Fallen Citizens

Maskwaith Ahsan
Art & Literature, Story
Fallen Citizens

Dulal Paul’s dead body lies in Guwahati hospital morgue, like an envelope without an address. His son refuses to receive him and cries out, “He’s been declared a foreigner, so send his body to Bangladesh.”

The son has a piece of paper that proves his father bought some land in 1965 in Guwahati. But the Foreigners’ Tribunal was not convinced that Paul is a citizen of India. He was arrested two years back. Since then he had been in a detention camp in Assam.

Paul cried for nights, “Oh God, I didn’t ask for wealth, I didn’t ask for anything. I was content with my life making clay pots all day long. Poverty didn’t bother me as I had happiness. Why would you suddenly snatch that away from me?”

The guard on duty used to feel bad for Paul and would try to appease him, “Ever since I have been posted at this detention center, I seem to lose my head little by little every day seeing the misery of you all. But I can’t do anything. These big decisions are taken in Delhi.”

Paul would ask, “I heard Delhi wants a Hindu state. I am a Hindu. Then why would they declare me a ‘foreigner’?”

“I know a man who dressed as Hanuman and danced during the election rally of Hindu-Bharat. Even he’s been declared a foreigner. His whole-hearted support for a Hindu state couldn’t save him,” consoled the guard.

Paul whispered, “That’s why I didn’t vote in any of the elections. The state doesn’t care for us. We are insignificant like ants. See how they treated me; disowned me on a whim.”

“Could be that in case of Assam, the policy is against Bengalis. I have heard they would do such things in West Bengal. Bengalis are rebels by nature, so Hindu or Muslim the Raj didn’t like them,” mused the guard.

A man dressed as Hanuman entered the detention center, jumped up and down trying to entertain country-less people like Paul, all the while murmuring softly,

“Never listen to a person who divides you and then rules you.
First they came to catch a Maoist.
I was quiet because I was not a Maoist.
Then they came to catch a Muslim.
I remained silent as I was not a Muslim.
Then they came to catch a Hindu.
I shouted but there was no one left to protest with me.”

The guard saw how panic crept in. Detainees started drawing maps on the floor, placing pebbles in them. Hanuman mimicked the Foreigners’ Tribunal. With a pebble in hand, Paul pleaded his case, “This pebble bought a piece of land more than five decades ago. Doesn’t he deserve to be a citizen of India!”

“No”, declared Hanuman, “because the pebble didn’t vote, didn’t respect democracy.”

Paul screamed, “All I did my whole life was make and sell clay pots. What has democracy got to do with me! You should see now that I did the right thing. Kingly affairs never recognized me as a human entity. To them I was always an alien. I think there is no God, there is only Prime Minister. He decides whether we live or die, so I must die.”

When his brain couldn’t take the fervor anymore, Paul fainted. Memories of Guwahati, memories valueless to state-owners were the last thing on his mind. He was rushed to the hospital.

The guard couldn’t take the hauntings anymore, could no longer carry the weight of memories and the pain of the country-less. He killed himself. He didn’t want to be part of an ethnic cleansing, “If citizens can be declared foreigners at the whims of rulers whom then is the country for.”

Unconscious on the hospital bed, Paul saw the guard sitting by his bedside, “Let’s go to a place where there is no National Registry of Citizens, no Foreigners’ Tribunal, no detention center, and no Prime Minister.”

Maskwaith Ahsan. Maskwaith Ahsan is an international journalist, educator and the author of over 14 books. His columns appear in several Bengali newspapers, magazines and websites across the globe. He also hosts his web TV show E-SouthAsia. With socio-political satire...

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