Amidst large-scale protests over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and fears of a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), at least four municipalities — Malegaon in Maharashtra, Kolkata, and Surat and Modasa in Gujarat — have reported a rise in applications for birth certificates.
Soon after Assam published the final NRC in September, excluding 19,06,657 people, hundreds of kilometres away, in the Maharashtra town of Malegaon, several prominent mosques circulated a list of 23 essential identity documents and urged locals to ensure that have their papers in place and that they bore no errors.
From 2,000 applications for birth certificates received by the Malegaon Municipal Corporation in August, the figure rose to 12,000 in September, 12,500 in October and 12,800 in November, records obtained by The Sunday Express from the health department showed. This month alone, as of December 26, the Corporation had received 13,000 applications.
EXPLAINED | How India identifies citizens
Malegaon Municipal Commissioner Kishor Borde said that while he could not comment on the reasons for the rise in applications, he admitted that the town’s Muslim residents were putting identification documents together fearing the effects of the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act and a nationwide NRC.
Employees in the Corporation’s birth and death registry said most of the applications are for those born between 1927 and 1980, and that they have been struggling to process applications on time. “We have a strength of four employees. Earlier, until August, we could issue birth certificates in 3-4 days. But we have not been able to cope with this rush and have to call applicants back after 15-30 days,” said an official.
An official in the health department said, “Once an application is received, we check for the applicant’s name and date of birth in our register. If the name is found, we call the applicant back after 15 days and ask them to collect the birth certificate.”
Jaywant Nikam, an agent who writes applications by hand at a desk outside the Corporation office, said it takes nearly a month to get a birth certificate issued. “If a name is not found in the health department’s registers, applicants need to file an affidavit in court, publish an advertisement in a newspaper, wait 15 days for objections, publish a gazette notification and only then apply to the Corporation. Going to court costs at least Rs 3,000 and takes another month,” he said, adding, “Last Saturday, I wrote more than 300 applications myself.”
According to the official, a majority of applications have been for birth certificates of parents and grandparents. “People are anxious to prove ancestry and domicile in Malegaon, even those who have lived here for 3-4 generations,” said the official.
Maulana Umrain Mahfooz Rahmani, secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and founder of Dastoor-e-Hind Bachao Committee, said that exclusion of over 19 lakh people from the NRC in Assam had scared Malegaon’s Muslims.
“A majority of Muslims in Malegaon trace their ancestry to Uttar Pradesh but have settled here long ago. Ever since the NRC exercise was completed in Assam, there has been a rush among people to ensure that all their documents are in order. But even then, the government can find a loophole to exclude us,” he said.
On December 19, Rahmani had organised Maharashtra’s largest protest thus far against the NRC and CAA in Malegaon. While police estimated that a crowd of more than 60,000 had gathered at Shaidon ki Yaadgar, a square in the main market, organisers claimed the figure was closer to a lakh.
However, Subhash Bhmare, BJP MP for Dhule-Malegaon, claimed that the Congress and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are spreading panic in the town. “Nothing spreads like a rumour. Since Malegaon has a high Muslim population and the BJP has very little presence, the Congress and AIMIM are playing a one-sided game. We are appealing to people not to believe in these rumours. Malegaon’s Muslims are Indian citizens and have nothing to worry about,” he said.
The Municipal Corporation in Kolkata and other municipal offices in West Bengal too have been witnessing long queues for birth certificates and other documentation.
Sources said the civic body, which usually issues around 100 birth certificates a day, gas now been receiving over 250 applications daily.
“Every day, over 200 people have been queuing up for birth certificates, death certificates, correction of documents, etc. But we have the manpower to cater to only about a hundred requests a day. All of this is because of the panic over NRC,” said Atin Ghosh, Deputy Mayor, Kolkata Municipal Corporation.
The Surat Municipal Corporation too reported a spike in applications for birth certificates. The Corporation’s Registrar of Birth and Death, Pradip Umrigar, said, “Over the last two months, we have found that the applications for birth certificates have doubled. For example, we have received 50 applications for birth certificates in these two months, of which over 60 per cent are from Muslims, and the remaining of NRIs. This sudden rise in applications is due to the NRC.”
The municipality in the Gujarat town of Modasa, which saw a bandh on December 27 in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the NRC, too has seen a rise in applications in the last two weeks.
According to Modasa Prant Municipality officials, 12 applications for “old birth certificates”, or certificates other than those issued to new-borns, have been submitted in the past two weeks since the controversy over CAA and NRC broke out. This is against the usual trend of one application in two to three months, says an official in the municipality.
An official with the Modasa Municipality told The Sunday Express on condition of anonymity, “We have received at least 12 applications for birth certificates and all of them are from Muslims aged 20 to 60 years. To get an old birth certificate in Gujarat, applicants must produce a school-leaving certificate and inform us of their birth date through an application letter. In case, they are unable to do so, they must produce documents of their parents along with other necessary documents. And in case they don’t have any of these documents, we ask the applicant to approach the court.”
(With inputs from Sweety Kumari in Kolkata, Kamaal Saiyed and Vaibhav Jha in Gujarat)