Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Going Through The Citizenship Test a Second Time

“I had and still have all the documents needed to prove that I am an Indian citizen," says Faroukh

Faroukh Ali* has spent nearly a decade fighting to prove his citizenship. In spite of the Supreme Court’s order in May 2019 declaring him a foreigner, Faroukh remains undeterred in the battle.  It all began in 2010 when he was first given a notice from the Foreigners Tribunal No.1 in Darrang, Mangaldai district. “I have always cast my vote,” Faroukh said, with no clue as to why he was suspected to be a foreigner in the first place. Faroukh obliged and submitted all the legal documents that were requested, based on which he was declared an Indian citizen according to the Foreigners Tribunal order issued in October 2015. His victory however, was short-lived. Three years later, he was again sent a notice, this time from a different tribunal – Foreigners Tribunal No. 4 in Darrang, Mangaldai. 

I told the Border Police that I have already been declared an Indian. Why am I getting this notice again?” Faroukh said. “They told me there was a new case against me. I felt like I was being repeatedly harassed.

The second time around, he was cross-examined by a member, who Faroukh claims, spoke in a loud and arrogant manner. But Faroukh wasn’t intimidated. “I had and still have all the documents needed to prove that I am an Indian citizen,” he said, confident of his paperwork. He submitted even more documents this time around as proof, including the 1985 voter list where his name was first recorded in the electoral rolls along with the voter lists till 2017 as well as a copy of his previous Tribunal order. But despite Faroukh’s detailed documentation mapping his life as an Indian citizen, he was declared a foreigner.

NRC-Assam-Foreigners-Tribunals
Faroukh hopes to pass the citizenship test again. Credit: Devraj Chali

Res Judicata: Done Means Done 

Faroukh’s story is not unique. There have been many instances where a person who was declared to be an Indian by the Foreigners Tribunal was later declared a foreigner by the very same Foreigners Tribunal.  In Faroukh’s case, the member noted that the previous Foreigner Tribunal case was against ‘Farukh Ali S/O Late Kibet Mandal’ of Barbari village under Sipajhar Police Station limits but this Foreigner Tribunal case was against ‘Faroukh Ali S/O of Late Kipet Mandal. Minor variations in names is a common practice in India, but this reality was ignored and caused Faroukh to relive the arduous process of Foreigners Tribunals. Foreigner Tribunals were allowed to operate in complete disregard for the principle of Res Judicata, a common principle practiced in law, where a matter that has been adjudicated by a competent court may not be pursued further by the same parties, until the Supreme Court put a stop to it in May 2019. But the words of the Supreme Court have not translated into reality.

In the case of Fatima too, the Foreigners Tribunal put her on trial again, this time scrutinizing each and every document.

Undone by discrepancies in family’s details

Faorukh was declared a foreigner the second time round on the basis of discrepancies in the details he provided concerning his family. The latest order said that while Faroukh in his written statement had mentioned that Sakiton Nessa was his step mother, he did not disclose his step mother’s date of marriage with his father, Kefat Mandal.  The Tribunal member also went on to say that Faroukh’s photo voter identification card had only his father’s first name, which was insufficient to establish the relationship of father and son, especially in the absence of an issuing authority.

An unyielding spirit

Faroukh has spent more than 1 lakh rupees so far in for his case. “I’ve had to sell my cattle and mortgage my 3 bigha (approximately an acre) land. Meanwhile, I have been surviving by working on someone else’s farm land,” he said. The fight has taken a toll on his mental health, for which he holds the government accountable.

Sometimes, I think of committing suicide. But if I did that, my family would suffer. So why should I?” 

*Name changed due to reasons of privacy.

Read Amnesty International India’s briefing, Designed To Exclude.