A FORTNIGHT to go for the deadline, Hanif Ali (48), a resident of Majortop village in Kamrup district of Assam, has not been able to file a claim against his exclusion from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), published on July 30. He has spent the past month searching for his “actual” grandfather.
The final draft NRC had listed 2.8 crore people, leaving out 40 lakh applicants, with the Supreme Court fixing December 15 as the last day for them to submit ‘Claims and Objections’. So far, only around seven lakh claims have been filed — indicating the difficulty those excluded face in getting onto the NRC list. Under ‘Objections’, people could raise objections to inclusion of a name in the NRC.
Hanif Ali, whose two sons work as tailors in Guwahati, used the ‘legacy’ data of his grandfather Mokrum Ali, whose name he knew was in the 1951 NRC from Goalpara district. But during the ‘family tree verification’ process, NRC officials found that the Mokrum Ali whom Hanif Ali listed was a different man with the same name. Hence, Ali and his 20-member family were left out. While Ali hoped to give the legacy data of his father Rustom Ali, whose name appears in the 1966 voters’ list, in the Claims round, this has been ruled out following a decision of the Supreme Court.
The Standard Operations Procedure of the Claims and Objections round accepted by the court says that a person cannot use a different legacy person than the one used during the initial application.
Hence Hanif set out on a journey to trace his ancestors, to a riverine island in Goalpara district. “I travelled to Tiapara, around 120 km away from Majortop. After weeks, I found out that my grandfather lived not in 62 Tiapara (as he had mentioned in the NRC papers) but in 63 Tiapara. I have now found the name of my actual grandfather in both the 1951 NRC as well as the 1954 voters’ list. This took time. I will file the Claim soon.”
Guwahati-based activist A B Khandekar, president of an organisation working on citizenship-related issues, slams this “freeze” on legacy persons.
In a press statement on November 23, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal admitted that the number of Claims filed over the NRC were so far “very dissatisfactory”.
Apart from “freezing of legacy person”, setting the cut-off date for documents that could be used by a person to establish link to his ancestors as August 31, 2015, is also hindering filing of Claims — as testified by many people The Indian Express spoke to across villages.
Shoripan Nessa, an illiterate woman in her 30s and a resident of Hatisala village in Kamrup, was excluded from the final draft after she tried establishing her ‘linkage’ to her father through a Gaon Bura certificate (a certificate issued by the village headman) which was disqualified, probably because the headman did not maintain proper backend data/register.
If Nessa now tries to get any certificate establishing her links to her father from any other local authority, in all probability — as the SOP stands now — it won’t be accepted. “The only respite Nessa, and hundreds like her, now have is the ration card,” says Akram Hussain, the panchayat president of Hatisala-Bhalukabari. But the SOP mentions that ration cards will be subject to “rigorous scrutiny and only on veracity may be considered”.
Hussain, who is coordinating with multiple NGOs to help people fill up the Claims form, adds, “There is confusion regarding which documents to submit afresh. Illiterate, poor people, who comprise a large percentage of those excluded, do not understand much of the complexities.”
Biplab Sarkar, a political worker in Kamrup’s Durrung village, comprising only Bengali-speaking Hindus, agrees that most of those excluded from the NRC draft in the village have “error in linkage documents”. “Most have already submitted the documents they had.”
The filing of Objections too, at 200-odd, has been “negligible”. In a recent press statement, Upamanyu Hazarika, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, said the primary reason was that an objector needs to know the Application Receipt Number (ARN) of the person whose inclusion he wants to object to. The ARN is a 21-digit number an applicant receives on applying for inclusion in the NRC. “The procedure for filing an Objection has rendered the entire process a nullity,” Hazarika said.
An NRC source said they expected many more people to come forward to file Claims and Objections once the deadline drew near. On the issue of cut-off date for “linkage documents”, the source said exceptions could be made if the document had been issued at a later date by a genuine authority. “If someone submits a certificate of his matriculation examination for which he appeared, say, in 1970, from the Secondary Education Board of Assam (SEBA), it could be considered. But a certificate from a unknown school issued after August 2015 will not be accepted.”