Other States

Kolkata’s 200-year-old archives to the rescue of NRC-hit residents

A man goes through the electoral rolls at the State Archives in Kolkata. Photo: Special arrangement  

Mintu Das, a Guwahati-based businessman, could not find the names of three members of his family on July 30 when the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released in Assam. In the past two days, Mr. Das had tried all places where he could find documents that could confirm his father Santosh Das lived in Kolkata during the 1960s.

On Thursday afternoon, he landed at the four-storied building at 43 Shakespeare Sarani and kept looking through hundreds of pages of the voter list of Dum Dum Assembly segment in the northern fringes of Kolkata.

For the past several months, the office of the Directorate of State Archives, whose roots can be traced to the General Record office of 1820 in British India, has been entertaining scores of visitors from Assam who are looking for the names of the earlier generations in the electoral rolls from 1952 to 1971.

Arduous task

“There are 50 to 60-year-old documents. Ploughing through them is not easy,” Mr. Das said, anxiously lifting his head from the electoral rolls of the Dum Dum Assembly segment dating to 1971.

“I need to look at the adjoining Panihati Assembly segment,” he said.

On every working day, several people arrive at the Certified Section of the State Archives with names and other identity documents hoping to find the names of their ancestors in the electoral rolls.

“Earlier we hardly got any visitors. The few who came were looking for old municipal gazettes and those caught in landowner-tenant legal disputes asked us for certified copies from the old voter list,” archivist Anup Kumar Sarkar said, issuing forms to those who have come from Assam.

 

His office is cramped with files containing heaps of yellow pages of electoral rolls, preserved year-wise and Assembly-segment wise.

Mintu Das is not the only visitor on Thursday. Soon Nazrul Islam from Kokrajhar, Mia Saiuddin, Motiar Rahman and Nil Mahmood Sheikh from Dhubri, joined him. In another few hours they filled in their forms and were searching names of their ancestors in the voter lists.

“My wife Amirul Bibi’s name is not in the NRC. Her father hailed from Toofanganj in CoochBehar. I went to CoochBehar but could not find any documents and was directed here,” Nil Mohammad Sheikh said, while looking through the name of Kafuruddin Munsi, his father-in-law, in the voter list.

Several trips

Some like Nazrul Islam, a gram panchayat member from Kokrajhar, have made several trips to the State Archives and collected more than 20 certificates.

 

“Today I came looking for documents of Talsingh Barman and Jogendra Rai. Some of the people are so poor that they cannot travel to Kolkata. I am trying to help them out,” he said.

Subodh Chandra Das, the Assistant Director of the State Archives, who is issuing certified copies under Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act, said the archives has records from the mid-18th century. Being the custodian of the documents, the archives has the power to issue these certificates, he explained.

The electoral rolls from 1952 were maintained by the Home Department and since all the records of the Home Department, including the files of pre-independent India came to the State Archives by default, these electoral rolls ended up with them. “It is difficult to find these complete voter lists elsewhere,” Mr. Das said, adding that he had issued more than 500 certificates in the past few months.

Border district

Most of those who are coming looking for the names of their family members are from places like Toofanganj, Dinhata in the State’s Cooch Behar District bordering lower Assam.

The office is charging ₹20 as ‘searching fee’ and ₹5 for additional certified copy. Some retired old-timers like Manabendra Kole have offered their services to those looking for documentary evidence of their forefathers in return for just a smile and a thank you.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 3:23:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/kolkatas-200-year-old-archives-to-the-rescue-of-nrc-hit-residents/article24584350.ece

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