On Saturday, the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) submitted a memorandum to the Chief Secretary of Assam asking for the removal of a photograph of a Muslim family featured on the website of the Assam government’s Home Political Department, on a page about ‘Foreigners’ Tribunals’.
“It is a symbolic portrayal of Indian citizens as foreigners,” the prominent student organisation from the Muslim community in the state alleged.
The photograph was taken by photographer and journalist Abdul Maleque Ahmed during the riots between Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims in Assam in 2012.
“As scores of people fled from burning villages on one side to safe ground across the bridge, Ahmed had clicked a photo of a group of displaced men, women and toddlers, bag and baggage in hand. The photograph ran in the front page of the Assamese daily he worked for,” reports Indian Express.
While speaking to IE, Ibrahim Ali, 39, whose mother and siblings were in the photo, said it was a shock to see his family portrayed as foreigners. “We had managed to flee just before our houses were burned,” said Ibrahim who could return home only after nine months spent in a relief camp.
He went on to say: “If people go to the website and see the photo.. isn’t that what they will think (that we are foreigners)? But all our papers are in order, our names in the NRC too.”
The Foreigners’ Tribunals, quasi-judicial courts that decide the citizenship of people, are now the last recourse for the 19 lakh excluded from the contentious National Register of Citizens.
In the memorandum to the Chief Secretary of Assam, AAMSU wrote: “A picture of a family residing in Village-Bhawanipur under Bijni Revenue Circle of Chirang district has been portrayed as foreigners in the official website of the home and political department… Such portrayal of genuine Indian citizens as foreigners by the government of Assam is outrageous, unconstitutional, illegal and undermines the sanctity of the department.”
“When people see daari, topi, lungi (beard, cap, sarong), they immediately think Bangladesh. They do not bother to fact check, to investigate if they are actually foreigners,” Indian Express quoted AAMSU president Rejaul Karim Sarkar as saying.
“I found some of the people from the photo in a relief camp a few days later… they were in a bad way. Many newspapers used that photo… I felt everyone should empathise with the pain these people had gone through,” the photographer Ahmed told Indian Express.
He continued: “I had taken it to help the people concerned. The irony is that now the photo is synonymous with being foreigners.”
The photograph is yet to be taken down from the government website.
While speaking to IE, Niraj Verma, Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam, said he needed to “check the photograph” before he commented.