On her way to work this morning, Rabiya Begum, who usually stops for her daily paan-tamul (betel nut and leaf) fill at the corner shop near her house, met a group of people who were in deep conservation. “Did you hear all the Bangladeshis have been taken away in cars. We just saw it on the news. They will probably be killed,” said one. Begum, who lives in the Muslim-dominated Idgahpath in Guwahati’s Noonmati area, ignored them and carried on to work anyway. “I told them not to believe these rumours and that it is all rubbish,” says Begum, who is employed as domestic help in the city.
Simultaneous to such conversations happening in various pockets of Assam, the second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released by Registrar General Sailesh and NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela at a press conference in Guwahati amidst tight security on Monday morning. Three years in the making, the gargantuan exercise, monitored closely by the Supreme Court, to determine the rightful, legal citizen of Assam, declared 2,89,83,677 out of 3,29,91,384 applicants as eligible for citizenship. The numbers not included amount to 40,07,707. For now, their fate hangs in the balance.
Begum hasn’t checked hers yet. She says she will “probably do it tomorrow.” “I am not worried, I have submitted all the documents,” she says, adding that her name appeared in the first draft. On January 1, 2018, when the first draft was published, Begum’s daughter’s names did not find a mention. “But there is no reason for them not to be included in the second list,” she says.
In fact, there are a quite a few people in Assam who admit that they will check their names “later in the day”, or “probably the next day” because “there is little chance” their names will not find a mention.
However, not all are as unperturbed as Begum is. Many like Farhad Bhuyan of Barpeta’s Bohori town was there to check his name early this morning at the NRC Seva Kendra (NSK). Barpeta is one of the three sensitive districts (apart from Dhubri and Goalpara), where security has been beefed up, owing to the presence of large number of Muslims in the area. Bhuyan was shocked when he found that he was the only member in his family of four, whose name did not find a mention in the list. “When the first draft was published in January, none of us were there. Apparently, it was a problem with the way my father’s name had been spelt. I was then called for a re-verification process where I submitted all the necessary documents and even got three senior citizen witnesses to prove my father’s identity. Even the officials told me that I should not worry. And yet today, my name is not there,” he says. While Bhuyan is certain that it is a technical glitch that has prevented his name from appearing in the list, he is still worried. “My family came to Assam in the 1800s. I know I am an Indian citizen, but what if another ‘technical’ glitch happen. I won’t even know what to do,” he says.
For people like Bhuyan, and for the 40 lakh people whose names are not in the list, there is a provision to make objections and claims to contest their exclusion. On August 7, those excluded will receive a notification as to why their names are not a part of the list, after which they can file claims and objections. The process of filing claims will start on August 30 and will go on for two months and it is on that basis that the final NRC list will be published. There is no official confirmation of that date. “This is my only hope now,” says Bhuyan.
While both the state and the central government have reiterated that there should be no fear and panic considering this is still a “draft” list, the anxieties still run deep. “It is the poor and illiterate people who I am afraid for as many do not know about this re-verification provision. The moment they find out that their names have not been included, they fear detention camps,” says Bhuyan. Salman, another resident from Barpeta whose mother’s name did not find a place in the list, adds, “I have tried to explain to my mother time and again that there will be a form which will come to us on August 7, and we will find out why her name was not there but she still remains apprehensive.”
While many people have found their name on the list, there are spelling errors and other kinds of slips. “Sometimes a man’s photo has appeared against a woman’s name. Or some surnames have been bungled up. At times, only the middle and last name have been published. If someone is from Daulatpur village, it shows up as Dahrampur,” says Salman.
In the Bengali-dominated Barak Valley, many rushed to the nearest NSKs when they found that their name did not appear. Sumit Debnath, a Silchar-based teacher’s family has been entirely left out but for one member: his wife. “At 10.15 am, I found out online that our names are not there, I rushed to the centre. They told me there were technical errors. Now tell me will the ordinary public understand technical errors?” he asks.
Similarly, Mumbai-based Tamal Kumar Saha, whose family lives in Silchar, is thoroughly confused. In their family of four, only one person’s name has appeared on the list. “If my brother’s name came out, why did my parents’ not? Isn’t my brother identity based on my father’s legacy documents?” he says, adding that his father and brother rushed to the NSK but found no good answers. “My family migrated in 1962. This is mental harassment. I am not even in Assam right now, and I am wondering how I can fix this,” says Saha, who took to Twitter, like thousands of others, to express displeasure about the exercise.
However, a good chunk too, have full faith in the process despite their names not appearing in the list. Vishal More, whose family has been living in Bokahat for “hundreds of years”, says “My brother’s name did not come out. We believe we might have submitted a wrong document. We have ample time now. And the local NSKs are always ready to help,” he says adding that the exercise is a necessary step for the betterment of the state. “The 40 lakh people who have not found their names should trust the claims and objection process,” he says.
In Guwahati, too, there are many who are “satisfied” with the process. In fact, there are many quarters of the Assamese society, who are relieved that the process has finally come to an end — this fight for the protection of indigenous Assamese identity goes back to the Assam Agitation of 1979. Since then there has been numerous attempts to identify the “illegal immigrant.”
“This morning, my brother-in-law sent me a photo of all our names on the list,” says Kulkul Rahman, a Hindu who married into a Muslim family, “We all have different surnames: Bora, Das, Hazarika, Rahman and Goswami — but all our names are there. This is the essence of Assam.”
In Tezpur, 77-year-old Jyotirmoy Kalita says for the longest time she didn’t bother to get the NRC done. “I still do not know if it’s been done. I suppose one of my relatives have probably got it done it for me right now,” she says, adding, “I know a lot of people who did not register.We have been living here for ages. We have documents. We have property. Who will chase us out?”