Soldier For 30 Years, Assam Man Arrested As Illegal Immigrant

Although the case against Mohammad Sanaullah was registered at the Foreigners' Tribunal in 2009, he got to know about it in December 2017, when the first draft of the citizens' list was released.

People wait to check their names on the draft list in Nagaon district. (Reuters)

Guwahati:

A retired soldier from Assam, who served the army for 30 years, has been declared a foreigner by the police under a law used to stop illegal migration from Bangladesh. Mohammad Sanaulla, 53, who served as a Subedar in the army till 2017 and fought terrorists in Kashmir and Manipur, was arrested today and sent to a detention centre.

Mohammad Sanaullah was commissioned as a Junior Commissioned Officer 2014 and made an Honorary Lieutenant. After his retirement in 2017, he was working as a Sub-Inspector of the Assam Border police -- which deals specifically with the detection of illegal migrants. The same unit has now accused him of being an illegal resident.

"We are shocked. If this can happen to a retired Indian army personnel... I appeal to PM Modi, he should see the reality of what is happening for NRC," said his son Shahid Akhtar. The family is now preparing for a legal battle to prove that he is Indian.

The hunt for illegal migrants is a continuous process in Assam, a state Bangladeshis can enter easily due to the porous border. According to the Assam Accord signed in 1985, anyone who entered the state after 1971 is considered an illegal resident. Rights lawyers say most of those who get penalised are people who come from impoverished families and cannot maintain proper records.

The government has assured that the National Register of Citizens or NRC -- a massive database meant to determine who is Indian -- would solve the issue once for all. But since Mohammad Sanaullah's case is pending, his wife, his son and the two daughters could not make it to the register either.

Although the case against Sanaullah was registered at the Foreigners' Tribunal in 2009, he got to know about it in December 2017, when the first draft of the citizens' list was released.

The family claims the Border Police had earlier accused Mohammad Sanaullah of being a foreigner without conducting any investigation and fudged the records.

His family said in its verification report, the police wrote that he was a labourer. The dates when the police claim that took his statement -- in May 2008 and August 2009 - was the time he was serving in Manipur as part of the army's counter-insurgency operation. A so-called confession document has a thumb impression is given instead of signature. The witnesses said they were never contacted for investigation.

"It is clear that the Border Police did the investigation sitting in office and the tribunal overlooked all these lapses," said Shahidul Islam, Mohammad Sanaullah's son-in-law, who is also his legal counsel.

In the Foreigners' Tribunal order dated May 23, 2019, where Mohammad Sanaullah has been declared a foreigner, a member of the Tribunal questioned why his name was not recorded in 1986 voters list as he was 20 years of age at the time.

Mohammad Sanaullah's lawyer said that his name got omitted due to a change in the voting age, which did not get the President's nod in time for the inclusion in voters' rolls. He was issued a passport in 1994, but that was not taken it into account.

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