- The woman, 59, stayed at the Kokrajhar detention centre for over 3 years
- She was illiterate and poor, so couldn't challenge the police: sources
- Border branch of Assam Police admitted it was a "faulty investigation"
At a time when an additional 1.02 lakh people have been dropped from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, Assam authorities have admitted to yet another incident of "mistaken identity" that resulted in a rightful citizen spending years in detention on suspicion of being a foreigner.
After languishing in the Kokrajhar detention centre for over three years, 59-year-old Madhubala Mondal was released today. The border branch of the Assam Police, the agency responsible for identifying foreigners in the state, has admitted that she was placed under detention after a faulty investigation.
According to sources, the border branch of the Assam Police was supposed to arrest one Madhumala Das - an alleged foreigner residing in Chirang district's No.1 Bishnupur village - in 2016. However, the woman had died by then, and the visiting police personnel picked up Madhubala Mondal instead.
The Kokrajhar detention centre became her home for the next three years.
Life had been hard on Madhubala Mondal, a widow, even before the police turned up at her doorstep. She was the sole breadwinner for her household, which otherwise comprised a deaf-and-dumb daughter abandoned after marriage.
Sources said that the woman, being illiterate and extremely poor, could not challenge the police when they hauled her away. It was only when a few social workers from Chirang district came to know about her detention that they brought the matter to the Assam government's attention.
The subsequent investigation took years to complete, but it did eventually bring out the truth. The government instructed the Assam police to file an affidavit admitting to the case of mistaken identity in the Foreigners Tribunal and set the ball rolling for Madhubala Mondal's release.
Earlier this month, 40-year-old Amila Sah from Dholaibeel in Sonitpur district was sent to a detention centre in Assam after the Foreigners Tribunal declared her a foreigner. Curiously, the names of her family members - including her siblings - figure in the National Register of Citizens draft.
Amila Sah and her family maintain that they have roots in Bihar and have been living in Assam since the British era. "We are poor and barely literate, but that doesn't mean that we are not Indians," said her brother Ramesh Gupta, adding that the family plans to contest the decision in the Gauhati High Court.
Last month, Mohammad Sanaullah -- a retired Indian Army soldier -- was declared an illegal immigrant by a tribunal and sent to a detention centre in Assam. He was later bailed out on orders issued by the Gauhati High Court, which issued notices to the Election Commission, National Register of Citizens authorities and the Assam Border Police.
The 53-year-old former soldier, who had served in the army for three decades, was accused of being a foreigner who has been living illegally in the country.