The Citizenship Test In Assam Has No Wrong Questions But No Right Answers

It is a tall order to expect anyone to recall minute details from their ancestral past, but the Foreigners Tribunals are using this lack of information to deny citizenship.

Samina Bibi’s world was turned upside down when she was declared a foreigner in 2018. For our briefing, Samina spoke to Amnesty International India about her case. She told us, one of the reasons given by the semi-judicial body was that she could not remember the Lok Sabha constituency where her grandfather cast his vote.

It is a tall order to expect anyone to recall such a minute detail from one’s ancestral past, let alone demand it of Samina – a mother of two, who has no formal education and was unable to read the notice issued to her by the Border Police. In another case, Seema* was also denied citizenship for not being able to recall where her parents came from.

The reasons given by the Foreigners Tribunal members for declaring someone a foreigner are often vague and steeped in discrimination, and Samina’s case is no exception.

The story becomes even more convoluted when her husband, Abdul Kaseem claimed that the Tribunal member never asked her the question on the constituency but he wrote it down in the order, anyway.

“The member spoke to her in Hindi, not Assamese. She doesn’t understand Hindi but I do and I would have translated it for her. He never asked her this question,” said Abdul Kasem.

Samina Bibi had spent the past 18 years building her life in Palkata village around her husband and two children, when the Border Police arrived at her home with a notice to present herself at the Foreigners Tribunals. 

In the Tribunal, she submitted 10 documents including the 1951 NRC list which had her father’s name, voter list of 1966 along with the voter lists of 2015 and 2018, link certificates as well as her marriage certificate, among others. 

“We’ve already spent more than a lakh in legal fees. One lawyer took several months just to give me a copy of the Foreigner Tribunal order and kept asking for money every time I went to him,” he said.

An Uncertain Future 

Struggling to come to terms with the Tribunal’s decision, Samina stopped eating for 4-5 days after which she had to be admitted in a hospital. 

“Her blood pressure had shot up,” said her husband. “The doctor said she was depressed. Now she fears she’ll be sent to Bangladesh, a place she knows nothing about.”

Many have been unfairly stripped of their citizenship and their rights. The tribunals, with lack of deliberate oversight by the Court and the Government, have been allowed to run scot-free. The burden of this recklessness is disproportionately borne by people like Samina, who continue to await in fear for their future. 

*Name changed due to reasons of privacy.

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