Tuesday, December 1, 2020

New NRC: ‘How many times do we prove citizenship?’

GUWAHATI, NOVEMBER 29: On August 6, as he was returning from a National Register of Citizens (NRC) hearing, Hanif Ali, a farmer, had an accident and died. Ali and 14 other members of his family, including an infant, had been given a day to appear for the hearing, held at a centre 450 km from their Achalpara village in central Assam.
When the final NRC list came out on August 31, the family took solace in the fact that all of them were in it.
However, last week, the state Government said it was considering a fresh NRC. The ruling BJP has been raising questions over the NRC list that came out on August 31, particularly the exclusion of a large number of Hindus from it.
His despair evident, Ali’s 25-year-old nephew Monirul Islam, who runs a grocery store in Achalpara, says, “I was in the vehicle with my uncle. People like us put in our everything to participate in the NRC process and its multiple steps… How many times do we have to prove our Indian citizenship? Isn’t it better you kill us all rather than this non-stop harassment?”
A science teacher at Majortop Government High Secondary School near Achalpara, 37-year-old Samsul Hoque was a witness to the NRC process from both sides. Hoque worked as a Field Level Officer with the NRC authorities, and later struggled to get 1 of his 5 sisters, Abida Sidiqa (34), included in the list. Around 30 members of his extended family attended hearings during the “claims and objection” round in Rangia and Amingaon, around 100 km and 60 km away respectively, while another 7 had hearings in Golaghat, 350 km away.
If the NRC is done again, Hoque says, there will be “heart attacks”. Talking about the stress on the illiterate and poor, he says, “Apart from the financial burden, there is the matter of prestige. We are genuine Indians, and yet, again and again, we are asked to prove our citizenship.”
With no word yet on what happens to the people who are not in the NRC, the family is simultaneously preparing for Sidiqa’s appeal at a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT). However, official ‘rejection orders’ required to go to an FT are yet to be released by the NRC authorities. “Our lawyer charges Rs 1,000 for official certified copy of a document, say the Voters’ List of 1966. Our community leaders have told us to keep ready certified copies of all relevant documents,” Hoque says.
Amrit Lal Das of Bongaigaon town in lower Assam, who is also preparing for a long fight to get his and his 4 brothers’ names in the NRC, questions the futility of the earlier NRC exercise, that had stretched over years. “If another NRC is done in Assam with people submitting the same document to the same officials, it will mean wastage of around Rs 1,600 crore of public money. Also, this would mean disregard for the tribulations of those who participated in it. Many took loans, sold jewellery and lost working days to attend hearings.”
Das, who is associated with an organisation representing Bengali Hindus, says the errors due to which genuine citizens were excluded in the NRC should be addressed.
Guwahati-based Advocate Aman Wadud, who has been fighting cases of the excluded, points out that the previous NRC had been a court-monitored process. “I know of many cases in which the NRC process caused immense pain to poor, illiterate people. Implementing it in Assam all over again is an outrageous idea. The Supreme Court monitored the NRC process, the BJP Government executed it on the ground. Then how can the state Government request the Centre that the NRC be rejected?”
On the other end are people like Manoj Das, 40, a businessman dealing in automobile parts in Assam’s Hojai town. His 70-year-old mother, Kamala Das, is not in the NRC. “Many of our people (Bengali Hindus) were wrongfully excluded. Even if we have to go through the NRC process again, we must do it without complaining because only then can genuine citizens like my mother be included,” he says.
The Bengali Hindus (who are a large support base for the BJP in Assam) are also counting on the Centre getting the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill passed in Parliament before the new NRC. The Bill makes citizenship easier for refugees from other countries fleeing religious persecution (barring Muslims).
Mintulal Namashudra (48), of Udharbond near Silchar in Assam’s Bengali-majority Barak Valley region, hopes this Bill will help his wife and him get included in the NRC ~ provided they can prove “religious persecution”. Amrit Lal Das of Bongaigaon points to the incongruity of people who had been seeking to be included in the NRC opting for CAB. “How can genuine citizens be treated as ‘refugees’?” he wonders.(Courtesy: IE)