80-year-old Assam woman declared ‘foreigner’ in spite of NRC inclusion
80-year-old Bhandari Das had fled from Bangladesh to India in 1967 along with her husband and two children. She had been living in a nearby district of Assam for the past five decades, and became an Indian voter in 1970. However, in a cruel twist of fate, she has now become a ‘foreigner’
After coming to Assam, Das was given a ‘Relief Eligibility Certificate’ by the central government in 1967. Then in 1970, she became an Indian voter and 54 years have passed since then. In fact, Das was named in the 2019 National Register of Citizens. However, in 2008 a case was filed against her in the Foreigners Tribunal by the Superintendent of Police (Border).
In context of that case, the court ruled that she and her children are ‘foreigner’, NDTV reported. Meaning, Bhandari Das will lose her right to vote for the next decade. According to Clause 5 of the Assam Agreement, “streamline foreigners” are those who entered India between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971 – the last date for disclosure and deletion of nationality – and have to register with the FRRO, which is in the administrative office of each district.
There is a 10-year waiting period for obtaining Indian citizenship during which they will be stripped of their right to vote.
However, Bhandari is not worried about losing her right to vote. “In the next ten years, my family and I will become permanent residents of India,” she told NDTV. The reason for this relief was that Bhandari was not called an illegal foreigner. Although she has lost her right to vote for the time being, she will later become an Indian citizen or at least her children.
It is known that Bhandari Das was 13 when she married Rajendra Das in Sylhet, Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), in 1961, and crossed the border into India six years later.
In this regard, Bhandari Das said, “Because of our religious beliefs, we had to endure persecution there (East Pakistan). We were attacked from all sides. In addition to this, many of our neighbours moved to India. It was the hardest time for us. When the notice came from the court three years ago, all I thought was that I would have to go back to Bangladesh, which I definitely did not want to do.”
Her family reportedly travelled for an entire day with very little food or water, reaching a refugee camp near Siliguri by midnight. For three years, that’s where Das and her husband lived. They managed to get some work in Bholanathpur village near Silchar town and shifted there. Her two children were born in that village.
Bhandari’s husband Rajendra died in 2009. She currently lives with her son Rajkamal Das and his family. Rajkamal was born in 1971 in Bholanathpur, India.