Bhandari Das fled from Bangladesh to India, an ally, in 1967 along with her husband and two children to escape “religious persecution” in her then hometown in Sylhet. She has lived as a foreigner at a village in Assam’s Cachar district since then.
54 years later, the 80-year-old is now a widow and her children are married. But her family members are still considered “foreigners”.
A Foreigners Tribunal in Silchar had declared her and her children as “streamline foreigners” who will now have to register with the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and wait for 10 more years to become an Indian citizen.
“With my current health condition, I don’t think I will ever be an Indian citizen anymore. But I am relieved that at least my children will be a citizen of this country someday,” Ms Das told NDTV.
BK Talukder, a member of the Foreigners’ Tribunal in Silchar observed in an opinion, “I have gone through the written statement, evidence and documents submitted by Bhandari Das’ lawyer carefully. My considered opinion is that the Opposite Party (OP) is a foreigner of the Stream 01-01-1966 to 25/03/1971. The OP (Bhandari Das) is directed to register her name along with her husband and children before the Foreigners Regional Registration Office, Cachar, Silchar.”
As per Clause 5 of the Assam Accord, a “streamline foreigner” or “foreigners of stream” are those who have entered India between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971 – the last date for detection and deletion from citizenship – and have to register with the FRRO, which is in every district’s administrative office. There’s a 10-year waiting period to get Indian citizenship and during which they will be stripped of their right to vote.
Bhandari Das’ lawyer Tanmoy Purkayastha said that her case came to the notice of the Foreigners Tribunal in 2008 – 41 years after she came to India – when a Border Police registered a case against her.
“Usually, the Border Police sends a notice to the person whom they suspect as foreigners and when they don’t have an answer to that, the case goes to the Tribunal. In this case, however, they directly registered a case without informing her which got forwarded to the tribunal,” the lawyer added.
Bhandari Das and her son, who appears in the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 2019, had submitted the same documents to the Tribunal that they submitted for NRC – the refugee card from 1967 and voter Identity card issued in 1970 – to prove their legacy before March 24, 1971.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the rules of which are being drawn, may come as an aid to Bhandari Das and other “streamline foreigners” like her as it promises citizenship to those religious minorities from our three neighbours – Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.