‘Do not equate registry with citizenship’

Pratim Ranjan Bose Guwahati. August 30 | Updated on August 30, 2019

Arnab Das (name changed), a 52-year old third-generation planter from Dibrugarh, is eagerly waiting for the NRC (National Registry of Citizens) authority to publish the final list of citizens of Assam, on Saturday. The list is a proof of residency in Assam before March 24, 1971.

Out of 3.29 crore applicants, around 41 lakh — mostly Bengalis, followed by Bihari and Nepali — were excluded in the previous drafts. Das’ septuagenarian mother and wife were among those excluded.

There was logic in questioning the identity of his wife, as her family had migrated to Siliguri in West Bengal from erstwhile East Pakistan. Das submitted land records of his in-laws to prove that the family migration took place before 1971, which makes them bonafide Indians.

Fake complaints lodged

However, the exclusion of his mother irks Das. As an educated woman, she has no dearth of proof either. But, someone preferred to put a spoke by lodging a last-minute complaint. This is permissible as per rule but the rulebook also suggests that the complainant should be present during the hearing. As Das accompanied his mother to the hearing at NRC office last week, he found no trace of the complainant.

This is not an isolated case. Arindam Bagchi (name changed), a 38-year-old senior corporate executive, was born and brought up at Sivasagar in Assam. He and his mother are already declared residents but his 72-year old father was excluded due to fake objection.

“Some ethnic groups once claimed 1.2 crore people in the State as outsiders. Now that most have cleared the hurdle, they are into mischief,” said Bagchi. Fake objections apart, Das and Bagchi do not have much complaints about the NRC process. Their parents were called in hearings in their hometown and the NRC officials treated them with sympathy.

Troublesome hearings

But Subhajit Samanta’s (name changed) 80-year-old mother was not as fortunate. She was summoned in at least three hearings over the last couple of months. The last one was in Dhemaji, a 10-hour drive by car, from the family home in Guwahati. The notice for the hearing was served barely two days in advance. Samanta’s mother hails from the border district of Dhubri where nearly 80 per cent of the population is Muslim. After the initial drafts were out, it was noticed that the drop-out rate in nine out of 10 Muslim majority districts — almost all bordering Bangladesh and believed to have suffered from infiltration — were significantly lower than other districts.

To safeguard against any possible nexus, the NRC authorities shifted the hearing venues to far away places.

Samanta is concerned that the less resourceful may suffer social stigma for not making it to the list. The concerns are valid. There is a general understanding that it is impossible to throw thousands out of the country, even if they are found to be illegal immigrants.

Over the last few weeks, senior party functionaries pointed out possible mistakes in the process of enrolment and appealed to people that NRC must not be equated to citizenship. Moreover, there are windows available to appeal before tribunal, high court and the Supreme Court.

Published on August 30, 2019

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