In the summer of 1982, Bushan Das, a resident of Udayan Nagar colony on the outskirts of southern Assam’s Silchar, had got his driving licence. For the 18-year-old, whose father made a living washing dishes, it was a big deal.
Over the years, driving a Tata Sumo across Assam, Das wielded the card as a “hathiyar (weapon)” whenever he found himself in a spot of trouble.
On Saturday, Das, now 55, stood outside an NRC Seva Kendra (NSK) in Tarapur, clutching a folder of documents, including the driving licence. It’s been more than a year that Das gave up driving (his sugar had shot up and his liver was giving trouble), but the little card remained on his person.
However, on Saturday, the card did not work its magic. Das’s 25-year-old son Biswajeet emerged from the NSK to tell him he was out.
As Das stood dispondent, a bystander sympathised, “Maha shomshya (What a big mess).”
Earlier in the morning, Biswajeet had checked their names online on his phone. While his mother Beena Rani Das had made it to the NRC, his father, three bothers, three sisters and he were “rejected”. Biswajeet came to the NSK to re-check.
Walking back home to his wife and children — the family lives in two adjacent rooms covered with a tin roof — Das sighed, “Almost 40 years I have been driving, supporting my family, and now this!”
Apart from his driving licence, Das said he had submitted other papers, including a fraying citizenship certificate from 1956, to support his linkage to his father and grandfather, both of whom grew up in Silchar.
“We went for four hearings, ran around all over Silchar, lost money… My husband and I are old, we will die soon. But what about our children?” said wife Beena Rani.
All of their children are unmarried. The youngest, Juhi, 19, who dropped out of school in Class 9, had hoped to find work at a tailor’s shop. But, she said, “What’s the point thinking about that now?… My neighbour told me yesterday they will send us to Bangladesh. All around us people say that.”
Das tried reassuring her, telling her that an official at the NSK had told him he had time to contest his exclusion at a Foreigners’ Tribunal. “I know of friend whose family is out too,” he added. “He too told me nothing would happen.”
But Juhi is not convinced.
Cachar district, where Das lives, is one of the three constituting Assam’s Barak Valley, which has a dominant Bengali-speaking population. In these pockets, the support for the BJP government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill — which seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim migrants — is strong, unlike the rest of Assam. Here they believe that the Bill will stand by the Hindus whose names are not in the NRC list.
Like Kalidas Roy, a 48-year-old businessman. Smiling after finding his name in, at the NSK in Meherpur, he said, “Hindus should not be worried at all. I am hundred percent sure the BJP will keep their commitment.”
But Das is not as confident.
“Forget the BJP, forget the Bill. It may come, it may not,” he said. “I am the one who will have to go for more hearings, who will have to convince my agitated family that all will be okay, who will have to fight. I am the one who will have to do all of that, not the BJP.”
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