In the draft NRC, Kamrup (Rural) district in Assam’s Brahmaputra Valley had among the lowest exclusion rates (5.3 per cent) as per state government data. But certain Muslim-dominated pockets, like Hatisala, registered considerable exclusions and, till the last minute, many in the area received notices for hearings. As the final list went up at 10 am Saturday, among those whose hearts sank was a data operator at the NRC Seva Kendra (NSK) in Hatisala village.
Scrolling down the list, Joynal Abdin, 29, found that his younger brother Nur Alam (14), a Class 8 student, had not made it, the only one in the family to be excluded. Abdin said officials had assured him not to worry after Nur Alam failed to make it to both the draft NRC published last year and the “claims” round later. “I submitted his school certificate, counter-signed by the block elementary education officer, and his birth certificate… My parents and I are worried whether we would have to drag my little brother to the Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT)… Nur Alam does not understand much.”
Abdin, who claims to be working for the NRC since February 2, 2015, also has another fear, despite knowing the system from up close. “After calling home once in the morning, I called my parents three more times to enquire where he is and what he is doing… I just hope no one mocks him for being a ‘Bangladeshi’ or teases that he will be put in a detention camp.”
Opposite the NSK stands Akram Hussain’s pharmacy. On Saturday, he and his assistant made available their laptop to the hundreds of people who flocked to the NSK to find out their NRC status — exclusions could be checked only online. Then, Hussain realised that among those excluded were his sisters Khatemon Nessa (50) and Rejia Khatun (45).
“Out of us eight siblings, these two have been left out. They are illiterate and did not have the school and matriculation certificates we had. So there was a problem in establishing linkage with our father, whose 1966 voters’ list we used,” says Hussain, adding that they were determined to fight. “We will do whatever it takes… go to the FT, whatever. We are 100 per cent, genuine Indian citizens.”
His namesake and friend Akram Hussain, a former president of the Hatisala-Bhalukabari panchayat comprising five villages, though was relieved. The only person in his family to have not made it to the draft NRC, his 11-year-old daughter Ruksana Hussain, was in. “There was a problem with Ruksana’s birth certificate. I submitted her school certificate and her bank documents, which are linked with mine.”
Around 150 km away, Shahibul Hoque Sikdar, a history lecturer at a college in Mazgaon of Barpeta district, which also has a high Muslim population, prepared for the next steps for “excluded people”. All his family members, including parents and two children, are in the final NRC except him.
“My name probably did not come because in the 1951 NRC my father’s name is ‘Moghol Hussain Sikdar’. In consequent documents where he is registered as my father, his name is mentioned as Maqbool. In the NRC too, it is Maqbool.”
Tajuddin Ahmed (34), a teacher at a private school in village Kirakara in Darrang district, that had the second highest exclusion rate in the draft NRC (30.90 per cent), though, has no idea why he is the only one among eight brothers not to make it. “How can I be an ‘illegal foreigner’? But whatever needs to be done now, I will do,” Ahmed says.
Jiarul, 25, too is asking around what to do next regarding his mother, Jelemon Nessa (around 50), who is the only one in their family out of the NRC. There is a mismatch in her father’s name in the documents used for her NRC application — one says Moghrob Ali, the other Mogor Ali. “Will I have to take my mother to an FT now? What do I have to do?” asks Jiarul.
At an NRC Seva Kendra in Ramnagar on the outskirts of Silchar in Barak Valley, an officer rebuked Afzal Husain Barbhuiyan, a college student. “You should have been more careful with the documents.”
Barbhuiyan had just discovered that neither he, nor the five members of his family, were on the NRC list. As the colour drained from his face, the officer tried to reassure him, “Do not worry now. Come back to us on September 7, we will tell you what to do.”
Unable to utter a word, Barbhuiya got up in a daze and walked out, dodging everyone in his path.
Just two doors away, at a stationery shop, a shopkeeper was printing out individual NRC results of people quoting their “ARNs (Application Registration Numbers; same for one family)”, for Rs 20 each. Barbhuiyan joined the crowd around him.
“19 lakh out,” the shopkeeper declared as men, women — even children — held out tiny slips with their ARNs. One youth rushed away realising he was among the 19 lakh.
But then, there was some good news for Barbhuiyan. “What are you worrying about? You are in,” said the shopkeeper, handing him a sheet of paper fresh from the printer. At the NSK, the officials had made a mistake — not just Barbhuiyan, his entire family was on the list.
Speaking for the first time in 20 minutes, he said, “I really thought my life was ruined.”
At another NSK, in Tarapur, confusion reigned. Sisters Dipa and Kalpana Das, in their 50s, had just realised that while Dipa was on the list, Kalpana was not. Not realising this is the final list, and her only recourse now is an FT, Kalpana consoled herself, “Maybe it is a good thing, because if her name is there, that means even my name will come later.” Seconds later, she asked the officer sitting behind the desk, “By the way, do you know why they are making this list?”
Smiling, the officer told her to return on September 7, when they would guide her on the next steps.
Working at the NSK for nearly five years now, he said later, “We feel sad when we see even animals getting hurt, and here we are dealing with humans. So many genuine Indian citizens don’t have papers. They are poor and it is really not their fault. It is so heartbreaking… They all come here, clutching these tiny slips of papers, full of hope.”
Just the day before, the authorities had held an awareness programme. “We told them not to panic. We also said that those whose names were included in earlier drafts need not come today. But many have still come.”
Like Mansur Ali, 37. “I came to check again. Just to be sure,” he said, standing outside an NSK at Ithkhola locality, in the heart of Silchar.
Next to him, Mohendra Das, a daily wager, had not made it. Like Kalpana, he has no idea about the NRC, but is aware of detention camps. “I believe there are some camps they might take us to. If it has to happen, let it. What can we do about it?” he shrugged.
Das earns Rs 300 a day, sometimes even less. On Saturday morning he appeared at the NSK without a shirt but holding a yellow plastic bag full of documents. “I have appeared for several hearings. Each time I lost out on the day’s wages, but still went,” he said. “Now that my name is out, are these still important?” he asked, gesturing towards the bag in his hand.
While no official demographic, religious or district-wise data of the excluded was released Saturday, the Brahmaputra Valley-Barak Valley divide is expected to be manifested. In Brahmaputra Valley, a large number of Bengal-origin Muslims might be among the excluded; in Barak, Bengali Hindus could comprise a large chunk.
At the NSK in Tarapur, this seemed to hold true. Officers said 42 per cent of the applicants had been excluded there. “Mostly Bengali Hindus,” an officer said. “The population here is mostly Bengali Hindus.”