Updated: December 15, 2020 7:32:12 AM
About six months ago, Nyuti Das recalls that her father Chandrahar Das leaned over his brother’s phone, his one good eye – and the rest of him – completely absorbed in a video of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech. Then he looked at Nyuti and said with a smile, “Modi aamar bhogowan (Modi is my god) … He will solve everything. The law of citizenship is here. We will all become Indians.”
On Sunday evening, 104-year-old Chandrahar, suffering from heart disease who spent three months in detention for “foreigners” in Assam two years ago, died in his son’s dilapidated cottage in Boraibasti in Cachar district of Assam – still a “foreigner” .
Speaking by telephone from her home 30 km from Silchar, in the Hindu Bengali dominated by Assam-Barak Valley, Nyuti recalls the mild distress she felt every time her father expressed such hope. Or went to the porch of their home, looked across the road at Modi’s poster, folded his hands in a namaskar and bowed his head. “The law came, it was almost a year, but what did ‘God’ do?” she would ask him.
Breaking down, Nyuti adds, “All he wanted was to die an Indian … And we tried, we ran from court to court, from lawyers to social workers, sent all the papers. And just like that, he left. We still are.” foreigners “before the law. The Law (Citizenship Amendment Act) did nothing for us.”
The Modi government has repeatedly stressed that CAA aims to grant citizenship to people like Das, mostly Hindu persecuted minorities in their country of residence who have migrated to India. While the Act has widespread support in the Barak Valley, it is opposed by other parts of Assam who fear that granting civil rights to “outsiders” would change the vital nature of the state.
With the elections of the Assamese Assembly approaching, the BJP has once again started talking about the CAA. However, as in the case of Das, the change largely remained on paper, with even rules of the Law still to be framed.
Sushmita Dev, a former Silchar Congress MP who visited Das ’family on Monday, says the Act is just a“ tool ”. “It’s a means to an end. And the end polarizes the Hindu Bengali vote. Even if the CAA actually worked, it does not guarantee citizenship to anyone. Why has BJP not helped some of the Indian Bengalis who are still imprisoned? “
Seated Silchar BJP MP Dr Rajdeep Roy claims the process has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “I offer my condolences to the bereaved family, what happened is very unfortunate, but this pandemic is not in my hands … I also hoped that the rules and regulations relating to CAA would be already framed.”
He understands the concern of the Hindu Bengali community, Roy adds. “I belong to the same group, my grandfather migrated from former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to India.”
Das would often tell his children how he had crossed from East Pakistan to Tripura because of the killings there. “This happened in the 1950s or 60s,” says son Gouranga Das. While how Das headed for Assam is unclear, Gouranga says it was a difficult journey, with his father earning his living selling moors (puffed rice).
Then, one day in March 2018, some officials came to his home, took Das away and put him in custody for foreigners in the Silchar district prison. “We received some notices but were unable to visit the hearings for many reasons, the main one being that my father was old and ill,” says Gourango.
Das received bail in June 2018, but the family’s case is still in court, and his children have appeared for hearings. “There was a problem with the authenticity of Tripura’s registered certificate,” says his advocate, Souman Choudhry, of the delay, adding that Das’s children will still have to prove their citizenship.
Das’s family barely understands the legal jargon, only that the label of foreigners continues.
In his last months, Das has plunged into deep dementia, the family says. On one level, it was a relief. “He would eat, sleep, and seldom talk. When he does, he will talk about how his case will be resolved because the Modi government will help him. We didn’t have the heart to tell him it didn’t move at all, ”Nyuti says.
Das was cremated on Sunday night with only his family present. Gourango fears that only worse is ahead. “My father was old and so the case was covered by the media. But now that he’s gone, will anyone want to tell our story? “
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