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D-voters of Bonda refugee colony too poor to pay lawyers� fees

By MANASH PRATIM DUTTA
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GUWAHATI, March 19 - A large number of people who had fled from the erstwhile East Pakistan and were rehabilitated at Bonda (refugee colony), on the eastern part of Guwahati city by the then Central government, have been facing financial hardships in continuing with their legal battle to prove their citizenship.

According to locals, the colony of refugees comprises both Christians and Hindus belonging to the Garo, Bengali, Koch and Hajong communities. Most of these people had come from the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1964 and first took shelter at some refugee camps in lower Assam. Later the Central government rehabilitated them in this area.

�More than 50 per cent people of the refugee colony, who were rehabilitated by the then Central government, have faced the issue of D-voter,� said Debasmita Ghosh, a Guwahati-based lawyer and member of Human Rights Law Network, an NGO that provides free legal aid to these people.

According to Ghosh, most of the refugees were victims of religious persecution and were religious minorities in the erstwhile East Pakistan. They had left their country during riots.

She informed that the financial condition of these people is so pathetic that they cannot afford to pay fees to the advocates who represent them in the court. On the other hand, due to the increase in their population in due course of time, the problem of land crisis too has raised its head among them.

�Most of these people failed to prove their Indian citizenship even after possessing refugee certificates only because they could not pay the fees due to their advocates. Even some of them who have been declared as D-voters, have been kept in detention camps for many days. Most of their cases are in the argument stage and in some cases official witnesses do not appear in the court. We hope that within three-four days some of the cases will be settled,� Ghosh said.

She alleged that negligence by police has played a big role for the current situation. In some cases, even after being provided with all necessary documents, the border branch of police used to lodge D-voter cases. Most of the cases have not been properly probed and in some instances these people even become victims of political conspiracy.

According to Gopal Bhattacharya, a member of the village defence party of the area, initially, the then Central government had allotted 156 bighas of land among 300 refugee families. The whole colony is located on myadi land. Earlier the land was owned by one Abul Khair and the Central government bought it in 1964.

�At present around 1,200 people of this colony have been enrolled in the electoral roll,� Bhattacharya said.

Birendra Chandra Kar, 77, one of the senior citizens of Bonda refugee colony, explaining his journey from erstwhile East-Pakistan to India, said, �On February 6 of 1964, people from altogether 22 villages from Mymensingh district of erstwhile East Pakistan left for India after facing religious persecution for quite some time. My family was also in that large group. I left my job of postmaster in my motherland and fled to India to save my family from being exterminated. In India, the Central government first kept us in refugee camps and then rehabilitated us in this area with free accommodation.�

According to Kar whose name also has been excluded from the draft NRC, first the officials concerned declared 325 people of the colony as D-voters.

�I think most of the people suffer a lot due to political conspiracy. Now even our names have been excluded from the draft NRC list even after we had submitted all relevant documents. Government officials say that our documents including rehabilitation certificates, citizenship certificates, certificates of industrial training and other forms of education which were issued by the then government are not valid,� he rued.

Premati Sangma, a resident of the area who has been declared as a D-voter, said, �My family came from Burunga village in Mymensingh district after facing untold religious persecution in the 60�s. The Central government shifted us here from the Matia refugee camp in Goalpara district. Even I had cast my vote in three elections earlier. But later I have been declared as a D-voter due to confusion over my title, which is not the same as that of my husband. The problem arises because we are illiterate and poor.�

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D-voters of Bonda refugee colony too poor to pay lawyers� fees

GUWAHATI, March 19 - A large number of people who had fled from the erstwhile East Pakistan and were rehabilitated at Bonda (refugee colony), on the eastern part of Guwahati city by the then Central government, have been facing financial hardships in continuing with their legal battle to prove their citizenship.

According to locals, the colony of refugees comprises both Christians and Hindus belonging to the Garo, Bengali, Koch and Hajong communities. Most of these people had come from the erstwhile East Pakistan in 1964 and first took shelter at some refugee camps in lower Assam. Later the Central government rehabilitated them in this area.

�More than 50 per cent people of the refugee colony, who were rehabilitated by the then Central government, have faced the issue of D-voter,� said Debasmita Ghosh, a Guwahati-based lawyer and member of Human Rights Law Network, an NGO that provides free legal aid to these people.

According to Ghosh, most of the refugees were victims of religious persecution and were religious minorities in the erstwhile East Pakistan. They had left their country during riots.

She informed that the financial condition of these people is so pathetic that they cannot afford to pay fees to the advocates who represent them in the court. On the other hand, due to the increase in their population in due course of time, the problem of land crisis too has raised its head among them.

�Most of these people failed to prove their Indian citizenship even after possessing refugee certificates only because they could not pay the fees due to their advocates. Even some of them who have been declared as D-voters, have been kept in detention camps for many days. Most of their cases are in the argument stage and in some cases official witnesses do not appear in the court. We hope that within three-four days some of the cases will be settled,� Ghosh said.

She alleged that negligence by police has played a big role for the current situation. In some cases, even after being provided with all necessary documents, the border branch of police used to lodge D-voter cases. Most of the cases have not been properly probed and in some instances these people even become victims of political conspiracy.

According to Gopal Bhattacharya, a member of the village defence party of the area, initially, the then Central government had allotted 156 bighas of land among 300 refugee families. The whole colony is located on myadi land. Earlier the land was owned by one Abul Khair and the Central government bought it in 1964.

�At present around 1,200 people of this colony have been enrolled in the electoral roll,� Bhattacharya said.

Birendra Chandra Kar, 77, one of the senior citizens of Bonda refugee colony, explaining his journey from erstwhile East-Pakistan to India, said, �On February 6 of 1964, people from altogether 22 villages from Mymensingh district of erstwhile East Pakistan left for India after facing religious persecution for quite some time. My family was also in that large group. I left my job of postmaster in my motherland and fled to India to save my family from being exterminated. In India, the Central government first kept us in refugee camps and then rehabilitated us in this area with free accommodation.�

According to Kar whose name also has been excluded from the draft NRC, first the officials concerned declared 325 people of the colony as D-voters.

�I think most of the people suffer a lot due to political conspiracy. Now even our names have been excluded from the draft NRC list even after we had submitted all relevant documents. Government officials say that our documents including rehabilitation certificates, citizenship certificates, certificates of industrial training and other forms of education which were issued by the then government are not valid,� he rued.

Premati Sangma, a resident of the area who has been declared as a D-voter, said, �My family came from Burunga village in Mymensingh district after facing untold religious persecution in the 60�s. The Central government shifted us here from the Matia refugee camp in Goalpara district. Even I had cast my vote in three elections earlier. But later I have been declared as a D-voter due to confusion over my title, which is not the same as that of my husband. The problem arises because we are illiterate and poor.�