Rehena Islam of Lekhapani under Margherita sub-division of Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district is “at a loss” these days. Totally “distraught and shattered”, she is “running from pillar to post” for almost a year now after the cops served her a notice of foreigner’s tribunal that she has been declared as a foreigner.
Rehena, who is a Khilongiya Musalmaan, which means she is an indigenous Assamese Muslim, has been living a “wretched life” ever since she got the notice from the foreigner’s tribunal.
A Times of India report quoted Rehena as saying, “The notice mentioned the name as Rehena Begum. But, I am Rehena Islam. How can Rehena Islam and Rehena Begum be the same? But, still the cops came knocking on my door insisting that I am the woman that has been declared foreigner.”
The report further quoted Rehena as saying, “I am a Khilongiya Musalmaan. How can I be a foreigner? Since last year I have been spending a very difficult time, exploring legal options to prove that I am not the person who has been declared as foreigner. The fact is I am made to suffer for no fault of mine.”
Rehena assists her husband Abdul Salim in his business at Lekhapani. A woebegone Rehena said that the tribunal declared Rehena Begum as a foreigner in 2005, but she got the notice in Rehena Begum’s name on September 7, 2017. And since then, she is going through “harrowing times”.
In the 2010 voters’ list, Rehena Islam’s serial number is 302, while Rehena Begum who has been marked ‘D’ voter, in that list, has the serial number 304.
“My name in the voter’s list is free from the D voter tag, whereas Rehena Begum is a ‘D’ voter. This shows that we two are completely different persons. My date of birth in my school certificate of North Lakhimpur where I was born is November 1, 1970. The question of being a foreigner does not arise at all,” she lamented.
Rehena’s point is that if a person like her who comes from a respectable and well-heeled family, has to move heaven and earth to prove her citizenship and suffer in the name of foreigner, then she wondered what might be the plight of the marginalised sector, which form the majority in ‘D’ voters and declared foreigners’ list.
She said that her honour in society was “at stake” for being declared a foreigner.
The mother of three broke down by saying, “Coming from a well-to-do family, I have a reputation in the family. But, now this foreigner tag has ruined me and people are looking at me with different eyes though I am still a Khilongiya. I am already broken down but my husband gives me hope that things will get cleared soon.”
Rehena’s is not the only case. As Assam counts its citizens, there are thousands of others like her who affirm that they are the indigenous people of Assam, but, still, they have been marked as ‘D’ voters.