Brothers Hafiz Uddin and Moin Uddin, both daily-wage labourers in their 40s and residents of Dakshin Kalikajari village in Assam’s Morigaon district, will be among the lakhs of people not likely to find a mention in the draft of the updated National Register of Citizens to be released on Monday in the state.
The reason for the exclusion being that 12 members of their family — a chain starting from their grandmother Phulbanu Begum, who died around 14 years ago — were declared foreigners by a Foreigners’ Tribunal two years ago. No doubt has been cast by authorities, however, on the Indian citizenship of Phulbanu’s husband Abdul Gani.
In this part of Kalikajari, around 90 km from Guwahati and dominated by Bengali Muslims, almost every household has a person battling the citizenship tangle, in one form or another. Despite assurances, many fear their fate will be sealed when the second and final draft of the NRC comes out at all the NRC Sewa Kendras (NSKs) across the state on Monday, along with the applicants’ names, addresses and photographs.
Authorities are expected to release the final draft at a press event scheduled for 10 am at the NRC office in Guwahati. After that, people can check their names through three means: by going to their respective NSKs, checking on the website or through SMS.
Security has been beefed up across the state in apprehension of tension. The government has despatched 220 companies of Central Armed Police Forces and police are on alert.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal convened an all-party meeting, and an official said every party had promised support to the government in maintaining peace. “A joint resolution was reached wherein every party promised to let people know that those who don’t find a mention in the NRC final draft need not worry as they would get a chance in the claims and objections rounds. They also would appeal to people to refrain from making communally inflammatory comments,” the official said.
Brothers Hafiz and Moin, who claim the family has the necessary documents to prove they were in the state prior to 1971 and that Phulbanu’s name was in the 1966 voters’ list, say the Foreigners’ Tribunal order against them was a fallout of their lawyer’s lack of preparedness. The family has appealed in the Gauhati High Court.
The NRC — first prepared in 1951 and now being updated with the cut-off date for inclusion being proof of presence in Assam before March 24, 1971 — is an attempt to identify illegal immigrants in Assam. The first draft was published on the intervening night of December 31, 2017, and January 1, 2018, with the names of 1.9 crore of the 3.29 crore applicants incorporated.
In parallel processes of citizenship determination in the state, the Assam Border Police can refer any resident to a Foreigners’ Tribunal following an inquiry. Moreover, there are ‘D’ or ‘doubtful’ voters — a category introduced in the electoral rolls of Assam in 1997 to mark people unable to prove their citizenship during a verification process, who have to prove their citizenship after a notice is served by the tribunals.
Of the 3.29 crore people who applied for the NRC, the following categories will not find a mention in the draft as of now: people declared as ‘foreigners’ by Foreigners’ Tribunals, as well as their siblings and family members who have been referred to the tribunals by the Border Police; those whose cases are pending at Foreigners’ Tribunals; and the D voters.
Says Moin Uddin, “The last two-three years have left us beggars… all our money is gone fighting the cases. We are genuine Indians but this complicated process has broken the backs of illiterate people like us.” The family also needs to tell the authories that their grandmother Phulbanu is dead, he adds.
The Congress and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have alleged earlier that names of persons belonging to linguistic and religious minority communities were being dropped, although NRC authorities maintain that “religion will not come into play while deciding a person’s citizenship”.
That’s hardly any consolation for Mofis Uddin, 68, who has been waiting three years for a judgment by the Foreigners’ Tribunal in a case involving him, his wife, two sons and a daughter. Mofis Uddin’s name, the family shows, is in the NRC of 1951, while his father Abdul Manaf’s land records date back to 1953.
“I don’t know what will be the fate of those who are not in the NRC. We do not understand much of what is happening, just what we hear from people. Will they deport us? But I was born and brought up here. I don’t know anyone anywhere else,” says Mofis Uddin’s son, Abdul Malek.
Mushtaq Ahmed, a former panchayat president of a neighbouring village, says, “The various processes that are on together make the situation messy. There is also a perception in areas like this that one’s name not being in the NRC would mean being ‘stateless’ and getting thrown into detention camps. But that’s not true.”
NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela has stressed that that those who do not find their names in the list can approach their respective NSKs and procure an application form to file claims. Forms for claims and corrections will be available at NSKs from August 7 and can be filed between August 30 and September 28.
Hajela has further clarified that those who do not find a mention in the NRC draft “will not be sent to detention camps” and get ample scope to present their case, even with new evidence.
But in Kalikajari, the story that everyone cites is that of the extended family and descendants of prominent politician and first deputy speaker of the Assam Assembly, Moulavi Muhammad Amiruddin. “Over the last two-three years, the family has received at least 10 notices from a Foreigners’ Tribunal and a decision regarding the citizenship of 40-odd people of the family is pending,” says Abdul Mannan Chowdhury (60), a grandson of Amiruddin. However, no one in the direct line of decadency of the leader has been sent a notice.
It may all still turn out okay, says Rafikul Islam, a grand-nephew of Amiruddin. However, he adds, they would always live with the question: “Why were people targeted randomly?”