May 23, a day India celebrated its democracy turned out to be the darkest day of a retired honorary lieutenant of the Indian Army. Fifty-two-year-old Mohammed Sanaullah from Kolohikas village in Kamrup district of Assam was declared a ‘foreigner’ by the Foreigners’ Tribunal that very day.
Having served the Indian Army for 30 years, the retired soldier could not believe that he was no longer considered a citizen of this country.
On Monday, Sanaullah, 52, spent the entire night at the Amingaon Police Station, and appeared at the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) next morning, from where he was sent to a detention camp.
“He has been declared a foreigner, and we have taken him into custody. We will proceed as per existing rules and guidelines,” said Kamrup Superintendent of Police, Parthasarathi Mahanta told CNN-News18.
The family of the retired soldier, who fought in the Kargil war two decades ago, approached the Guwahati High Court on Wednesday. They are hoping that he will get justice from the HC.
Sanaullah was arrested soon after he was summoned by the Assam Police Border Organisation, or the Border Police, in Guwahati on Tuesday.
Last year, a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Boko served notice on Sanaullah and he appeared before it five times. At least six other retired personnel of the Army and paramilitary forces have been served such notices.
Sanaullah’s wife and three children have also been left out of the complete draft of National Register of Citizens, while his elder brother and his family have been declared Indians.
For proof of verification, Sanaullah had submitted documents in the form of Voters’ List, his school certificate as proof of birth, passport and other documents. But a copy of the judgement stated that he had ‘miserably failed’ to establish his parental linkage, or ‘submit any proof to establish the fact that he is an Indian citizen by birth’.
After retirement from the military, Sanaullah was serving as an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in the Border Police that is tasked with identifying, detaining and deporting doubtful citizens and illegal migrants. This unit of the State police often employs retired defence and paramilitary personnel.
Exactly 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam hear and dispose of cases of people deemed foreigners by the Border Police.
“Nothing is more heartbreaking than an ex-serviceman being treated like this,” said his cousin Mohammed Ajmal Hoque from Boko, about 60 km west of Guwahati. “Is this his reward for giving 30 years of his life to the Army defending the country, including fighting in the Kargil War?”
Hoque, who retired as a junior Commissioned Officer in the Army, was also served notice by a Foreigners’ Tribunal. The case was disposed of and the Border Police apologised to him after finding out it had served the notice on the “wrong Ajmal Hoque.”
“Sanaullah joined the Army in 1987, 20 years after his birth in Assam. He joined the Border Police after retiring from the Army in 2017. He had, at one of the hearings, mistakenly mentioned the year of his joining the Army as 1978. Based on this mistake, the tribunal declared him a foreigner, arguing that nobody can join the Army at the age of 11,” Hoque said.
Sanaullah voted in the last parliamentary election.
Assam’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary had tabled a report in the Assembly a few months ago. The report said the state has 125,333 D-voters (doubtful voters, marked by the Election Commission of India) and that 131,034 of the 244,144 cases sent to Foreigners’ Tribunals have been disposed of so far.
Meanwhile, State Coordinator for National Register of Citizens (NRC) Prateek Hajela said in a notification that an applicant marked ‘D’ in the voters’ list would be considered for inclusion in the updated register if he or she could produce the copy of a court order declaring him or her an Indian.
Last year, Indian Supreme Court advised exclusion of D-voters and members of their families from the updated NRC to be readied by July.