It was relief and joy in Ashgar Ali’s two-room household in central Kolkata’s Park Circus as he was released from the Goalpara detention centre in Assam on Tuesday evening following a recent Supreme Court order to reduce the duration of detention of those held as foreigners in the light of the COVID-19 outbreak. The SC order was passed to prevent overcrowding of the detention centres. Mr. Ali’s family thanked the Supreme Court for the order.
Confusion over spelling
The Kolkata-born carpenter (51) was held on July 14, 2017, in Guwahati following a confusion in the spelling of his father’s name. His younger brother Arshad Ali earlier told The Hindu that their father’s name Sk. Moral was changed to Md. Jarif as it is ‘unusual’ to have a surname ‘Morol’ (village head in Bengali) as he was never a village chief. While Mr. Jarif filed an affidavit in a Judicial Magistrate court in Kolkata in 2015 arguing that he is a Kolkata-born Indian national, his son was detained in Guwahati.
“But following the Supreme Court’s order, we felt that he could be released as he was in prison for no reason,” said Zeeshan Ali, nephew of Mr. Ali, who coordinated with the lawyers.
The SC is in furtherance to an order in May last when it directed all detainees who completed three years in detention centres be released. In last Monday’s order, the Court said in “regard to the present circumstances prevailing in the country” and considering that permission has already been given to release prisoners who completed three years in detention centres “we see no reason why the period should not be reduced from three years to two years”. Mr. Ali was released with a bond of ₹5,000 and two sureties.
The government could not finally identify Mr. Ali’s country of origin or deport him and hence the release, said observers.
“Asgar Ali’s declaration as illegal foreigner underscores the loopholes in the NRC process,” says Mohammad Reyaz, assistant professor at Kolkata’s Aliah University, who followed the case. The Court’s order will help many to “come out of detention,” he said. “However, the rationale of keeping someone in jail and then releasing him after a few years as he cannot be sent to any country as he is an Indian citizen is in contravention of basic human rights.” Mr. Ali is asked to visit a police station to be intimated of the follow-up legal process, post lockdown.