Srinagar: A retired army officer has been branded as a Bangladeshi immigrant by Assam police, asking him to prove his citizenship in a bizarre twist to the contentious issue of illegal migrants in the north-eastern state.
Mohd Azmal Hoque, who retired as a junior commissioned officer (JCO) last year, after serving the army for 30 years was living a peaceful life with his family at Guwahati, when he received a notice from a foreigners’ tribunal last month.
Hoque has been asked to prove he is Indian and not an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant.
In Assam there are 100 foreigners’ tribunals set up to detect illegal immigrants, especially those who entered India after creation of Bangladesh.
The notice mentioned that the district police have registered a case against him alleging he entered Assam illegally without any valid documents after March 25, 1971, the day Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight against the people of then East Pakistan.
The notice, issued on July 6, asked Hoque to appear before the court on September 11 to prove his citizenship, failing which the case against him would continue ex-parte.
But the 49-year-old failed to keep the date as the notice reached his ancestral village Kalahikash near Boko, nearly 70 km from the state capital, after September 11. He will now have to appear before the tribunal on October 13.
“This incident has saddened me a lot. Even after 30 years of service to the nation, we are asked to prove our identity. This is unnecessary harassment,” he told Hindustan Times.
Hoque joined the army in 1986 in a non-combat role as technician and retired from the corps of electronics and mechanical engineers (EME) as Subedar after serving at several places including border areas in Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.
Incidentally, Hoque’s wife Mamtaj Begum had also been summoned by a foreigners’ tribunal in 2012 to prove her citizenship. Since she had all necessary documents, she was able to satisfy the tribunal.
Hoque’s son is at present studying in the prestigious Rashtriya Indian Military College in Dehradun while his daughter is at the Army Public School in Narengi, Guwahati.
Hoque maintains that his family is indigenous Assamese and his father’s name is mentioned in the voters list of 1966. His mother’s name is listed in the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“I have no doubt that I will get justice at the tribunal. But it pains me when my daughter questions me if this is how the country treats those who serve it for so many years,” he said.
Infiltration of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh is an emotive issue in Assam. A six-year-anti-foreigner agitation from 1979 to 1985 led to signing of the Assam Accord which set March 25, 1971 as the cut of date for detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshis.
As per official records, nearly 80,000 people have been detected as foreigners in Assam since 1986 and 29,729 were deported. At present around 200,000 cases are pending in the foreigners tribunals.
An interim report submitted earlier this year by a committee set up by the state’s BJP-led government to suggest measures to protect land rights of indigenous people claimed illegal Bangladeshis outnumber indigenous people in 15 of the state’s 33 districts.
This is not the first time a tribunal served a notice to a public servant. Earlier, Assam police constable Abu Taher Ahmed was accused of being an illegal immigrant. A foreigners’ tribunal later held him an Indian citizen.
(The image has been used a representational one in this story.)