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Supreme Court remarks on illegal detention fly in face of India’s constitutional and international obligations: CHRI

New Delhi: The Supreme Court needs to reaffirm India’s constitutional and international obligations to rights on complex issues of nationality, detention and deportation and not be unmindful of its own commitment to these duties, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has urged.

The following is the text of the statement, issued today, and signed by a group of eminent citizens including former Supreme Court Justice Madan Lokur, Wajahat Habibullah, CHRI’s Chair and former Chief Information Commissioner, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, and a number of senior former officials and civil society leaders:

As concerned citizens, we look to the Supreme Court to reaffirm India’s constitutional and international obligations to rights on sensitive issues. That is why we are disappointed by recent statements by the Chief Justice of India on a complex matter relating to illegal detention and deportation, without heeding India’s own constitutional and international obligations.

While advocating greater detention of suspected ‘foreigners’, the Chief Justice brushed aside the Assam Chief Secretary with a stinging admonition for proposing a methodology for the release of a handful of foreign prisoners who had been in detention beyond their term of sentence for illegal entry. This was especially of concern for the case concerned the wilful violation of the human rights of hundreds of detainees who were languishing in what the court itself accepts are “inhuman conditions”.

We regard these remarks as unfortunate.

Article 21 is very clear in its intent, ambit and process. It binds all duty-holders and citizens with the ringing affirmation that no person in India (and we emphasize that there no special privileges here for Indian citizens) can be deprived of her/his right to life and liberty without due process.

There is no deportation agreement with Bangladesh. International law lays down that such deportations can take place only with the consent of the country of origin. Bangladesh has consistently refused to accept that its citizens migrate in large numbers to India. Indeed, Bangladesh regards such unilateral efforts as harmful to a bilateral relationship that is critical for the security and stability of both countries and especially of our eastern region.

We cannot place ourselves in a situation where we are seen as forcing people out at gunpoint; it would be ethically unjust, wrong in law and draw international condemnation.

We are acutely sensitive to concerns in Assam and other parts of the North-east and across the country about the problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh, a long-standing issue that has defied official proclamations and pledges of “push back”, “deportation” and “detection”. Whatever methods are used they must be undertaken within the rule of law frame, be just and fair and designed to minimise individual hardship and tragedy. We believe there is a need that this is a tragedy of growing intensity which is gathering momentum as a result of the current National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam.

Accounts from Assam indicate that often arbitrariness not rule of law is used to define those who have come post-1971 from Bangladesh (of whatever religious denomination) and those who are Indian nationals.

Lakhs are in limbo and now fear that they may become “stateless” because of a process that is mired in a mix of complexity, confusion, lack of precision and prejudice.

Many of those at risk are from the bottom of the economic pyramid, unable to sustain the complex adjudication process needed to establish their citizenship. Large numbers are already in detention camps.

Although the Supreme Court mandated deadline for a ‘final’ list is July 2019, we understand that not less than 38 lakh persons out of the 40 lakh (four million) who had found themselves off the NRC last year have filed applications for inclusion. Such a huge number of requests cannot be processed in two months and we urge that this not be hurried as the consequences are too devastating to contemplate. The efforts need to be steady and methodical so that the charges of arbitrariness, prejudice and poor record keeping, which have plagued the NRC process, do not stick.

It must be pointed out here that India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which its representatives played a stellar part in developing the language that all of us are familiar with in regard to equality, non-discrimination and gender. Our international commitments are clear as to the rights of people affected in such situations.

It would also be unacceptable if any Indian of any religious denomination is harmed by negligence, wilful prejudice, wrongful confinement and prosecution.

Failure to address this critical situation adequately and justly would be seen internationally as a gross violation of human rights and a blot on India's traditional record. What is also of concern to us are social fault lines that could be exacerbated by insensitive handling that could leave many people desperate, particularly youth, with the potential of radicalization.

As concerned citizens, we appeal to the judicial system and the government to explore a solution that addresses the human dimension. The situation in Assam and inter alia other parts of the North-east represent unprecedented challenges and conditions that cannot be resolved by application of a routine legal framework which is designed to deal with individual cases.

Wajahat Habibullah, Chairperson, CHRI

Members:

Justice Madan Lokur

Justice AP Shah

Ms. Vineeta Rai (IAS, retd, former Revenue Secretary to the Government of India)

Nitin Desai, former Under Secretary, United Nations)

Jacob Punnoose (IPS, retd)

Poonam Muttreja (Member, Executive Committee, CHRI)

Kamal Kumar (IPS, retd)

Ms. Maja Daruwala (Adviser, CHRI)

Jayanto N. Choudhury (IPS, retd)

Dr. BK Chandrashekar (ex MLC, Karnataka)

Sanjoy Hazarika (International Director)

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Steps to check border influx

4 Jan 2018 - 7:55pm | AT News Imphal

In a move to fend off illegal immigration to Manipur, special police teams have been deployed in border areas of the state, in the wake of publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft in Assam.

The Manipur government has taken up stringent measures in border areas to shut out entry of illegal immigrants. In Assam, the first NRC draft was released on December 31. The partial NRC draft contains 1.9 crore people out of the 3.29 crore applicants.

The NRC draft publication by Registrar-General of India aims to distinguish genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and those Bangladeshi nationals who came to the state after March 25, 1971.

The process of updating the NRC began in 2013 and it was carried out under the guidance and instruction of the Supreme Court.

Special police teams headed by senior officers have been deployed at Senapati district’s Mao gate bordering Nagaland, Tamei-Haflong of Tamenglong district bordering Assam, Babupara bazar in Jiribam near Assam and all routes leading to Jiribam through Mizoram, including water routes, to avert possible illegal immigration to the state, official sources informed on Thursday.   

Devastating fire in Jorhat town

22 Feb 2008 - 1:26pm | editor
Property worth one crore has been left ravaged while a 12 hour long devastating fire that broke out on Thursday midnight at a goodwon in Jorhat town. Eyewitness say the fire broke out at the ground floor of the a four storied godwon in the Chambers Road which later was spreading to the top floors. Fire tenders from Golaghat, Sivasagar, Dergaon, Roworia Bokakhat were pressed into service but the fire engulfed property worth corers of rupees. Jorhat Deputy Commissioner L S Changson and the administrative officials had sought help of ONGC fire fighters from Nazira. These tenders arrived and started operation and the fire was doused in the morning.

Early solution of Bodoland issue urged

29 Jun 2017 - 8:56pm | AT Kokrajhar Bureau

The Bodo Women for Peace Movement (BWPM) has urged the Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal to take bold step while bringing permanent solution of Bodoland issue through political dialogue  and ensure protections of women from unwanted incidents in the state.

A ten-member delegation team of the Bodo Women for Peace Movement led by Rangina Bargayary, convener of the movement group met Chief Minister Sonowal  today at Dispur and submitted him a memorandum seeking early measures early solutions of various issues related to women peace initiatives responding to need for lasting and permanent solution of Bodoland Movement and other women related issues in Assam.

 As mass and peaceful democratic movement for creation of Bodoland in northern bank of Brahmaputra  valley spearheaded by the All Bodo Students Union, National Democratic Front of Boroland (Progressive), Peoples Joint Action Committee for Boroland Movement is continuing.The Bodo Women for Peace Movement also would humbly like to state that a lasting and permanent political resolution of this issue has become pertinent for peace & justice to prevail for Bodos and all communities living in the region.

The Bodos have been demanding for creation of Bodoland state within their ancestral land which they have inherited from their fore-fathers to preserve & safeguard their distinct identity with their language, enriched cultural heritage & land rights. They have customs and tradition of their own which have made their identity unique not to be easily absorbed into other socio-cultural aggression. Despite having vast ethno-linguistic difference the Bodo people were thrown into the fold of Assam and were victimized to forced assimilation into Assamese identity after India’s independence which was uncalled for and a historical blunder. Hence, in-spite of the temporary culmination of the movement by signing of two Bodo Accords (20th February 1993 and 10th February, 2003) the Bodo people’s demand for creation of separate state under the provision of Article 2 & 3 of the Indian Constitution is still continuing as a result of utter failure on the part of Government of India to concede the demand.

 The long pending Bodoland issue and process of tri-partite level talk for solution of the same has arrived at such level that it has become necessary for the centre to take concrete policy decision to settle the issue. It is very encouraging trend that each and every extremists and militant groups have come forward for the peaceful solution of the problem and civil society all together have also stepped forward to help the Government as well as the agitating group in that regard. But regretfully we have to express our serious concern that the peace process is taking a tardy move and resentment within agitating group seems to be growing day by day. It was because of your initiative, on the  April 25 last tri-partite talk was held in New Delhi which was attended by the Union Home Minister of India  Rajnath Singh and Secretaries of Ministry of Home Affairs and Government of Assam under your leadership. Since then no talk was held despite assurance given to agitating group to such talk on regular manner.

 The entire inhabitants of Bodoland area is looking towards the Government and needful initiative from the end of your honour to step into the matter and pursue the Central Government to expedite the process of tri-partite talk for gaining confidence of the agitating group for peaceful resolution of the pending issue.

The movement group expresses grievances on the fact that BTAD and its neibhouring districts, in these last few years have witnessed series of violent conflicts, insurgency, political turmoil, frequent law & order disturbances which have caused untold miseries to downtrodden common public. Like all other north-eastern states, BTAD also faces the challenge of complex political issues like ethnic conflicts, illegal migration, displacement, rampant corruption and social exclusion.

 Hence, the region is officially defined as ‘disturbed areas’ or the ‘insurgency prone areas’ and with the declaration of ‘Operation All Out’ still active, it has intensely traumatized the affected public to silence them to raise voice for their right to live in peace and dignity. With presence of number of armed rebel groups from different communities, the enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 and thereof deployment of large number of troops, the region has become highly militarized and conflict prone zones especially in remote backward areas.

 This has had enormous impact on women and children who are the most vulnerable section and bear the major brunt of such conflict with escalating sexual violence against them, economic hurdles and other social and cultural problems relating to widowhood, school dropout, stigmatization, human- trafficking etc. Whenever, spark of violence erupted be it the conflicts of 2008 in Udalguri and 2012 in western Assam followed by conflict in Nonkhe and Khagrabari of Baksa district or the inhuman massacre of Santhals on 23rd December, 2014 and riot thereof and shoot-out case of Balajan Tiniali in 2016, it has been witnessed that women and children are more vulnerable and become easy target of victims.

 During combing operations or interrogations by army in areas suspected to be infested by militants also, women have had to face numerous difficulties. Young Priya Basumatary’s murder in broad daylight on suspicion of being an informer by militants in Chirang district still brings shivers in everyone’s mind. On 11th December 2013 two young students from Raidangbari village, a remote area in Chirang district of classes VI & X were shot down by security personal while they were sleeping and there are long list of grievances which needs attention by both state & central governments to seek frame-work to resolve pending issues urgently.

It’s a bitter truth that in name of maintaining law and order and guarantee citizens’ safety, military operations in diverse forms of cordon & search, combing, arrests or interrogations have unfortunately failed to prevent violations of the basic, minimal safeguards to common public irrespective of their sex & age who are allegedly suspected to have links with insurgent groups and gross violation of human rights under International Convention as well as Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Indian Constitution are meted out against simple tribal folks, especially the Bodos.

  Many youths have fallen prey to fake encounters in their prime age, innocent villagers have been alleged to be linkmen of active militant groups for absurd reasons, women & children have been traumatized in different forms to cause mental depression of high order. Hence, common folks from violence affected areas become victims of manipulative schemes of both the state and non-state actors for their benefits. This has triggered large section of population to migrate in urban areas to struggle for their livelihood though unskilled leaving behind the agricultural occupation in their own homeland for labor work with meager wages. It has brought about acute socio-economic disparity in the region and has deteriorated lives of vulnerable section like the old & infirm, women & children in areas affected by violence.

 The peace movement said that we and other civil society groups are totally against militancy and violence. At the same time we are equally against extra-judicial killings in name of counter-insurgency operations and if militants are caught let the court and judiciary decide the matter legally.

The Bodo women have traditionally played a major role in social movements and have been informally working for peace in the region though their contributions are hardly recognized as key stakeholders to be included in formal peace processes. Like any tribal society in north-east in general & Assam in particular, Bodo women’s contribution in cultural and economic sphere is nonetheless significant than men which is illustrated  in their tradition of skilled work like handloom & handicrafts, existence of traditional cooperative systems, women’s markets etc. Yet, when it comes to decision making women hardly have a say. That BTC Legislative Assembly is not represented by any women in Executive Member’s post itself is an example which exhibits that women are not taken seriously in decision making. This has created gender sensitive issues in BTC administration to deprive women participation in right direction in all sectors of economy, education, health, institutions, safety and social welfare. Crime rate and violence against women & child abuse has rapidly proliferated with frequent rape, witch-hunting, trafficking and violence in many other forms against women. Health sector in BTAD is in deplorable condition the hazardous impact of which is more experienced by women and children.

The peace movement urged the CM to take initiative for start of working for political dialogue, frame short & long term policies for permanent resolution of vexed problems, create atmosphere for rendering legal justice to victims against whom human rights violations has been meted out and work for rehabilitation, reconciliation, co-operation, mutual trust and peaceful co-existence with sensitivity under your able leadership and guidance.

‘As violence begets violence to form a vicious cycle of continuous conflicts, we would be grateful to your kind honour if you take initiative to break this violent cycle by showing your largeness in heart to bring all erring groups for dialogue to pave way for peace process’, the memorandum read.