Guwahati, India – An Indian army veteran has been sent to a detention centre after he was declared a “foreigner” in the country’s northeastern state of Assam.
Mohammad Sana Ullah, a 30-year veteran of the Indian army, will be held in a detention camp after a Foreigners Tribunal in Kamrup district declared that he was not an Indian citizen on Wednesday.
In his affidavit, Sana Ullah, a resident of Kalahikash village in Kamrup district, said he joined the army in 1987 and had served in Doda and Kupwara in troubled Indian-administered Kashmir.
Sana Ullah retired from the army in 2017 as an honorary captain and joined as sub-inspector with the state’s Border Police, which is responsible for detecting undocumented immigrants, according to his relatives.
The Tribunal order stated that Sana Ullah “failed to establish the fact that he is an Indian citizen by birth”.
“He [Sana Ullah] has been declared a foreigner and we have taken him into custody. We will proceed as per existing rules and guidelines,” Parthasarathi Mahanta, the Superintendent of Police of Kamrup district, told News18 website.
This is not the first case of army or police officers questioned for their citizenship in the state, which last year declared four million people illegal, effectively stripping them of citizenship. A final list of citizenship is expected to be published in July.
India’s Supreme Court on Thursday directed authorities in Assam to ensure a fair hearing in Sana Ullah’s case and not rush through the process to meet the July 31 deadline for the final list.
Many religious and linguistic minorities have alleged that they are seen as suspected undocumented immigrants.
Sana Ullah’s family members are in shock and said they will challenge the verdict in a higher court.
His cousin Azmal Haque, who also served in the Indian Army, told Al Jazeera: “This is very unfortunate that time and again we have been humiliated. After serving the army for 30 years, now court says he is not an Indian. We are hurt and devastated.”
In 2017, Haque was asked to prove his citizenship by a Foreigners Tribunal. His name was cleared after the police said it was a case of mistaken identity.
Human rights activist and lawyer Aman Wadud alleged that there had been no investigation whatsoever before accusing Sana Ullah of being a “foreigner”.
“The border police prepared the verification report without even meeting him, in its report, police says he is a labourer. It is apparent from the report that police even forged thumb impression,” Wadud said.
“The Foreigners Tribunal very mechanically declared him a foreigner without appreciating all his documents,” Wadud, who will fight the case at the state’s highest court, Gauhati High Court, told Al Jazeera.
Sahidul Islam, Sana Ullah’s son-in-law, said he is hopeful of receiving justice from the High Court: “We have all the documents to prove the citizenship of Sana Ullah,” he said.
Islam, also an advocate, said they came to know about Sana Ullah’s case after his name was excluded from the draft citizenship list published last year as part of the NRC.
Tens of thousands of refugees arrived in Assam from Bangladesh during its 1971 liberation war. Decades of agitation ensued against the influx of so-called foreigners and finally, March 25 of 1971 was set as the cut-off arrival date for immigrants to be considered for citizenship.
Government records show there are at least 899 individuals who had been declared foreigners being held in six detention camps across Assam.