family that July.
“We arranged our youngest sister Rajia Khatun's wedding last year. She is 30. But it broke down because we did not have enough money,” Ashraf, the younger brother, said.
“My father is 85. He can't move. If my brother (Asgar) was here we could have arranged for a proper doctor. Now our lawyer says there is a chance that he may be released in July. We are all waiting,” said Ashraf, who works at a cap manufacturing unit in Kolkata.
The two brothers earn about Rs 200 each as daily wage workers. They have four sisters, besides their father, to take care of.