Religious heads including imams and Muslim organisations are urging people to get their citizenship/identification papers ready in case the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is implemented in West Bengal.
While imams are making announcements in mosques, some organisations are preparing for awareness drives and workshops across the state to assist the public in the process as well as offer legal aid.
Around 40 lakh people were excluded from the final draft of the NRC released in Assam in July. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has vociferously opposed the NRC, declaring that she will resist tooth and nail its implementation in the state.
“BJP’s next target is Bengal. We are asking all to ready their documents; citizenship papers, identification papers, land records, inheritance records etc. In case NRC is forced on this state, people should be ready. Many are not well-educated and their papers are in disarray. We have seen in Assam that both Hindus and Muslims were kept out of the list because of errors in spellings of their names,” said Maulana Shafique Qasmi, imam of Nakhoda mosque, told The Indian Express.
“Both Muslims and Hindus are suffering in Assam because their names were not included in the list. Muslims are at a greater risk…Every day, we see Muslims and Dalits being targeted throughout the country. This is very disappointing. It is better that they are prepared. Our fight against all this will continue. Everyone should join hands against what is happening in this country, but after being prepared with papers,” Qasmi added.
“According to the information we have, around 2.5 lakh Muslims youths in West Bengal have no voter card. Their names are on the census, and they have some other documents. There are many who have errors in their voter and Aadhaar cards. This is because many of them are not educated. Some may work outside Bengal and did not care to make voter cards. From September 1, the Election Commission will start a drive in Bengal for updating and rectifying the voters’ list. Our volunteers will go door-to-door to make people aware that they need to include their names in the voters’ list,” said Md Nooruddin, president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s (JIH) Bengal chapter. Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is one of the biggest organisations working in Assam helping people whose names have been left out of the NRC. It also plans to hold workshops and awareness camps in all districts of Bengal.
“We will help them include their names in the voters’ list and ask them to vote in the polls. Many do not vote for different reasons, some are aloof. We will join hands with secular and human rights organisations for the drive in Bengal,” added Nooruddin. The workshops will help educate people about where they can get the relevant forms, how to fill them up and where to submit them to get their names enrolled, or correct their details.
“We will not allow NRC in West Bengal. On Monday, we are scheduled to hold a meeting where awareness campaigns and other steps will be discussed,” said Raisuddin Purkait, general secretary of the Bangiyo Imam Parishad.
Protest against NRC
A T M Rafiqul Hassan, president of the All Bengal Imam and Moizzin Samity, said, “I will issue a notification to all imams that before Friday prayers at all mosques in every district, they should announce this to make people aware that their Aadhaar cards, voter IDs and other forms of identity should be in order,” said Hassan. Imams of some mosques in Bengal are already raising the issue during sermons before prayers.
Md Kamruzzaman, general secretary of the All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, who led an agitation in central Kolkata on Thursday against the NRC, demanded that the government should be satisfied with voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards and not ask for other documents.
At the agitation, protestors accused the BJP-led government in Assam of “deliberately omitting” Bengalis and Muslims from the final NRC draft. They shouted slogans against the BJP government both in Assam and at the Centre, carried placards denouncing them and demanded immediate withdrawal of the Assam NRC.
“If the NRC is ever forced on West Bengal, documents like Aadhaar cards and voter IDs should be good enough (to prove) that a person is a citizen of Bengal. We want the government to ensure that people in general and Muslims, in particular, are not asked to produce proof of their three-four predecessors to prove they were not infiltrators,” added Kamruzzaman.
Rahul Sinha, BJP’s national secretary, said, “Awareness is good. We are never against Indian Muslims who are sons of the soil. Genuine people should get their papers ready. Those who are coming illegally from outside are claiming a share of welfare schemes and benefits of Indian Muslims. Our standpoint is clear. We want to identify infiltrators. Only voter cards won’t do. We also will give recognition to those who were forced to come here after religious persecution.”