Guwahati, India – An Indian army veteran has been sent to detention centre after he was declared an illegal citizen in the country’s northeastern state of Assam.
Mohammad Sana Ullah, who retired after serving in the Indian army for 30 years, will now be locked in detention camp after a Foreigners Tribunal (FT) court in Kamrup district announced him not to be a genuine citizen on Wednesday.
Assam, located in India’s northeast and surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar, has set up 100 Foreigners Tribunals – special courts to deal with undocumented immigrants.
In his affidavit, Sana Ullah, a resident of Kalahikash village in Kamrup district, said he joined the army in 1987 and had served in Doda and Kupwara in troubled Indian-administered Kashmir.
Sana Ullah retired from army in 2017 as an honorary captain and joined as Sub Inspector with the state’s Border Police wing, which is responsible for detecting undocumented immigrants, according to his relatives.
The Tribunal order said that Sana Ullah “failed to establish the fact that he is an Indian citizen by birth”.
“He [Sana Ullah] has been declared a foreigner and we have taken him into custody. We will proceed as per existing rules and guidelines,” Parthasarathi Mahanta, the Superintendent of Police of Kamrup district, told News18 website.
This is not the first case of army or policemen questioned for their citizenship in the state, which last year declared four million people illegal, effectively stripping them of citizenship. A final list of citizenship is expected to be published in July.
India’s Supreme Court on Thursday directed authorities in Assam to ensure a fair hearing in Sana Ullah’s case and not rush through the process to meet the July 31 deadline to prepare the final list.
Suspected as undocumented immigrants
Muslims, who form one-third of Assam’s 32 million population, say they are seen as suspected undocumented immigrants.
The family members of Sana Ullah are in shock and said they will challenge the verdict in a higher court. Cousin Azmal Haque, who also served in the Indian Army, said they were devastated.
“This is very unfortunate that time and again we have been humiliated. After serving the army for 30 years, now court says he is not an Indian. We are hurt and devastated,” Azmal told Al Jazeera.
In 2017, Azmal was asked to prove his citizenshp by a Foreigners Tribunal. His name was cleared after the police later said that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Human rights activist and lawyer Aman Wadud alleged that there was no investigation whatsoever before accusing Sana Ullah of being a “foreigner”.
“The border police prepared the verification report without even meeting him, in its report police says he is a labourer. It is apparent from the report that police even forged thumb impression,” Wadud said.
“The Foreigners Tribunal very mechanically declared him a foreigner without appreciating all his documents,” Wadud, who will fight the case at the Gauhati High Court, told Al Jazeera.
Sahidul Islam, son-in-law of Sana Ullah, said he is hopeful of getting justice from the Gauhati High Court, the state’s highest court. “We have all the documents to prove the citizenship of Sana Ullah,” he said.
Sahidul, also an advocate, said they came to know about Sana Ullah’s case after his name was excluded from the draft citizeship list published last year as part of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.
Tens of thousands of refugees arrived in Assam from Bangladesh during the 1971 liberation war. After decades of agitation against the so-called foreigners, March 25 of 1971 was set as the cut off date for immigrants to be considered for citizenship.
The government record says there are at least 899 declared foreigners who have been put up in the six detention camps across Assam.