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Parichay Monthly Roundup: July 2021

We, at Parichay, have launched a monthly newsletter to give you updates on citizenship in India and the globe, and highlight some exciting new work that we have been doing. Click here to subscribe!


Updates from Parichay

  • In a provocative essay on the blog, Nivedita Menon, implores us to recognize the feminist issues which lie at the heart of any citizenship discourse. More specifically, in Menon’s words, the essay concerns itself with four questions: 

“First, are citizenship and citizenship rights unambiguously empowering? Second, why is citizenship a feminist issue? Third, should we not cast citizenship rights within the frame of place of work, rather than place of birth? Fourth, what about the place of the non-human in a just and ecologically aligned society?”

  • Leah Verghese and Shruthi Naik by analysing 818 orders passed by Foreigners Tribunal No. 4 in Hajo between 16 June 2017 and 30 December 2019, explore the process of adjudication of citizenship in Assam, in terms of fairness, procedural aspects, and time taken through an analysis of these orders and highlight the flawed citizenship process which haunt Assam. 
  • ​On 28th May, the Central Government issued a notification which empowered the Collectors in certain districts of Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, to operate under Sections 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and grant citizenship to the minority communities (Hindus, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists) from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Darshana Mitra and Rupali Francesca Samuel have prepared a brief on the order which sets out the contents of the May 2021 order, and its relation, if any, to the CAA 2019. 

Developments in India

  • In a moving article, Mohammad Iqbal, informs us about the Kafkaesque nightmare which haunts Pakistani Hindus in India – a process which engulfs statelessness and renders lives precarious. Unsurprisingly then, various refugees were seen demanding an expedited Citizenship Process, on the World Refugees Day. 
  • In Thamarai v. Union of India, the Madras High Court recently dismissed a plea moved against the deportation of a Sri Lankan national. The Court by suggesting that the law in Maneka Gandhi case cannot be stretched beyond a point, held that:

​​“[He] does not have a fundamental right to stay in India and get Indian citizenship. He knows that his stay in India cannot be eternal. He has to leave India one day or the other”

  • Suggesting that India and the UNHCR failed to provide healthcare and vaccination for Chin refugees, Kimi Colney in a compelling piece, offers insight into the varying forms of violence which are perpetuated against vulnerable groups. ​
  • Observing the importance of citizenship for a person, the Gauhati High Court recently held that citizenship being a very important right of a person should ordinarily be decided on merit rather than by default”

Across Borders: Conversations on Citizenship

  • Recently, Germany has passed a new citizenship law for descendants of Nazi Victims – the law makes it easier for descendants of those who fled Nazi persecution to obtain citizenship. Subsequently, if people have been stripped of their citizenship on political, racial or religious grounds can have it restored, and so can their descendants.
  • The Bahamas Court of Appeal upheld a historic Supreme Court ruling that children born out of wedlock to foreign women and Bahamian men are entitled to citizenship at birth. 
  • Dahlia Scheindlin, informs us of the cruelty which lies at the heart of Israel’s Citizenship Law – a cruelty which for Scheindlin, remains rooted in racist foundations, and arguably, provides a key insight to the violent politics which haunts Israel. ​

What have we been reading? 

  • Articulating a moment in history wherein we are witnessing the “death of asylum itself”, Alison Mountz​‘s recent work, maps out the role of spaces and geographies in allowing the sovereign to place lives in precarious and vulnerable zones. In suggesting that detention spaces are often ‘a global constellation of sites and places where people and places are exploited to carry out exclusion’, Mountz complicates traditional theoretical debates surrounding ‘states of exception’ by highlighting their incomplete-ness. Despite the ominous realisations, Mountz argues that ‘they [activists, migrants, NGOs, etc] are countering the death of asylum with the life of activism’ – a life which we hope to emulate in spaces near us. 

We look forward to bringing you more updates next month! Until then, feel free to reach out at editorial-team@parichayblog.org for comments or feedback. Subscribe here.

CAA revisited: How the May 2021 order of the MHA furthers a discriminatory citizenship regime

On May 28, 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs passed an order under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which empowers the Central Government to delegate powers under the Act. However, exceeding mere delegation, this o rder created a specific procedure for naturalisation and registration for citizenship in respect of applicants from ‘minority communities’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists, resident in specified districts in five states. This order was immediately challenged by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in an interlocutory application that they filed in an earlier writ petition challenging the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. IUML’s primary objection was that this order seeks to implement the CAA 2019 in a roundabout fashion, even while the constitutionality challenge is under examination by the Supreme Court. The Union Government in its reply stated that the notification had nothing to do with the CAA, and merely allows for delegation of powers of registration and naturalisation under certain specific circumstances, to a class of ‘legal’ migrants. As on date, two other writ petitioners who challenged the CAA, have filed applications also challenging this order.

At Parichay, we have prepared a detailed brief on the May 2021 order. This brief sets out the contents of the May 2021 order, and its relation, if any, to the CAA 2019. To summarise, this brief argues the following:

  1. The CAA, 2019 exempts persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi or Buddhist communities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh from falling within the definition of “illegal migrant” in Section 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship Act, 1955. We argue that this amended definition now allows even those without valid documents to apply for citizenship under the procedure laid down under May 2021 notification. However, this benefit is not available to similarly situated Muslim applicants.
  2. The May 2021 order significantly truncates the procedure for registration and naturalisation of citizens under Sections 5 and 6 of the Citizenship Act, but denies similarly situated Muslim applicants this benefit.
  3. The May 2021 order implements the amendment to the Third Schedule of the Citizenship Act, 1955 brought into force by the CAA, 2019. This amendment reduced the residency requirement for naturalisation under Section 6 from 11 years to 5 years for Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi or Buddhist communities per se (without any requirement of claiming religious persecution) who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh.
  4. The May 2021 order creates a distinction between applicants of Indian origin for the purposes of registration under Section 5, by retaining what is admittedly an onerous and difficult process of citizenship registration for Muslims of Indian origin, while easing the process for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis of Indian origin.

    Most importantly, if the May 2021 order is purportedly in the interests of refugee protection, then it is time to consider the adoption of a non-discriminatory and inclusive refugee policy in consonance with India’s constitutional values.

The Search for Foreigners in Assam – An Analysis of Cases Before a Foreigners’ Tribunal and the High Court

Leah Verghese and Shruthi Naik are executive team members at DAKSH India.

The Gauhati High Court recently set aside an order by a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Assam that declared Haidar Ali a foreigner for failing to establish linkage with seven people whose names appear along with his grandparents’ names in the 1970 voter list. This order has once again brought to the spotlight the flawed citizenship adjudicatory process in Assam. To understand these processes better, the authors have analysed 818 orders passed by Foreigners Tribunal No. 4 in Hajo between 16 June 2017 and 30 December 2019 (obtained through RTI) and 787 orders and judgments of the Gauhati High Court delivered between 2010 and 2019, resulting from writ petitions filed against orders of the Foreigners Tribunals. In this article, the authors explore the process of adjudication of citizenship in Assam, in terms of fairness, procedural aspects, and time taken through an analysis of these orders.

Analysis of Foreigners Tribunal orders

98 per cent of the suspected foreigners brought before Hajo Foreigners Tribunal No. 4 during this period were Muslim. This is not reflective of the population of Hajo, which has a 44 per cent Muslim population, and neither are these numbers explained by the demographic composition of Bangladesh. The 1951 census showed that in East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), non-Muslims comprised 23.20 per cent of the population. This proportion became 19.57 per cent in 1961, 14.60 per cent in 1974, 13.40 per cent in 1981, 11.70 per cent in 1991 and 10.40 per cent in 2001. The abnormally high proportion of Muslims (as compared to their population in Hajo or even Bangladesh) brought before the tribunal during this period indicates that they are being targeted.

The orders also reflect a serious non-application of the judicial mind. A majority of orders followed a set of templates with only the names of persons, the police station involved, and the dates relating to the case being changed. The descriptions of investigations by the police are like movie scripts riddled with obvious plot holes. In 733 cases, the police claim to have met the suspected foreigners. During these alleged visits, the police asked these suspected foreigners to produce documentary proof of their citizenship, and 570 of them allegedly told the police that they had no documents to prove that they are Indian citizens. The orders do not mention what kind of documentary proof the police asked for.  It is a little difficult to believe that when it comes to a matter as serious as citizenship, 570 people could not produce even a scrap of paper furthering their claim. This leads us to wonder whether the police’s accounts of these visits is credible. In 218 of these cases, the police also concluded which district in Bangladesh (mostly from Maimansingh) the suspected foreigners were from, despite the complete absence of any documentary proof of citizenship. Apart from these alleged meetings with the suspected foreigners, the orders do not describe any police investigation.

Although the police claimed they were able to meet suspected foreigners before submitting their enquiry report, in at least 98 per cent of such cases, they were unable to locate them subsequently to serve a notice to appear before the Foreigners Tribunal. The reason often cited in the orders is that the police could not find the person at their place of residence and local residents and the gaon burahs did not know of their whereabouts when the police enquired with them. We spoke to an advocate practicing at the Gauhati High Court (who has also appeared before the Foreigner Tribunals) who revealed that in some cases, the gaon burahs have also appeared as witnesses for the suspected foreigners and confirmed that the police did not question them and that the person does live in their village. The process adopted by Foreigners Tribunals does not allow the police to be cross-examined by suspected foreigners’ advocates. The lack of a procedure to cross-examine the police leaves no scope to challenge the police’s submissions regarding their alleged meetings with the suspected foreigners and their subsequent inability to find the same people.

The inability to find these suspected foreigners to serve the Foreigners Tribunal’s notice on them works out conveniently for the police and the tribunal. Unlike regular criminal trials where an accused is presumed not guilty and the state has to prove that they committed a crime, the burden of proof as per Section 9 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 is on the person accused of being a foreigner. This reversed burden means that if a person fails to appear before the Foreigners Tribunal, the Tribunal can pass an order declaring them foreigners without hearing the suspected foreigner. We found that 96 per cent of the orders we analysed were given ex-parte. In all these orders, the police produced no evidence to indicate that the suspected foreigners were not Indian. Yet, they were declared Bangladeshi because of the reversal of the burden of proof.

Only in 31 cases were the suspected foreigners allowed to refute the allegations made against them. All these 31 orders were passed by the tribunal member Giti Kakati Das. The progression of her career as a member of the Foreigners Tribunal gives an idea of the effect of declaring a low number of individuals to be foreigners. She was appointed as a member of this Foreigners Tribunal by an order of the Commissioner and Secretary, Home and Political Department dated 29 July 2015 on a contractual basis for one year. After one year, her services were extended for another year, till July 2017. Through a notification dated 20 June 2017, she was denied an extension along with several other members because she had not declared enough people as foreigners. She was reinstated only after she and the others challenged the termination of their services before the Gauhati High Court.

In addition to concerns of fairness, the suspected foreigners also had to go through long drawn proceedings. Given that most of the cases we analysed were decided ex-parte, we expected that these proceedings would have at least progressed swiftly. With a lack of information on the exact filing date of cases before the Foreigners Tribunals, we attempted to understand how long cases took to be disposed of by approximating the filing date as the median date of the year in which the police were asked to investigate the suspected foreigner. This Foreigners Tribunal took on average an astounding 3,637 days, i.e., nearly ten years, to dispose of a case. Of course, with the focus on Foreigners Tribunals in recent years, it is interesting to note that 92 per cent of the cases analysed were disposed of in the years 2018 and 2019 alone. It is also interesting to note that in 82 per cent of the cases, the report of service of notice being forwarded or notice being served in a substituted manner was done in the years 2018 and 2019, although the cases dated as far back as 1999. The cases seem to have been kept in cold storage for several years, then taken out, dusted, and disposed of with undue haste in 2018 and 2019. Further, even though cases were pending for such a long time, the Foreigners Tribunals decided these cases post-haste once the police reported that they could not find the suspected foreigner to serve the tribunal’s notice. In such circumstances (where the individual could not be found) the matter could be decided ex-parte. On average, the tribunal took 39 days from the date of receipt of this report to give ex-parte orders.   

97% of these orders direct that the proceedees be deported. Very few of these, if any, will be actually deported since deportation requires Bangladesh’s consent. According to data placed before the Lok Sabha as of 10 December 2019, only four Bangladeshis have been deported pursuant to their declaration as ‘foreigner’ by Foreigners Tribunals in Assam. If deportation is not possible, persons declared to be foreigners are supposed to be sent to detention centers within prisons in Assam, pending deportation.

Analysis of High Court judgments

41% of cases in the High Court judgments and orders pertained to orders passed by Foreigners Tribunals in the districts of Morigaon, Barpeta, and Goalpara. Although none of these districts share a border with Bangladesh, Barpeta has the largest number of Foreigners Tribunals. 35% of the High Court decisions we analysed involved ex-parte orders passed by Foreigners Tribunals.

All the persons whose cases reached the High Court in the set we analysed, had some form of documentation, ranging from electoral rolls, land records, and panchayat certificates. 61% of them had electoral rolls and 39% had permanent residential certificates/ certificates from the panchayat. In 66% of these cases, the Foreigners Tribunals found the documentation unsatisfactory, and in 38% of them, documentation was rejected because spellings did not match. In 71% of the cases, the secondary evidence was deemed not to be admissible. Secondary evidence is usually a copy of the document and not the original. Such evidence gets rejected because either these were not certified copies or the person who created the document (e.g., panchayat member, school principal, etc.) could not certify its contents.  One in two people were declared foreigners because the authorities that issued the documents produced before the tribunals failed to appear before the Foreigners Tribunals to testify that the documents produced are genuine and authentic to their knowledge.

Along with issues of procedural fairness, the issue of judicial delay was apparent in this round of analysis as well. The High Court took 477 days (1.3 years) on average to decide these cases and the average number of days between hearings was 116 days.. For these numbers to be put in context, they were compared with similar figures for other cases before the Gauhati High Court. As per data available in the DAKSH database for other cases, the average number of days between hearings was 31 days, and the overall time taken to dispose cases was 277 days (0.7 years). The cases filed against the orders of Foreigners Tribunals seem to be taking considerably longer than other cases before the Gauhati High Court, even though these did not involve complex questions of law.   

We found an increase in the number of writ petitions filed before the Gauhati High Court in 2016, with the number of cases being close to double that of the previous year. The Government of Assam set up 64 Foreigners Tribunals in 2014, in addition to the then existing 36 Foreigners Tribunals. The spike in High Court cases may be because of the increase in the number of cases before the newly established Foreigners Tribunals.

The question of citizenship in Assam is nestled in a confusing tangle of documents, bureaucracy, and legal procedures which Foreigners Tribunals and the Gauhati High Court are tasked with resolving. Haidar Ali’s case aptly illustrates this. Ali was declared a foreigner on specious grounds even though he produced eleven documents supporting his claim of being an Indian citizen. This citizenship question is not merely a legal issue. It is also deeply embedded in the political history of Assam. Despite the end of the anti-foreigner agitation in 1985, the anxieties around the issue of migration from Bangladesh remain and have been exacerbated by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. Thus, given the political and popular pressure to find and deport foreigners, it is not surprising that the process followed by the Foreigners Tribunals so far has been arbitrary, biased, and unfair. These tribunals High Court needs to be mindful of the lived experiences of identity documentation to avoid an overly legalistic approach in the interests of justice. This issue acquires additional significance in the current context with 19 lakh people excluded from NRC whose cases will get referred to Foreigners Tribunals. Business as usual cannot go on. The process of adjudication of the claims of the persons excluded from the NRC needs to be shorn of the politics that has characterized the process so far and be molded into a fairer and less arbitrary process.   

Golapi Begum v. Union of India, WP(C)/2434/2020

Read the judgement here.

Date of the Decision: 15.07.2021

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia

Summary: The Gauhati High Court held that the Tribunal went beyond its jurisdiction by declaring the Petitioner a ‘foreigner’ on a ground not referred to it. The High Court observed that the Tribunal cannot assume suo motu jurisdiction to give an opinion beyond what is sought and the matter was remanded to the Tribunal for a fresh decision in terms of the reference.

Facts: The Superintendent of Police (Border) referred the Petitioner, along with her family members, as a ‘foreigner’ coming into Assam after 01.01.1966 and before 25.03.1971. This power was exercised under Order 2(1) of the Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006. Order 2(1) states that the Central Government may refer the question as to whether a person is or is not a foreigner to a Foreigners’ Tribunal. The High Court noted that the “power of the Central Government to make reference in terms of Order 2(1) has since been delegated” (paragraph 8). It is on the basis of this reference that the Tribunal registered a case and proceeded to answer it. The Tribunal held that the Petitioner was a ‘foreigner’ who entered India (illegally) after 24.03.1971, the cut-off date under Section 6A of the Citizenship Act. 

However, the terms of reference clearly stated that the Tribunal had to determine whether the Petitioner, along with her family members, is a ‘foreigner’ coming into Assam, after 1.01.1966 and before 25.03.1971. Thus, the writ petition was filed before the High Court on the ground that by declaring the petitioner as a ‘foreigner’ who entered India illegally after 24.03.1971, the Tribunal went beyond its jurisdiction. 

Holding: The Court observed that “In terms of Order 2(1), the Tribunal gets its jurisdiction to render its opinion only when any reference is made to it under Order of the Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006… It is only when a reference is made as above that the Tribunal assumes jurisdiction to render its opinion… the Tribunal will have to confine its opinion to the terms of the reference made to it and not go beyond the same…Therefore, the view taken by the Tribunal that the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 or the Orders framed thereunder do not bind it to the terms of the reference is not correct. The Tribunal cannot suo motu assume jurisdiction to give an opinion which is not sought” (paragraph 12). In other words, the High Court held that the Tribunal went beyond the reference as no opinion was sought from the Tribunal as to whether the petitioner had entered India after 24.03.1971 or not. Further, the Tribunal does not have suo motu jurisdiction to give an opinion beyond the reference. Consequently, the Court set aside the impugned opinion and remanded the matter to the Foreigners Tribunal for a fresh decision in terms of the reference made i.e. render a finding as to whether the Petitioner entered India between 01.01.1966 and 25.03.1971 or not.

Significance: The decision of the Court reaffirms the position laid down in Santosh Das v. Union of India and SonaKha @ Sona Khan v. Union of India and Ors. In both of these cases, references were made against the respective petitioners suspected to be ‘foreigners’ belonging to the 1966-1971 stream. The Gauhati High Court had observed that the Tribunal was only required to answer the reference either in favour of the State or in favour of the petitioners, and not go beyond the terms of the reference. The present case reiterates the law on this point. In summation, the Tribunal cannot suo motu assume jurisdiction to give an opinion that is not sought. Accordingly, the reference has to be limited to the period of time referred to it.

The distinction between a reference alleging a person to have entered into Assam on or after 01.01.1966 but before 25.03.1971, and a reference alleging entry into Assam on or after 25.03.1971, becomes relevant when seen in the light of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act.  Under Section 6A, a ‘foreigner’ having entered into Assam in the 1966-1971 stream, is entitled to Indian citizenship if he has been a resident of Assam for 10 years. However, this benefit has not been conferred on those who entered Assam on or after 25.03.1971. Thus, it is important for the Tribunal to not extend its jurisdiction. 

In addition, this rule is important in view of the principles of natural justice. It is important to give due notice to the alleged ‘foreigner’ about the main grounds against them. This will inform the defence that needs to be put up. In case the main grounds against the alleged ‘foreigner’ are distinct from what the Tribunal deliberates, it will strip the individual of a reasonable opportunity to present their case.

Table of Authorities:

  1. Santosh Das v. Union of India, (2017) 2 GLT 1065.
  2. SonaKha @ Sona Khan v. Union of India and Ors., WP(C) No.1293/2021.

References:

  1. Nupur Thapliyal, Foreigners’ Tribunal Can’t Suo Moto Assume Jurisdiction To Give An Opinion Which Is Not Sought While Answering Reference: Gauhati High Court, Live Law, 30th September 2021. 

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and the latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Khushi Singh. 

Marium Khatoon v. State of Bihar, CWJ No. 390 of 2020

Read the judgment here.

Date of decision: 18-08-2021

Court: Patna High Court

Judges: Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S. Kumar

Summary: The Patna High Court intervened and expedited a matter for repatriation of two Bangladeshi illegal migrants staying in an After Care Home in India. The court conducted an investigation of these Homes and ordered the State Government to set up Detention Centres for such migrants in accordance with Central Government guidelines.

Facts: Two minor Bangladeshi migrants were arrested from the Patna Railway Station and kept in After Care Homes (Nari Niketan) for several years. The two migrants were admittedly illegal migrants who had entered India without valid documents. Their repatriation was still pending. The question to be addressed was about the conditions in which foreign citizens who had been prosecuted, convicted and had completed their sentence, were being kept. The court constituted a committee of three advocates to look into the conditions of the After Care Home in a fair manner. The Committee reported that migrants were being treated well, with no sexual/mental harassment or slavery, appropriate medical assistance, nourishment and tutoring. Meanwhile, the two migrants were deported back to Bangladesh. The amicus argued that such migrants should not be staying in such Homes and instead the State should create a Holding Centre or Detention Centre for migrants arrested in the State of Bihar.

Holding: The court held that such Detention Centre could not be created within the jail and must be created in terms of the instructions given by the Central Government. It is a primary duty of the State to create such Detention Centres. It was also held that it is a duty of the Union of India to respond to the court’s queries, including all its Departments and Ministries. Accordingly, the State eventually took up the setting up of such Detention Centres. The court further asked for details about (a) the time frame for setting up of the Detention Centre, (b) whether the temporary Detention Centre is equipped with the requisite minimum infrastructure stipulated under Chapter-4 of Model Detention Centre/Holding Centres/Camp Manual, 2019, (c) what steps have been taken by the State Government for sensitizing the general population of Bihar about the mechanism of identifying and deporting illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and (d) steps taken to digitalize the records sought to be maintained under Section 6 and Section 7 of the Foreigners’ Act 1946.

The matter currently stands pending and the State Government is yet to reply to the court.

Significance: Both, the judgment as well as the action of the executive here are quite irregular. As has been stated by an advocate of the Calcutta High Court, “Ideally, a legal proceeding should come to a halt as soon as the subject matter of such proceeding is exhausted. In this case, the writ petition ought to have been disposed of as soon as deportation took place, as the fate of all concerned persons was decided.” On the executive’s part, the two migrants were kept in the Nari Niketan, instead of being tried under the Foreigners’ Act. Yet, the court never called this into question. The court’s order is also plagued with several factual inconsistencies, such as there being three and not two women from Bangladesh who had been arrested and placed in the Nari Niketan and that the women had been minors at the time of their arrest. Moreover, the foreigners in question were women who were victims of cross-border human trafficking. In 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between India and Bangladesh on bilateral cooperation on matters concerning the cross-border trafficking of women and children between India and Bangladesh. The MoU sets out the process for repatriation of victims of trafficking, and the language used suggests that trafficked women and children are not to be treated as illegal migrants, but as victims, and repatriated accordingly. The court fails to account for the fact that victims of trafficking are accorded treatment distinct from other categories of foreigners. The fact that the court reached its conclusion despite these inconsistencies shows that the women and their predicament were completely sidelined, and were rather used by the court to make a policy decision about detention centres, in a case instead concerning repatriation of victims of human trafficking.. 

The court’s concern here for human rights violation can be appreciated, especially in the context of the horrible conditions in the Assam Detention Camps. While the Central Government’s Model Detention Centre/Holding Centres/Camp Manual, 2019 lay down some standards for humane treatment of detainees, it has been criticised for being far too ambiguous, putting into question the court’s insistence on establishing these Detention Centres.

Resources:

  1. Neel Madhav How a Trafficked Woman’s Petition Is Being Used to Push for Detention of ‘Illegal Migrants’, The Wire, 3 September 2021.  
  2. Where hope fades and time stands still: Assam’s Detention Camps, Citizens for Justice and Peace, 13 November 2018.
  3. Vijaita Singh, Explained: Indian Home Ministry’s guidelines on migrant camps, The Hindu, 4 August 2019.
  4. Ruhi Tewari, Modi govt sets norms for ‘model’ detention camps to ensure dignity of ‘illegal foreigners’, The Print
  5. Deborah Grey, Ambiguous guidelines for ‘model’ detention camps raise questions, CJP, 28 November 2019.
  6. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Conditions of Foreign Prisoners, 2 July 2019.
  7. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Detention Centres in the Country, 24 July 2019.
  8. Sparsh Upadhyay, Deportation Of Illegal Migrants Is Of Paramount Importance, In National Interest: Patna High Court Directs Govt To Sensitize People Of Bihar, LiveLaw, 28 August 2021.

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Farhan Zia.

Suresh Raj v. State, Criminal O.P. No. 5875/2021

Read the judgement here.

Date of decision: 27.09.2021

Court: High Court of Madras

Judge: Justice M. Dhandapani

Summary: The High Court of Madras rejected the bail petitions of several foreigners who overstayed in or illegally entered India. It also issued several directions to the Ministry of Home Affairs and other authorities to curb and strictly regulate the presence of illegally staying foreign nationals in the country. 

Facts: The Court was hearing a batch of petitions filed by persons of different nationalities such as Srilankan, Nigerian, Chinese, Iranian and Bangladeshi, who had been either overstaying their visa period or had entered the country illegally. They had been arrested for committing various petty offences and subsequently filed bail/anticipatory bail applications before the Court. One of the Petitioners challenged the conditional bail granted by the lower court. The Petitioner argued that the condition to stay at the Trichy Special Refugees Camp was onerous.

Looking into the case of the Petitioners, the Court observed that such cases of illegally staying foreigners are not in isolation and sought data from the authorities on the entry, exit and status of all foreigners staying in and around Coimbatore and Tirupur Districts. The district authorities and DGP submitted status reports accordingly. Further, the FRRO was impleaded by the Court to obtain information that was unavailable with the district authorities. A comprehensive memo was filed by the Centre on behalf of the FRRO detailing the total number of foreign nationals who were overstaying their visa period. Given that the same is illegal, the Court directed the Central Government to file a report as to the mechanism available for identifying the foreign nationals, who are overstaying their visa period and the mechanism that has been devised/available to deport the said foreign nationals back to their country.

Holding: The Court undertook a review of the existing laws and guidelines detailing the procedure issued by the Central government for identification, monitoring and timely deportation of illegally staying and arrested foreign nationals. There are different guidelines for Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals, which involves communication from their respective countries’ consular office or High Commission and confirmation of nationality in all cases. In case of other arrested foreign nationals, they can be deported by the State authorities/FRRO after completion of their sentence and the procedure for the same has to be initiated 3 months prior to their release. Looking into the implementation of these guidelines, the Court observed that “the security of our motherland is being jeopardized due to the lethargic act of the Governmental machinery in not adhering to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs pertaining to deportation/repatriation of the foreign nationals, who stay put in the country without any valid permission/visa.” (paragraph 23). Thus, the Court considered such foreign nationals who illegally stay in India or who find illegal ways to extend their stay as a serious threat to India’s economic stability and security. Referring to the communications and data presented by different authorities, the Court observed that the exhaustive guidelines formed by the MHA for identification and deportation of illegal foreigners are not being followed, and the number of such foreigners has been increasing despite the presence of the guidelines. Consequently, the Court issued directions in this regard to curb the “menace” of illegal immigrants and foreign nationals illegally staying in India for long durations.

It directed inter alia (i) the MHA to frame appropriate laws within 3 months with regards to illegal immigrants who repeatedly commit petty offences in order to continue living in the country, (ii) the state government to set up detentions centres to hold illegal migrants when they are identified by the State law enforcement agency, (iii) the police authorities to establish a separate wing to monitor movement of all foreign nationals, record the entry and exit of all foreign nationals at various levels and spot, identify and deport overstaying foreign nationals, (iv) in case of foreigners who have committed serious offences, take necessary action to ascertain the nationality and complete the deportation formalities of foreign nationals as per MHA guidelines prior to their release so that they could be deported immediately without even moving them to detention centres, (v) the FRRO/ICP to communicate fortnightly, the entry of any foreign national within the State, along with details regarding their visa, passport and nationality and (vi) in case of foreign nationals/illegal immigrants who are serving prison sentence, the concerned authorities to take necessary steps for their deportation three months for prior to their release as per MHA guidelines. The Court adjourned the cases to 4th January 2022 for the authorities to report compliance.

Further, the Court rejected the bail petitions of all the Petitioners on the ground “of the very many grave nature of the allegations against the petitioners and also their status with regard to their stay within the Indian territory without valid permission being put in issue” (paragraph 31). In other words, the Court rejected the bail of the Petitioners on the ground that such foreign nationals posed a risk to the security of the country. With regards to the Petitioner who had challenged the conditional bail ordering him to stay at the Trichy Refugees Camp, the Court refused to interfere in the matter on the basis that MHA guidelines allow authorities to impose such conditions on foreign nationals to restrict and monitor their movement. 

Significance: The order joins a series of others in which directions have been issued on the deportation and detention of the accused or convicted or the overstaying and illegally entered foreign nationals (here, here and here). The directions issued by the Court in this case highlight various concerns regarding the procedure of deportation of foreigners in India. The Court reprimanded the state authorities for not ensuring timely deportation of foreigners and directed the same to be followed. The Court also suggested mandatory detention of foreigners before their deportation and directed authorities to set up more detention centres in this regard. However, there exists no centralised time-bound procedure assisting the states in ensuring that foreigners are timely repatriated. In the absence of proper regulations governing the conditions at detention centres and detention limits, the detainees could be left exposed to several human rights violations and exceedingly long detentions, which can take a form of “coercive confinement” and lack Constitutional protections. Further, the Court’s decision to not interfere with one of the Petitioner’s challenge to the bail condition to stay at the Trichy Refugees Camp shows how extremely wide and unrestrictive powers have been conferred on the executive under the Foreigners Act, 1946 to control and regulate the movement, stay and expulsion of foreigners in India.

The Petitioners were only accused of petty offences like preparing fake Aadhar cards, which the Court referred to as “grave allegations” and referred to such foreign nationals as “unscrupulous elements”. The Court’s observations are underlined with a sense of paranoia that perceives foreigners as security threats and potential criminals which is often used to justify harsher and punitive standards of legal frameworks to deal with foreigners. The Court presumed that all the Petitioners were security threats for the sole reason that they were foreigners, without looking into the merits of the bail applications or the conditions of the Petitioners. Increased patterns of crimmigration are being observed in judicial decisions as courts across India regularly deny bail and impose harsh fines on persons identified as illegal migrants. 

Table of Authorities:

  1. Model Detention Centre, Suo Motu Writ Petition No. 1 of 2019
  2. Prof. Bhim Singh v. Union of India & Ors., 2015 (13) SCC 605
  3. Babul Khan v. State of Karnataka, CRL.P. No. 6578/2019
  4. Bawalkhan Zelanikhan vs B.C. Shah

Resources:

  1. Aaratrika Bhaumik, ‘Unscrupulous Elements: Madras HC Directs MHA To Frame Laws Within 3 Months’, Live Law, 27 September, 2021 
  2. Palak Chaudhari and Madhurima Dhanuka, ‘Strangers to Justice,’ Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, 2019
  3. Arijit Sen and Leah Varghese, Weaponizing Citizenship in India, Border Criminologies Blog, 19 February 2020
  4. Sujata Ramchandran, The Contours of Crimmigration Control in India, Global Detention Project, 2019 
  5. Darshana Mitra, From Citizen to Criminal: Citizenship Determination in India and the Limits of Due Process, The Leaflet, 27 January 2021
  6. Aman and Roshni Shanker, Identity in Exile, The Hindu, 28 May 2018
  7. Abantee Dutta, Indefinitely Incarcerated: Assam and Its Non-Citizens, Studio Nilima, January 2020

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India.This note was prepared by Dewangi Sharma.

Asor Uddin v. Union of India, WP(C)/6544/2019

Read the judgment here.

Date of decision: 09.09.2021

Court: Gauhati High Court

Justices: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Choudhary

Summary: The Gauhati High Court set aside an ex-parte order by the Foreigners’ Tribunal which declared the petitioner a “foreigner” due to his repeated non-appearance before the tribunal. The court reasoned that there were sufficient reasons which made the petitioner unable to present himself before the tribunal. 

Facts: The petitioner was declared a foreigner by the Foreigner’s Tribunal under Section 2(a) of the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, via an ex-parte order. The petitioner was a poor person and had to travel to Kerala for livelihood. Due to this, he had difficulty readily gathering documents containing his father and grandfather’s names, communicating with his counsel, appearing before the tribunal and filing a written statement. 

Due to his repeated non-appearance and non-filing of written statement, the tribunal passed an ex-parte order, declaring him a foreigner who had entered India from Bangladesh after 25.03.1971. The petitioner approached the Gauhati High Court to set aside the ex-parte order on the grounds mentioned above. The counsel for the Foreigners’ Tribunal argued that in the absence of the procedee, the law allows passing an ex-parte order. Since the petitioner had failed to file a written statement despite several dates given by the tribunal, the order was valid and legal. 

Holding: The court set aside the ex-parte order and directed the petitioner to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunal for fresh proceedings. It was reasoned that “citizenship, being an important right of a person, ordinarily, should be decided on the basis of merit by considering the material evidences that may be adduced by the person concerned and not by way of default as happened in the present case.” [Para 7] 

The court deemed the reasons for the petitioner’s non-appearance sufficient to be considered by the Tribunal on merits. The court recused itself from deciding on the question of whether the petitioner is a foreigner or not, and instead remanded it to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration. The petitioner was also directed to be released on a bail bond of Rs. 5000/- and to submit costs worth Rs. 5000/- to the tribunal. 

Significance: The High Court setting aside the ex-parte order is appreciable, considering the history of the large number of ex-parte orders being pronounced by the Foreigners’ Tribunal. Such orders are common since in many cases, procedees do not receive notice, or discontinue attending the proceedings due to poverty and/or the complexity of the proceedings. In a previous case, a similar ex-parte order was passed by the tribunal where the proceedee’s child appeared before the tribunal without her knowledge, and then proceeded to remain absent for subsequent hearings. 

At the same time, however, the judgment problematizes the exact situations in which cases can be remanded back to the Foreigners’ Tribunal by the High Court. Unlike the above-mentioned case, the court has not found any fault by the tribunal in serving notice or hearing a representative without a thorough checking. The reasoning relied upon by the High Court was that the case is a matter of citizenship, which is the case with all the matters heard by the Foreigners’ Tribunal, and that the petitioners’ reasons for non-appearance seemed sufficient to the court. It remains unclear what is the exact parameter that a court can deem reasons “sufficient” to set aside such an ex-parte order and remand the case back to the tribunal. 

Resources

  1. Abhishek Saha, Explained: How do Foreigners’ Tribunals work?, Indian Express, 9 July 2019.
  2. Gau HC | [Assam NRC] Citizenship is one of the most important rights of a person which shall not be taken away by an ex-parte order; HC remands the matter to the Tribunal for reconsideration, The SCC Online Blog, 22 April 2021.
  3. Shrutika Pandey, Citizenship Is An Essential Right: Gauhati High Court Sets Aside Ex-Parte Order Declaring Man As Foreigner, LiveLaw, 13 September 2021.
  4. Challenging Ex Parte Orders on the Ground of Improper Service of Notice, Parichay – The Blog, 11 February 2021. 
  5. Aman Wadud, Judiciary must re-examine how it has viewed citizenship question in Assam, Indian Express, 24 September 2021. 

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India.This note was prepared by Farhan Zia.

Kabir Uddin v. Union of India, WP(C)/7901/2019

Read the judgment here

Date: 02.09.2021

Court: The Gauhati High Court

Justices: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia

Summary: The Petitioner had been declared a foreigner through an ex parte order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The Gauhati High Court set aside the Tribunal’s order due to the improper procedure followed and remanded the matter to the Foreigner’s Tribunal for fresh consideration.

Facts: The Petitioner had shifted from his village many years ago in search of work and had not been in the State. When his name did not appear in the National Register for Citizens, he came to know from the NRC Seva Kendra in Doboka (Hojai District) that the Foreigners’ Tribunal had declared him a foreigner. He had not been served any notice and the process server had pasted the notice in a public place in the village where it was seen by the Gaonburah and others, none of whom had knowledge of the Petitioner.

Holding: The Court held that Order 3(5) of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 does not permit simply pasting notices in public places as a method of serving notice. While the procedure was unclear on what must be done when a proceedee was not found in the house or village, the Court held that the server ought to submit a report in accordance with Order 3(5)(f) and the Tribunal ought to take necessary steps in accordance with Order 3(5)(j). It was held that the notice could not be deemed to have been served and the ex parte proceeding could not continue. The Tribunal’s order was set aside and the Petitioner was directed to appear before the Tribunal for a fresh hearing of the matter. However, since the nationality of the Petitioner was still uncertain, the Court directed that he would remain on bail upon furnishing a bail bond for Rs. 5,000 with one local surety of the like amount, following the Court’s previous decision. The Court also noted that the Petitioner’s failure to appear before the Tribunal would result in the High Court order being vacated and the revival of the Tribunal order, with the Petitioner being liable for detention and deportation.

Significance: This decision indicates that in the instance that a proceedee’s whereabouts are unknown and their residence is not traceable, the server must report the same to the Tribunal and the onus falls on the Tribunal to take the further steps necessary and that simply pasting notices in public places would not amount to serving notice to the person. In so far as the bail conditions are concerned, the requirement for a local surety within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal in question seems especially problematic in such situations where no one in the village knew the Petitioner and vice versa. Moreover, when the Court speaks about the possibility of the Petitioner’s non-appearance and directs that the High Court order will stand vacated, it is not clear whether the holding regarding pasting of notices in public areas will also stand vacated or not.

Resources:

  1. Parichay Team, Challenging Ex Parte Orders – Special Circumstances, Parichay Blog, 2 November 2020.
  2. Aman Wadud, Judiciary must re-examine how it has viewed citizenship question in Assam, Indian Express, 23 September 2021.

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Aayushmaan Thakur. 

Smt. Sefali Rani Das v. Union of India, WP(C)/206/2018

Read the judgement here

Date of the decision: 20.07.2021

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia

Summary: The petitioner was declared as a foreigner by an ex parte order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The Gauhati High Court remanded the matter to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration on the ground that citizenship should be decided on merit, and not by default.  

Facts: The petitioner had appeared before the Foreigners Tribunal 6th, Silchar, after notice was served, filing her written statement along with certain documents. However, she did not get proper legal advice and later failed to appear before the Tribunal on several occasions. As a result, the Tribunal passed an ex parte order against her on 19.9.2017, declaring her a foreigner. Accordingly, the present writ petition was filed, the petitioner pleading that she be permitted to approach the Tribunal again to prove her case as an Indian citizen. 

Holding: The petitioner argued that there was no wilful negligence or disregard on her part about the proceeding as she had duly appeared and filed her written statement. The Gauhati High Court granted the relief, remanding the matter to the Foreigners’ Tribunal for reconsideration. The Court, in its order, stated that “citizenship being a very important right of a person should ordinarily be decided on merit rather than by way of default as has happened in the present case” (paragraph 5).

Significance: The case deals with an ex parte order depriving an individual of their citizenship. It is significant because it reaffirms the importance of citizenship as a right, and that it cannot be taken away without proper consideration of its merits. While the Gauhati HC has also stated in previous orders that citizenship cases should not be determined on an ex parte basis, these orders are decided on a case-to-case basis, and it is unclear whether they indicate a general prohibition on ex parte orders. 

More than 60% of cases are decided ex-parte by Foreigners’ Tribunals. A large number of these orders are because the persons do not receive notices, or stop attending the proceedings midway through. Ex parte orders often affect vulnerable and marginalised persons such as wage labourers, who cannot appear before the Tribunals either due to lack of sound legal advice or because they stand to lose a day’s wage. While Foreigners’ Tribunals have the power to summon and enforce attendance of persons, there currently exists no mechanism to ensure that persons are able to attend hearings, which points to larger structural issues in the functioning of the Tribunals. Although laws like the Legal Services Authorities Act provide free legal aid for marginalised and disadvantaged persons, experiences show that such laws are ineffective in practice, making it difficult for the poor and marginalised to access legal aid.  

Table of Authorities:

Rahima Khatun v. Union of India WP(C)/8284/2019.   

Resources: 

Nupur Thapliyal,Gauhati HC Sets Aside Ex Parte Order Declaring Woman As Foreigner, LiveLaw, 29 July 2021.

Sabrang India, Citizenship Should Ordinarily be Decided on Merit Rather Than by Default: Gauhati HC, Newsclick, 30 July 2021.

Challenging Ex Parte Orders on the Ground of Non-Availability of Legal Aid, Parichay Blog, 9 November 2020.

The Search for Foreigners in Assam – An Analysis of Cases Before a Foreigners’ Tribunal and the High Court, Parichay Blog, 23 June 2021.


This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India.This note was prepared by Radhika Dharnia.

Akhlima @Aklima Begum v. Union of India, I.A.(Civil)/1335/2021

Read the judgment here

Date of decision: 03.09.21 

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice N. Kotiswar Singh and Justice Soumitra Saikia 

Summary: The Petitioner, a declared foreigner, was granted bail by the Gauhati High Court in a previous order. In response to the risk posed by overcrowded jails in the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Court extended the bail until the disposal of the writ petition which challenged the Foreigners’ Tribunal’s order.

Facts: The Petitioner, Akhlima @Aklima Begum was declared as a “foreigner” in an order passed  by the Foreigners’ Tribunal on 24.06.20. Pursuant to this order, the Petitioner was in detention. The Petitioner filed a writ petition challenging the impugned order. In the meanwhile, the Petitioner filed an interlocutory application seeking an extension of the three-month bail granted by the Gauhati High Court vide order dated 02.06.21. The bail was granted on the sole ground that decongestion of jails and detention centres is a must during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holding: The Petitioner requested for the bail to be extended for a further period of time or till the disposal of the case in view of the overcrowded jail conditions that posed a health risk in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gauhati High Court granted the relief, stating that “considering that the present COVID-19 pandemic situation and also since the Tribunal records have also been requisitioned and the matter can be heard on a short date, the applicant can be allowed to remain on bail till disposal of the writ petition” (paragraph 7). 

Significance: This decision indicates that detenues may be released on bail on the ground of COVID-19 for a limited period of time, and the same may be extended as long as the pandemic persists. In a move forward from the previous decisions of this court in Gauhati High Court v. Union of India and Samsul Hoque v. Union of India, the bail in the instant case was granted irrespective of the number of years served in detention. This is a positive development. Similarly, the court must not insist on the two year detention period before granting bail in a case where a person’s status as a “declared foreigner” is upheld by the High Court. This would be coherent with the ground for the bail, i.e. COVID-19 which applies to all detenues and is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. 

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Arushi Gupta and Dewangi Sharma.

Samsul Hoque v. Union of India, WP(C)/6056/2019

Read the judgment here

Date of the decision: 10.05.21

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak 

Summary: In response to the second wave, the Gauhati High Court modified its previous order and directed the authorities to release ‘foreigner’ detenues who have completed two years of detention on a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety instead of two. 

Facts: The Petitioner, a person declared as a ‘foreigner’ by the Foreigners’ Tribunal had been in detention since 2019 for a period of two years. The Petitioner had filed a writ petition against the order. In the meanwhile, the Petitioner filed for bail as he was completing two years in detention. This bail was filed in consideration of the law laid down by the Supreme Court of India, which had been followed by the Gauhati High Court, which stated that a detenu was liable to be released after completing two years in detention on his furnishing personal bond of Rs.5,000/- and like amount of two sureties.

Holding: The Court held that given the exceptional circumstances of the second wave, a detenu is to be released after completing two years in detention on the fulfilment of certain conditions, like a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety. It modified its earlier order, passed during the first wave as per the Supreme Court order, directing a detenu to be released with two sureties of Rs.5000. 

Significance: This decision indicates that detenues who have completed two years in detention must be released on bail after furnishing a personal bond of Rs.5000 with a like amount of one surety. A reduction from two sureties to one surety is a positive development considering that the process of citizenship disproportionately excludes the poor and the marginalised who may not have the means to provide a surety. However, the order, like the original, falters as it bases the release on the amount of time served even though the same lacks nexus with the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Further, the release is subject to other onerous conditions, like reporting weekly to the nearest police station with a border branch. This is a cumbersome condition since it has to be complied with irrespective of a lockdown or the distance between a person’s place of residence and the station. In fact, Two Circles reported that making these weekly visits imposes a financial and emotional burden on the former detainees. This is exacerbated as most of these former detainees are daily labourers, making these weekly visits a financial burden as work is difficult to find, especially when migration to another state to work to earn money is not possible. 

Table of Authorities:

  1. In Re: Contagion of Covid 19 Virus In Prisons, Writ Petition (C) (Suo Moto) No.1/2020
  2. Gauhati High Court v. Union of India & Ors., Writ Petition (C) (Suo Moto) No.1/2020

This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Arushi Gupta and Eeshan Sonak.

CAA Revisited: A Conversation on Citizenship, Refugee Protection and Migration along India’s Western Borders

On the 27th of August, Parichay organized a panel discussion on the May 2021 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which significantly relaxes the citizenship process for minority communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The panel focused on migration across India’s Western border and the making of the identities of the refugee and citizen, exploring the legal and social journeys of recognition and assimilation, the structural impediments in the legal regime and the possibility of an alternative system. The speakers were Dr. Farhana Ibrahim, Prof. Natasha Raheja and Ms. Darshana Mitra and the panel was moderated by Prof. Mohsin Alam Bhat.

The themes that emerged out of the panel are as follows:

The need to historicize citizenship and migration along the Western border

Dr. Farhana Ibrahim pointed out that there have been several MHA executive orders that have relaxed immigration and long-term visa requirements for Pakistani Hindus and other religious minorities from Pakistan like the 2003 amendment. These changes have happened continuously after 1947. Prof. Natasha Raheja spoke about her research in Rajasthan, and how people have shared histories and connections, and their mobility predates the existence of borders. Speaking about her research in Rajasthan, she pointed out, “our assumptions about people making these journeys are fixed within the logic of the contemporary India- Pakistan border. Until the more recent border fencing in Rajasthan and Sindh in Punjab in the 1990s, there wasn’t the same sense of partition the way we understood it in other parts of South Asia.” The research conducted by the panelists also revealed other reasons why people choose to migrate. Prof. Raheja indicated that in addition to experiences of religious persecution, caste also played a role in the decision to migrate.  Dr. Ibrahim gave the example of migration by the Sodha community to India from the Tharparkar region in Pakistan after 1971, as they were the only remaining upper caste community in Pakistan and endogamous marriage alliances were increasingly difficult.

Legal inclusion and social inclusion

The speakers also spoke about processes of legal inclusion and social inclusion. They emphasized that even when a statute guarantees visas and subsequently citizenship to a category of refugees, the process itself still takes a very long time. Applicants must undergo immigration inquiries and interviews that can be difficult and humiliating. Within these spaces, the position of lower caste applicants is especially precarious. This painful process of interacting with the citizenship regime is what Prof. Raheja calls a selective welcome. She highlights that, “on one hand, there is a welcoming of Hindu migrants from Pakistan but the reality on the ground is that they undergo the undignifying experience of documentation. Some of the statements that I hear from people is that “In Pakistan we may die because of religion but here we die by paperwork.” 

She highlights how Hindu migrants spoke of the “undignifying experience of documentation.” 

Dr. Ibrahim mentioned that legal inclusion is not always followed by social inclusion. She noted that migrants struggle to be accepted into the Hindu community, even if they had caste privilege, and had to struggle for resources and livelihood. Also, they were still identified socially as “pakistan-wallahs”, keeping intact the stigma of migration and forcing them to establish their Hinduness for acceptance. One can only imagine how much more difficult social assimilation is for people belonging to marginalized communities. 

Darshana Mitra then proceeded to emphasize on the existing legal regime for citizenship applicants and discussed possible alternatives and suggestions that could be borrowed from other jurisdictions. 

Legal impediments to citizenship seekers

Darshana Mitra spoke of how Indian law does not recognize or grant refugees a separate legal status, and most refugees fall into the category of illegal migrants under the Citizenship Act 1955. This becomes a significant barrier as illegal migrants are prevented from applying for citizenship and renders them vulnerable to prosecution for immigration offences under the Passports Entry into India Act or the Foreigners Act. This ‘illegal migrant’ tag does not allow people to avail various government schemes, send their kids to school or even avail proper housing. 

Once they have fallen into the criminal justice system as a criminal or an accused, the pathway to citizenship is effectively closed for them because and then if they are convicted under any of these legislations then the state’s response after conviction is detention and deportation. Granting citizenship to a person who has been convicted under an immigration offense is not an option that is exercised by the state.

The state’s response has been the selective easing of processes for certain communities. The May 2021 order is an example of a significantly truncated process for citizenship registration and naturalization procedure for minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The order creates a single tier process for registration and naturalization current process, which non-Muslim minorities can avail, while Muslim applicants must go through the existing three-tier process. This means that at the very point of entry, Muslim claims of persecution are rejected, and their pathways to citizenship made significantly harder. A proposed alternative was the rigorous scrutiny of all refugee claims, but after a refugee is admitted, they have the same pathway to citizenship as everyone else, determined by a case-by-case assessment. This would be similar to the system of refugee status determination and subsequent pathways to citizenship implemented in the United States. 

The discussion ended with questions on the way forward, and a consensus that the current legal regime, even with amendments and orders that presumably help migrants and refugees obtain citizenship, is discriminatory and arbitrary, and that there is a need to reimagine a legal system that recognizes why and how migrations take place along India’s borders, and one that can adequately respond to people’s lived realities.

Further references:

  1. Farhana Ibrahim, “Re-Making a Region: Ritual Inversions and Border Transgressions in Kutch” 34.3 Journal of South Asian Studies 439 (2011) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00856401.2011.620555
  1. Farhana Ibrahim, “Cross-Border Intimacies: Marriage, migration, and citizenship in western India” 52.5 Modern Asian Studies 1664 (2018) https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/modern-asian-studies/article/crossborder-intimacies-marriage-migration-and-citizenship-in-western-india/72B0E16730FD62F0A18768FF8D919727
  1. Farhana Ibrahim, “Defining a Border: Harijan Migrants and the State in Kachchh” 40.16 Economic and Political Weekly 1623 (2005) https://www.jstor.org/stable/4416504?casa_token=6xdhQ_jmPgcAAAAA%3ABlqAjrS7BTDaCMTwOeLVBTGTUrFL8tpM1eaNaIV71MnBGn-4LpOR_M9zD7Fsxz9P341Yxim_MlcNovOo0c51hxiGuy0sobNv9OKXhmYy7Vv8ZdoF6A&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  1. Natasha Raheja, “Neither Here nor There: Pakistani Hindu Refugee Claims at the Interface of the International and South Asian Refugee Regimes” 31.3 Journal of Refugee Studies 334 (2018) https://academic.oup.com/jrs/article-abstract/31/3/334/4922733
  1. You can find Parichay’s note on the May 28, 2021 order here.

Mangla Das v. Union of India, Review.Pet./73/2021

Read the judgment here.

Date of the decision: 04.09.21

Court: Gauhati High Court

Judges: Justice Achintya Malla Bujor Barua and Justice Prasanta Kumar Deka 

Summary: The Gauhati High Court granted the Petitioner, a person declared as a “foreigner”, the liberty to seek citizenship under the Gazette notification of 2015 on the ground that he was a persecuted minority as he belonged to the Hindu faith and migrated from Bangladesh. 

Facts: The Petitioner filed a review petition before the Gauhati High Court to request for the review of an order in which the High Court had dismissed a writ petition challenging an order of the Foreigners’ Tribunal declaring the Petitioner to be a foreigner. The High Court had dismissed the writ petition on the ground that the Petitioner failed to establish his lineage with his claimed father and thus there was no error apparent in the Foreigner Tribunal’s order. Subsequently, the Petitioner approached the Supreme Court, asking it to grant relief to file a review petition before the Gauhati High Court. The Petitioner argued that there existed two documents that were relevant to the issue but could not be produced before the High Court in spite of due diligence. The first document was a 2015 Gazette Notification issued by the Government of India under Section 3 of the Foreigners Act and the second was the draft NRC in which the name of the petitioner appeared. The Supreme Court did not interfere with the judgment of the Gauhati High Court but gave the liberty to the Petitioner to institute a review petition before the same. Accordingly, this review petition was filed. 

Holding: The Petitioner argued that he had a right to be granted Indian citizenship under the Gazette Notification passed in 2015. The notification dated 07.09.15. stated that the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 would not apply to the minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who “were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” and entered into India on or before 31st December 2014 without valid documents or with expired documents. Based on this, the Petitioner argued that “there exists a right in favour of the petitioner to be granted Indian Citizenship on the ground that the petitioner belongs to the Hindu religious faith and was required to leave his original Country of Bangladesh because of fear of religious persecution” (paragraph 5). The High Court granted liberty to the petitioner to approach the appropriate authority to file an application raising the plea that he is entitled the grant of Indian Citizenship. It also granted interim protection of two months’ time to the petitioner to file such application, and directed that the authority shall pass a reasoned order without being influenced by the conclusions and findings arrived at by the HC in its previous decision dismissing the writ petition. 

Significance: The case deals with a declared foreigner approaching the Gauhati High Court on a review petition seeking to apply for citizenship. It is significant because this is the first instance we know of where a person who is a declared foreigner by the Foreigners Tribunal is seeking to apply for citizenship because of religious persecution. While the order does not refer to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, it is only under the CAA, 2019 that persons covered under the 2015 Gazette Notification are exempted from the definition of “illegal migrant” and hence eligible to apply for citizenship. This indicates that the CAA 2019 is operational and can be invoked as a path back into citizenship by non-Muslim declared foreigners in Assam. 

Refer to a more detailed note on the CAA 2019 and its continuing implementation here.


This case note is part of Parichay’s ongoing project to study, track, and publish key propositions and latest developments in citizenship law and adjudication in India. This note was prepared by Arushi Gupta and Eeshan Sonak.