Mohammed Sanaullah, retired honorary captain of the Indian Army. Image: Asia Times

The family of a retired honorary Captain of the Indian Army approached the Gauhati High Court on Wednesday, after he was declared a “foreigner” and sent to a detention centre for illegal immigrants on May 29.

The controversy comes following election campaign comments by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party indicating that Muslims should be removed from the country.

Among those comments: BJP President Amit Shah in April said: “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.” Last year in August, Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP national general secretary, also said that Hindus and other non-Muslims should not worry about being excluded from Assam’s National Register of Citizens.

Ironically, Mohammed Sanaullah, who served the army for 30 years, was the current assistant sub-inspector with the Assam Border Police when he was detained. The Border Police are responsible for identifying and detaining illegal migrants. Such cases are heard and disposed of by the various Foreigners’ Tribunals.

Sanaullah was summoned by the Foreigners’ Tribunal in Boko in 2018 and appeared in five such hearings in order to prove his Indian citizenship. He was arrested soon after the tribunal declared him a “non-citizen.” Sanaullah and his family’s name were also put “on hold” in the draft of National Register of Citizens due to the pending Foreigners’ Tribunal case against him. He was also listed as a “doubtful voter” in the electoral list despite having exercised his right to vote in the previous parliamentary elections.

Sanaullah has served in the India Army Corps of Electronic and Mechanical Engineers [EME]. He also was naamed an honorary captain in 2017 by the president. He took part in three counterinsurgency operations in Doda district and near the Line of Control in Tangdhar sector of Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir from 2015 to 2017. He was also part of counter-insurgency operations at Leimakhong in Imphal West district of eastern state of Manipur from 2007 to 2010.

”No one in my family has made it to the list,”Sanaullah told News18 in an earlier interview. “It’s all manipulated. After serving the nation for so many years, this is what I get?”

The National Register of Citizens is a Supreme Court-sanctioned database of Indian citizens in Assam. The list is being updated for the first time since 1951 to include people who have legal identity documents issued before March 24, 1971, and their descendants.

The implied intent is to exclude settlers from other states and neighboring countries. But millions of people were left off its final draft published on July 30, 2018. They were allowed to make claims for their inclusion before July 31, when the final list is to be published. However, officials had also allowed people to file objections against those included in the final draft.

This entire process has led to numerous controversies and cases of alleged bias and prejudice against some communities.

Asia Times spoke with Mohammed Ajmal Hoque, Sanaullah’s cousin and a retired junior commissioned officer in the army. He said that Sanaullah had submitted all the required documents to the Tribunal, including his serving certificates. He also said that Sanaullah had joined the Army in 1987, twenty years after his birth in Assam. ”He joined the Border Police after retiring from the army in 2017. But his year of joining the army was wrongly noted as 1978 by the police. Based on the police’s mistake, the tribunal accused Sanaullah of making a false entry and declared him a ‘foreigner.’”

Hoque accused the Tribunal of harassment and said that the state government is paralyzed and monopolized. He also accused the Border Police of filing false complaints. Hoque alleged that the Border Police had filed a false “self-declaration” document in the name of Sanaullah in 2008 in which he was purported to admit that he’d been born in Bangladesh and that he was a laborer.

Hoque also said that all the information regarding Sanaullah’s family, including his wife and children, was false. Moreover, the document was undersigned with a thumbprint that was not Sanaullah’s. This was then forwarded to the Tribunal, which later issued a notice to the ex-army officer.

Alleged false complaint by the Assam Border Police. Photo-Ajmal Hoque

Sanaullah’s arrest comes after many other veterans in Assam have faced similar situations. Over 100 ex-servicemen have been issued similar notices to prove their citizenship.” About 99% of people who are in detention have a similar false case against them,” Hoque said. Nothing is more heart-breaking than an ex-serviceman being treated like this, Is this his reward for giving 30 years of his life to the Army defending the country, including fighting in the Kargil War?”

Hoque himself was also served a notice by the tribunal but the case was disposed off after the Border Police realized they had issued it to the “wrong Ajmal Hoque.” However, he said that his name is still not added to the list despite his submitting the judgment order.

Now that a former soldier has fallen prey to Assam’s citizenship determination process, the Supreme Court seems to be concerned. Today the court came down heavily on Prateek Hajela, NRC co-ordinator and asked him to give a fair hearing to all who wish to get themselves enrolled in the NRC process. The Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said, ”Don’t cut short the [NRC] process because you have to meet the deadline” of  July 31.”

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