National Register of Citizens hurts Assam’s indigenous too

Lalita Barman is a Koch-Rajbongshi, a community considered indigenous to Assam. That has not saved her four children — excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) — from facing the ordeal of trying to prove their citizenship.

The four were summoned twice in 50 days to locations more than 150 km east of their village Masua in western Assam’s Barpeta district. The last notice, served on July 28, asked them to report by 9 a.m. on July 30 at an NRC centre in central Assam’s Nagaon town, about 180 km from their village.

Ms. Barman, who ekes out a living as a domestic help, and her four children boarded a train early in the morning on the day of the hearing. However, the train, which was scheduled to reach their destination before 9 a.m., got delayed.

“We were turned away for reporting a couple of hours late,” said Ms. Barman. “The officials at the NRC centre said they had other work to do elsewhere. We spent a lot to go there, but they just did not care,” she added.

Barpeta-based social activist Dhanjit Das asserted that the NRC exercise had brought out the ‘inhuman side’ of many an official.

“The family has been suffering because someone else had used their legacy data to Nishikanta Barman, the father of Lalita Barman’s deceased husband Bhushan Barman,” said Mr. Das. “To add to their misery, she had procured birth certificates of her children after the NRC exercise began. Many poor, illiterate villagers do not usually possess such certificates. We helped her get the certificates legally, but the NRC officials did not accept them as they were issued on the same date,” he said.

The NRC officials had, on May 30, given Ms. Barman’s children 12 days to go for a hearing, but they were called to Raha, in central Assam, 150 km from their village. “When they submitted all their documents at that hearing, the NRC authorities should not have harassed them unnecessarily by calling them again at very short notice,” Mr. Das said.

Ms. Barman is not sure if her children would be called again. “Will they make me a non-citizen for failing to be at the July 30 hearing in time, though the reason was beyond our control?” she wondered.

Pradip Kumar Bordoloi of central Assam’s Jagiroad faced a similar ordeal trying to prove his citizenship due to what is being seen as a clerical error on the part of the NRC authorities. He found it ironical that he had been put on the list of 41 lakh people excluded from the NRC, given that he had spent a week in jail during the 1979-85 Assam Agitation. The NRC exercise was undertaken following the agreement that ended the agitation seeking the ejection of illegal immigrants from Assam.

Fatal hearings

The “sudden” summoning of thousands of people belonging to minority communities, mostly Bengal-origin Muslims in Assam, has claimed four lives and injured many. They were served notices for reverification almost simultaneously on August 3-4 asking them to appear for hearings within 24-48 hours at NRC centres 300-500 km away.

On Monday, 60-year-old Rezia Khatun collapsed and died during her hearing in central Assam’s Kaliabor. She had travelled from Dakachang village in Kamrup district, 250 km west of Guwahati, the previous night.

The following day, 65-year-old Hanif Ali died after the vehicle in which his family and he were travelling capsized 10 km from his home in Kamrup district’s Asalpara village. They were returning from a hearing in eastern Assam’s Charaideo district, 350 km away.

Again on Wednesday morning, sisters Joymon Nessa, 32, and Arzina Begum, 14, died after the mini-bus they were travelling in from Golaghat in eastern Assam met with an accident near their village in Kamrup district.

“Many people have been injured in a few accidents. But the NRC has probably killed more people financially and psychologically, leaving them devastated,” a leader of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union asserted, declining to be identified.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 2:25:52 PM |

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