Amir Chand and his 18-member family reached Dergaon in eastern Assam’s Golaghat district at 5.30 a.m. on Monday for a re-check of their citizenship documents at a designated service centre for National Register of Citizens (NRC) at 9 a.m.
Most of them could not sleep during the 330 km trip by a hired minibus from their village Kanahara, west of Guwahati. They reported at the Golaghat North Development Block office before 9 a.m. but were told to wait for their turn.
“We were tired, but the apprehension about what would happen at the hearing kept us awake. It wasn’t until 2 p.m. that we were called for the hearing. We were asked questions for almost two hours by officials who were polite and were made to give an undertaking about the authenticity of the documents and witnesses,” Mr. Chand said.
They boarded the minibus soon after the hearing to reach home as early as possible, as the deal for the vehicle at ₹18,000 was for returning home by Monday night. The delay in Dergaon had eaten up much of their ‘hire time’.
“We are not sure if the officials were satisfied, but at least we made it to the hearing unlike a few others from a nearby village whose bus met with an accident,” he said.
A truck had rammed into a bus carrying 52 people on the outskirts of Guwahati at 11.30 p.m. on Sunday. At least 20 passengers, who were travelling from Sontoli village near Kanahara for a hearing at an NRC centre in Golaghat, were seriously injured.
“They were taken to Guwahati Medical College Hospital. Some were discharged after treatment for minor injuries but about 20, including five-six women, are not out of danger. We will let the NRC authorities know of their inability to attend the hearing,” a police officer said.
Chaos ruled several minority villages in districts such as Kamrup, Barpeta, Dhubri and Goalpara with many unable to organise vehicles to reach NRC centres 300-500 km away within 24-36 hours. Most of them had received notices for re-verification on Saturday , some on Sunday.
Shalim M. Hussain, who lives in Guwahati, said he hired a car from the city and travelled to Sontoli at 3.30 a.m. on Monday to take his mother and aunt for their NRC hearings. “I reached Sontoli at 5.42 a.m. and found very few people around; the tea stalls where men take early breakfast were shut and people were looking for any vehicle,” he said.
“Every bus, van, truck, mini-truck, poultry van, fish van, electric rickshaw; everything with four wheels was ferrying people out of Sontoli. Some of the vehicles had boards on the dashboard reading ‘NRC duty’,” Mr. Hussain said, adding that members of his family were called for hearing at three places.
He took his mother to Hajo, about 30 km north-west of Guwahati on Monday. “We have a hearing in Nagaon tomorrow (Tuesday). My hearing is at Sivasagar,” he added.
Nagaon is 125 km east of Guwahati, and Sivasagar is about 235 km east of Nagaon.
Bulbuli Bewa, a 60-year-old of Baruapathar village in Kamrup district, said she sold her jewellery and collected her savings from her days as a daily-wager to make the NRC re-verification trip to Sivasagar district. “The money wasn’t enough for us to hire a vehicle,” she said.
The Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill termed the sudden summoning of people for re-verification was “nothing short of authoritarian terrorism”.
“The NRC authorities summoned 30,000 people on the rolls for re-verification of papers, asking them to report at faraway places within 24-36 hours. This was despite the Supreme Court rejecting the Centre and State government’s petition to allow 20% re-verification as unwarranted. We condemn such steps of bureaucratic ruthlessness and recklessness and appeal to the authorities concerned,” the forum’s chairman and retired professor Hiren Gohain said.