NAYANMONI Das (14), a resident of a decades-old refugee settlement colony in Silchar town of Assam’s Cachar district, will not be included in the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) to be published on August 31 because her long-dead grandfather Prasanna Das is still marked as a Doubtful Voter (D-Voter) in the state’s electoral rolls.
According to updation rules, a person declared foreigner by a Foreigners Tribunal (DF), a person marked Doubtful Voter (DV) by the local election officials or a person whose case is pending at an FT (PFT) and their descendants who have drawn ‘legacy’ from such persons will be excluded from NRC.
Moreover, for children born after December 3, 2004, it is mandatory that both parents (even the one from whom legacy is not drawn) is not a DF, DV or PFT, for inclusion into the NRC.
Like Nayanmoni, a large number of children stand to be excluded from the NRC. The Central and state governments have said that no one excluded from the NRC will be put into detention camps, and will get a chance to file appeals within 120 days at an FT. There is no provision which discounts minors from appearing at FTs to appeal against their exclusion, according to lawyers.
The D-Voter category was introduced in Assam in 1997 to mark people in electoral rolls who were unable to prove their citizenship during verification. The FTs are quasi-judicial bodies which opine whether a person is a foreigner as per the Foreigner’s Act, 1946. An FT sends notices to D-Voters and those against whom a reference has been made by the Border wing of Assam Police.
But Nayamoni is clueless about the citizenship conundrum. She is oblivious that her expected exclusion — along with that of her father Sanjit (37), paternal uncle Monojit (28) and sister Tina (9) — renders her to appear at an FT and even risk being stateless. Tina was excluded in the draft NRC published July last, the family said. While Sanjit, Monojit and Nayamoni made it then, their names were dropped in the additional exclusion list published on June 26. The reason said, “descendant of D-Voter”.
“My father died in 2005 and till then the voters’ list did not mark him ‘doubtful’. But in the 2013 voters’ list, he was marked D. The 2019 list also features him as D. This is confusing. I have been requesting local administrative officials that something needs to be done but to no avail,” said Sanjit, who earlier pulled a hand-cart and now runs a small shop.
Metres away, Ratish Das (45) is puzzled. He, his wife Kalpana and youngest child, Rajib (14) are out of the draft NRC while their two elder children Robindro (23) and Poornima (18) were included.
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Das had submitted a Citizenship Certificate of his father from 1956, which acknowledged his father as a refugee coming into India. Says Rajib, “I get worried as to what will happen if we are not in the NRC. Will our family be divided? Will we be put in a camp?”
Poornima is more hopeful. “They cannot exclude my parents and brother. If we two are included, how can they be excluded.”
The birth certificates of Ratish and Rajib were “fake documents” while Kalpana’s submitted documents were unable to prove her ancestry, the NRC letter to them after the final draft said.
Over 400 km away, in Lower Assam’s Barpeta district, Mizanur Hoque (10), too, is unaware what awaits him. His father Mofizuddin Miya (40), a Bengali Muslim, sells fish on a cycle in Guwahati. Mizanur’s grandfather, Feddus Miya, is a ‘foreigner’ declared by an FT and is in a detention camp in Goalpara district. He was arrested in 2017, and a case regarding his citizenship is pending at Gauhati High Court. Mofizuddin claims they are genuine Indians and will leave no stone unturned to prove so. He says, “My father’s name as a one-year-old boy is in the 1951 NRC. My grandfather Madhu Miya’s name is there as a 30-year-old.”
Although Feddus Miya claims his father’s name is Madhu Miya, the police case against him suspecting him to be a foreigner said his father was Kandu Miya. While they wait for the HC order, Mofizuddin gets “very scared” over the fate of his family; Mizanur has no idea of the vexed situation.
In Kamrup district, Fulchan Ali (44), a sweets vendor, is a DF out of a detention camp in Goalpara after the High Court granted him bail this year in an order dated February 26, setting aside an FT order dated January 2018. The HC said the FT order was “unsustainable” and referred the case back to the FT for a re-trial. “I was again declared a foreigner by the FT and I have approached an HC lawyer to appeal against it,” says Fulchan.
He has four daughters, Farida (17), Nafeeza (15), Mamoni (12) and Majoni (8) and a son, Ariful (4).
Farida says, “I have heard our names will not be in NRC because our father has a FT case. I don’t know what it means.”
Asks Fulchan, “I have faced an FT. Now they are saying all excluded from NRC will have to appeal in an FT. So will I have to take my children to the FT now?”
Apart from being descendants of persons falling in DF, DV, or PFT categories, many children might be excluded because of other reasons, including their parents’ failure to provide documents acceptable by NRC officials and establish a ‘linkage’ to the eligible ancestors.
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The entire family of Arshad Ali (36), a driver in Barpeta, was included in draft NRC except for his daughter Amana Khatoon (11).
“Her birth certificate was not accepted, I think. It is from Delhi. From 2006 to 2009, I was in Delhi. I fear about her fate if she is out of the NRC. During ‘claim’ hearing, they [officials] asked me for more documents — I said what more documents can a child have.”
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For cases like Ali’s — where only children (14 years or below) have been left out from draft NRC while their parents have been included — NRC’s Supreme Court-approved standard operating procedure for ‘claims and objection’ round said there would be “specific hearings for the composite family in respect of these minor children and oral/ written evidences from parents will be admissible”.