Guwahati: Fields spread across rural and semi-rural pockets of Goroimari and Pub Malaibari in the two Kamrup districts of Assam, nestled within the fertile plains of the Brahmaputra Valley, are glistening with the green velvety sheen of winter paddy – but an ominous air looms over them.
In the last seven months, many who tend to these fields have been caught between the uncertainty of first being labelled as ‘Indians’, and then that label being taken away.
The uncertainty, brought upon by their exclusion from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30, refuses to dissipate. Though Eid-ul-Adha was celebrated a few days ago in these Muslim-majority areas, residents said the confusion over the exclusion of some names from the final draft NRC, even though they were in the first draft, somewhat dampened the annual celebrations.
The villagers were referring to over 1,15,000 names that were included in the first draft of the NRC, published on December 31, 2017, but were left out of the final draft. The Supreme Court on July 2 approved a proposal submitted by NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela, which said that these 1.15 lakh people ‘have not been found admissible for inclusion’ in the final draft during the verification process. A breakdown of this 1.15 lakh figure, given by the NRC state office, said that 65,694 names were removed because of a mismatch in the family tree, and 48,456 because they were married women who submitted only panchayat certificates to prove their link to their parental families.
Among those 1.15 lakh people is Sydur Rahman, 44, from Bhalukabari in the Goroimari Circle, around 60 km from Guwahati. Rahman didn’t find his name in the final draft, along with five other members of his family. Though his wife’s name was not in the first draft, he and three other family members’ names were. Now, seven months later, his entire six-member family has been left out of the final draft.
These 1.15 lakh people were to fill a form to seek the ‘Reason for exclusion of names in final draft NRC’. The form was to be given out from August 7, which changed to August 10. Finally, the forms were given out from August 20.
About ten days ago, Rahman, a former panchayat member and a block research person of a local self-help group, filled that form at the local NRC Seva Kendra (NSK). The reason cited in his family’s case was: ‘Documents and Particulars (Linkage) have not been found to be acceptable’.
“I had submitted birth certificates and the state board certificate of my son to establish family linkage. We don’t have any more documents to submit on his behalf. I have been trying to meet NRC officials at the local NSK to know what else should I do. This has been some sort of a comedy of ironies. In the first draft I was Indian, now I am not. I have a shop and a small business to run. It is quite difficult to manage everything and at the same time run around to prove my family’s citizenship. But more than anybody else, I am worried about my son. He has a future and wants to study further. For my wife, I had even submitted her marriage certificate. This uncertainty is disturbing me, it is always at the back of my mind when I offer my prayers,” said Rahman.
A similar case is of fellow villager Abdul Mazid. The 50-year-old head of a family of eight, with five sons and one daughter, had a tough time trying to figure out what was really happening in their case. In the first draft, the names of his children were there, but not his wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. In the final draft, none of his children were listed.
The reason cited in their case in reply to the form was: ‘Descendants of foreigner declared’. He, however, told this correspondent that there was “no case of a suspected foreigner” in his family. What added further to his confusion was that the names of his wife and daughter-in-law were included in the final draft, even though they were not there in the first draft.
“There is no case of ‘foreigner’ or doubtful voter against me or anyone in my family. What am I supposed to do now? I am completely perplexed. I have given my legacy data from 1971 before the date of March 24 and also the land documents. I am a farmer and I have to till my land. I have to worry about feeding my family, and now I have to run from pillar to post to resolve this citizenship issue. Sometimes I wonder whether there will be a solution to this at all,” said Mazid.
Then there is Mubarak, the head of a seven-member family from the same family. On July 30, he found out that even though only his wife’s and the eldest son’s names were missing from the first draft, his own, his three daughters and another son’s names too were cut in the final draft.
“There were five names from my family which were included in the first draft, but in the final draft, all those names were excluded. The reason which was written in the form was ‘documents and particulars (linkage) have not been found to be acceptable’. I had submitted the 1951 legacy of my family and I have nothing more to submit. Not a day goes by in the house without us talking about it. We are at a loss on what to do,” said Mubarak.
Ambia Khatun, an octogenarian who had submitted her own legacy data, too found herself included in the first draft but excluded from the final.
“The reason cited in her case too was ‘documents and particulars have not been found to be accepted’. She had submitted legacy documents from 1971. Such cases have impacted people and their lives here. There are no DV (doubtful voters) in the Goroimari circle. No one has come here post 1971. Land has always been scarce here, and it will create a problem if the villagers try to accommodate new settlers. Even for a share in land allocation among families, there have been altercations between some family members, few of which have gone for litigation,” said Akram Hussain, the president of the Goroimari village panchayat.
Similar cases of people who found their names in the first draft and not in the final draft were also observed in Pub Malaibari village, located in the Sonapur revenue circle of the Kamrup (metropolitan) district, some 100 km from Goroimari. Populated mostly by Bengali Hindus who migrated from East Pakistan in the 1960s, Pub Malaibari has a fair amount of D-voters and ‘declared foreigners’. The impacted people, both in Pub Malaibari and the neighbouring Durung village, claimed they have valid documents but were still left out of the final NRC.
Many said they have refugee cards and relief rehabilitation certificates which were given to them in 1964 to prove that the Indian government had settled them in these areas from East Pakistan. More than 50 years later, some of them and their descendants find themselves struggling to prove that they are indeed Indians.
A Pub Malaibari resident told The Wire that while some people have found their names both in the first and the final drafts, about 20% of those whose names appeared in the first draft, though, couldn’t find them in the final draft. Among them was Basanti Das, who had submitted her father’s legacy data from the 1966 voters’ list. Das, who can barely speak Assamese, said through an interlocutor, “It was a surprise for me to find my name missing from the final draft even though I had submitted the required documents. I am poor and I can’t communicate properly in Assamese. When I tried to ask what the reason was for the exclusion of my name at the local NSK, I was not given any reason.”
She had taken a form from the local NSK but was yet to fill the form when The Wire met her. In 2014, Basanti received a D-voter notice from the state border police. However, within a few months’ time, she was declared an Indian by a Foreigners’ Tribunal. “My name is in the voters’ list for 2017,” she claimed.
Another resident, Pradip Mondol, said his sister’s marriage certificate issued by the panchayat was the official reason cited for her exclusion in the final draft. Rasmoni, his sister, was included in the first draft, though.
“My sister is in a fix now. She is asking, if the panchayat marriage certificate is cited as the reason for her exclusion in the final draft, what should she provide now?” said Pradip.
Meanwhile in Guwahati, there is no stopping in the flurry of activities in and around the NSKs. At one such centre, located in the Kumarpara locality supervising municipal wards 18 and 19, people whose names were in the first draft but excluded from the final draft were seen filling up forms to know what went wrong.
“My family is originally from Uttar Pradesh, but the names of some of my family members are not in the final draft. When the reason forms were given, the reason cited was ‘No A list documents given’. We had submitted documents from prior to 1971. I am now being asked to submit more documents,” said Pawan Verma.
On August 28, the Supreme Court, having directed NRC state coordinator Hajela to submit a comprehensive report on the possible ramifications of allowing people to modify/change their legacy, the long wait for citizenship for those excluded seems to only be becoming longer.
All photos by Gaurav Das.
Gaurav Das is a Guwahati-based freelance journalist.