Being muslim has become Mymun Begum’s crime

Nilim Dutta

Nilim Dutta serves as the Chairman of Unified People’s Movement and is also the Director, Strategic Research & Analysis Organisation.

He tweets at @NilimDutta and can be reached at [email protected]

This could have been your plight if you were poor and a Muslim in India today.

A couple of weeks ago, news had reached me that impoverished Muslim villagers in the Udalguri district of Assam, part of BTAD, were facing harassment, being pronounced ‘foreigners’ (read Bangladeshis) by the Foreigners Tribunal, Mangaldoi and then arrested by the police and sent off to detention. Harried family members had come to meet me narrated their ordeal. I promised them that I will ensure justice.

Over the past couple of weeks, I examined the documents they brought me, crosse checked their stories, corroborated the facts. It became clear to me that there was little doubt that none of those who had been declared as “foreigners” (and some of them detained) were foreigners. They were all Indian citizens.

I promised to visit them in their village before initiating the necessary judicial remedy as it wasn’t possible for some of them to even travel down to Guwahati to meet me.

Today, I drove more than 200 Kms to their remote village to keep my promise.
Tonight, I will just recount one of the stories and what you will read now will break your heart.

The old lady in the yellow sari I am seen here talking to is Mymun Begum. See is about 70 years old. More than 50 years ago, she and her husband, a petty trader, came to Assam from the Siwan (Chapra) district of Bihar. They settled in a small village beyond the town of Tangla in the Udalguri district of Assam, about 110 Kms from Guwahati. They raised their children here.

Assam MeimunOn the night of 11-12 August (actually at about 3:00 am on 12 August), the police from the local police station surrounded her house and took her away to the police station, not even allowing her to wear a sari that she is used to while stepping out of the house. She was in shock and nearly fainted in the police station and they had to rush her to the hospital. There, the doctors found her blood pressure to be dangerously high and wrote it down that she cannot be made to travel to Goalpara. Her neighbours, who had been woken up by the bedlam in her house, had followed her to the police station and demanded to know why a 70 yr old woman was being picked up by the police in the middle of the night. They also demanded to know why did she have to go to another district, Goalpara, at least 250 Kms away? (I must point out, that it is also in violation of Supreme Court guidelines to pick up a woman at night unless it was for a serious crime).

The police, now in somewhat of a dilemma, tried to hand her over to the villagers, taking an undertaking from the villagers that she was handed over to them. Fortunately for the villagers, at least one among them was a teacher in a higher secondary school and could read English. He pointed out to the police that the undertaking they were asked to sign stated that they have been given custody of one Rehena Khatun aged 27, who had been pronounced a *foreigner* by the Foreigners Tribunal and NOT Maymun Begum who was 70 yrs old.

Caught at their subterfuge, the police tried to browbeat the villagers but they stood firm. They refused to sign. This led to heated altercation but finally the police relented and had to sign that they had mistakenly picked up Maymun Begum and NOT Rehana Khatun and they were now handing over Mymun Begum to the villagers and NOT Rehana Khatun.

This was signed by the villagers who took custody of the old lady in shock, and also by the police officer and other witnesses. The villagers saw to it that the police went back and dropped her home.

Unfortunately for the police, the piece of subterfuge they tried to have the villagers sign, which is in the handwriting of the said officer, came away with the villagers in the utter confusion. Today, they handed over all these documents to me.

Mymun Begum broke down recounting to me what she went through at the hands of the police that night.

If this is not enough, let me also reveal that the supposed “foreigner” who the police actually wanted to pick up was her daughter, Rehana Khatun. The police that night picked up her son Ashraf Ali as the Foreigners Tribunal had declared even him to be a “foreigner”. He is in detention now although fortunately, her daughter was away that night.

What would shock most people is that none of them knew that there was a case against them in the Foreigners Tribunal (FT), accused as *Bangladeshis*.

The FT tried them in absentia and passed the judgment that they were *foreigners*, ex parte, without even hearing them.

What would be even more shocking to most of you is that neither Mymun Begum nor her late husband were foreigners that there biological children can suddenly be declared foreigners without rhyme or reason. They are Indian citizens who still have family and land in Bihar. All their documents too are in order.

I have vowed to get her justice.
Appropriate judicial remedy is already being prepared.

But I am compelled to ask, what was Mymun Begum’s crime?
Being poor? Or being Muslim?
Or both?

This is not the India of my dream, the one I feel proud of.
I am more determined than ever to crush those who subvert the freedom, equality, and justice guaranteed to every Indian by the Constitution, irrespective of their faith or ethnicity.