CAA rules notified, Muslim citizens in Mumbai are rushing to get their documents in order

‘The fear of the implementation of CAA and NRC has somewhat increased, especially among Muslims’

April 11, 2024 09:32 am | Updated April 18, 2024 01:45 pm IST

Advocate Nadeem Siddiqui offering free consultation to people coming to him for help in his Nagpada office in Mumbai.

Advocate Nadeem Siddiqui offering free consultation to people coming to him for help in his Nagpada office in Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At 10.15 in the night during Ramzan, the roads leading to Nagpada junction in Mumbai Central are bustling with actvity. But in one of the bylanes, less than five minutes on foot from the junction, 43-year-old advocate Nadeem Siddiqui is back to work in his office after the evening prayers and iftar, helping people with free legal advice to ensure that their identity documents are free from discrepancies. Students who wish to avail scholarships for higher studies abroad also come to him for help.

There are people waiting in line outside his office, which has a seating arrangement for up to four persons to be aided at a time. Even during Ramzan, Mr. Siddiqui, aided by four volunteers, was available from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. until midnight every Monday to Saturday. Fifty-two-year-old Mohammad Asif, who works in Mumbai Central but resides in Mira Road which is 40 km from Nagpada, has come to seek advice on how to get a few mistakes corrected in his documents as he feels that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) will soon be implemented across the country, especially after the notification of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) rules last month. The current NRC is a list of people who have been able to prove that they were in Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971, the eve of the war in which Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan.

Name game

The final draft of NRC excluded 19.06 lakh people of the 3.3 crore people who had applied for inclusion in Assam. While the exercise was done to document the legal citizens of India so that the illegal immigrants can be identified and deported, critics have held their opinion that the government could use the list to deprive some Muslims, who could be marked as doubtful citizens, since CAA paves the way for granting citizenship to undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered India before December 31, 2014.

“In my Aadhaar card, my name is printed as ‘Shaikh Asif Iqbal Husain’, and ‘Mohamed’ has been left out whereas my birth certificate, as you can see, only has ‘Mohamed Asif’. So, I need to get these corrected so that my name matches in all the official documents,” says Mr. Asif.

Most people coming to advocate Siddiqui’s office want him to check their documents in order to confirm whether their personal information, mainly their names, tallies with that of their other identification documents. But what has been peculiar since the start of this year is the increase in the number of people coming to seek advice from Mr. Siddiqui and other advocates/organisations like him offering legal services. This increase in footfall, they say, is mainly because in January this year the Union Home Ministry announced that the CAA rules would be notified before the announcement of the upcoming general election. The rules were finally issued on March 11, with which the Act came into force, four years after it was passed by Parliament.

People waiting outside advocate Nadeem Siddiqui’s office in Nagpada, Mumbai.

People waiting outside advocate Nadeem Siddiqui’s office in Nagpada, Mumbai. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“It’s Ramzan so the footfall [during the period] is much lesser than what we have experienced before [the beginning of the holy month],” says Mr. Siddiqui as he shows the images of his crowded office he had clicked with his phone camera in February. His register shows that now the average number of daily walk-ins is somewhere between 55 and 70, not a small number still. He launched his campaign, “Mera Document, Meri Pehchaan”, in 2020 right after he realised the discrepancies in his own documents after CAA was passed. “The spelling of my name didn’t match across documents. I spell my name as Nadeem, but in one document it was spelt as Nadim. There was a similar error with my last name. Siddiqui was spelt as Siddique in one of the documents, and my father’s name too was not consistent across all documents,” says Mr. Siddiqui.

“Once I got these corrections made, it dawned on me that being a lawyer, it took me three whole months to get it done. So, it would be more difficult for someone who has no idea how to go about these corrections,” he adds.

At first, he used to organise awareness camps but he now utilises a dedicated makeshift office in Nagpada, which is open from 2 p.m.-10 p.m. from Monday to Friday on regular days. From 25-30 people every day earlier, the daily footfall in his office increased to over 120 people ever since the Union Home Ministry’s announcement in January. It’s only during Ramzan that the footfall almost halved due to the festivities.

“On Sundays [not during Ramzan], we organise camps at various buildings, societies, schools, and more. We have held around 95 camps and helped thousands of people. It’s important for people to be on the safe side,” he says.

Fear factor

On March 29, another ‘documentation camp’ organised by 4M Legal Associates was held outside the premises of the Sunni Qadri Masjid in Kanjurmarg near the Powai-Vikhroli hub in Mumbai. Salman Qureshi was present since 8 a.m. to help people in a manner similar to advocate Siddiqui.

“The fear of the implementation of CAA and NRC has somewhat increased, especially among Muslims. We started aiding them with documents that prove their identity. Many people who come to seek help have an issue with their birth or living certificates. For example, Mohammad is a very common name among Muslims. But in some documents only an ‘M’ is written. Many documents don’t even have ‘Mohammad’ written; and in some only ‘Mohd.’ is written. Thus, there are several variations. If you go to see, even a mistake of one letter across documents is not generally accepted,” says Mr. Qureshi.

Mr. Qureshi says that the process of getting discrepancies corrected can take anywhere between one and four months, depending on the number of corrections one needs to make.

Fifty three-year-old businessman Ataullah Siddiqui, who was born in Bhandup, Mumbai, also found his way to Mr. Qureshi’s desk in Kanjurmarg. His last name isn’t mentioned in his School Leaving Certificate, whereas it’s there on the rest of them.

“There are people in my family and some friends who also need their documents to be checked and corrected. Our focus has been on this [getting the document corrections done]. I wasn’t really serious about this earlier,” says Ataullah Siddiqui, whose name on his Aadhaar card — which reads ‘Ataullah Samiullah Siddiqui’ — doesn’t match with his School Leaving Certificate, according to which his name is ‘Ataullah Samiullah’.

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