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The irony in the Assam NRC

  • Published at 10:52 am September 3rd, 2019
Not being on the NRC does not make a person illegal
Not being on the NRC does not make a person illegal REUTERS

The exclusion of 1.9 million people had raised fears of legitimate citizens being left out of the document

India's northeastern Assam state left almost two million people off a list of citizens released on Saturday, after a mammoth process aimed at throwing out “illegal” immigrants.

The citizens register included 31.1 million people, but 1.9 million were deemed ineligible - potentially rendering them stateless, and sparking citizenship fears among minority communities.

The exclusion of 1.9 million people had raised fears of legitimate citizens being left out of the document. Here is a collection of stories of people living in the state who fear losing their Indian citizenship.

A Gorkha father failed NRC test, son cleared 

When Ram Bahadur Chhetry’s elder sister was excluded from the July 2018 list, he was summoned to attest to her credentials.

He vouched for her as his sibling and daughter of Gopi Ram Chhetry, their father whom they cited as their “legacy person” or pre-1971 ancestor. Gopi Ram Chhetry’s name is in the 1951 NRC.

Three other siblings also provided testimony, but the official at the hearing suggestedher proclaimed age was inconsistent. Soon after, Ram’s citizenship would also be scrutinized. Despite submitting his matriculation pass certificate and voter ID card, he has been rejected.

“Legacy person is not parent/grandparent/great-grandparent,” it said, implying he lied about Gopi Ram Chhetry being his father.

Ram’s daughter has also been rejected. But his son, who had also drawn his legacy to his grandfather Gopi Ram Chhetry through Ram Bahadur Chhetry, continues to be on the list.

In other words: the NRC authorities are convinced that he is the grandson of Gopi Ram Chhetry, but not the fact that his father Ram Bahadur Chhetry is the son of Gopi Ram Chhetry.

The sudden doubt cast on his Indianness has deeply unsettled Chhetry, who belongs to the Nepali-speaking Gorkha community with long roots in India.

Shillong’s Rupa fails to convince she is not foreigner

Rupa Dutta’s father was made the honorary principal of Assam’s Tinsukia Commerce College in 1972 as an acknowledgment of his years of service.

However, her father’s legacy has not helped 58-year-old Rupa convince the authorities that she is not an “illegal migrant” from Bangladesh.

Rupa’s struggle to prove her citizenship is a result of a sudden dislocation that took place in the family in the early 2000s when her mother’s health suddenly deteriorated. After her father died in 1994, her mother had been living alone in the family’s Tinsukia home. 

In the rush, a lot of things were left behind, including her father’s documents.

Rupa submitted her mother’s citizenship certificate from 1956 as proof of the fact that she had an ancestor living in India prior to 1971. Her mother’s family had migrated to Shillong from erstwhile East Pakistan during Partition. The certificate was to naturalize them as Indian citizens. The NRC authorities rejected the document saying that it could not be verified because it was from Shillong.

BJP leader who born in 1964, still did not make it to NRC

Till May 2018, Santanu Naik was the vice-president of the BJP’s Cachar unit. Now, he is struggling to be counted as an Indian.

“Insufficient documents,” read the terse rejection note.

His father Thakor Bhai Naik was a Gujarati by descent. A freedom fighter, he had come to Assam in the summer of 1945 to evade an arrest warrant issued by the colonial government. He never went back.

Santanu Naik was born in Silchar in 1964, his birth certificate issued by the Silchar Municipal Board. While he was eligible for direct inclusion by the virtue of his pre-1971 birth, he chose to draw his linkage to his father to be safe. 

He submitted a general power of attorney document bearing his father’ name and assigning him control over certain businesses, registered in a court in 1954. The list of documents approved by the NRC authorities to prove pre-1971 ancestry includes “court records/processes.”

He also claimed to have submitted tenancy receipts from the 1960s. Yet, when the draft of the NRC was released in 2018, Santanu Naik’s name was missing. 

A crusader against ‘illegal migrants’ now left out of NRC

62-year-old Pradip Kumar Bordoloi, who in the 1980s campaigned against foreignersin Assam, is not in the NRC himself.

He attended several hearings to convince the NRC authorities that he and his family are not the “illegal migrants” whose expulsion he had fought for as a student leader.

In 2015, Bordoloifilled his form online, and received an acknowledgment receipt stating that his application had been received. Yet, in July 2018, the NRC website said the application receipt number was invalid.

An application receipt number is attached to every family applying to the NRC.

When he went to check at the local NRC help desk, he was that his application had not been “digitized.”

All online and offline applicationsare scrutinized and digitized and logged in the NRC server. It is likely that Bordoloi’s application was not processed at all.

While all applicants had to go through “field verification” – which entailed door-to-door visits by NRC functionaries – no official ever visited the Bordolois.

Bordoloi was asked to fill a claim form. People who did not make it to the final draft could file fresh claims one last time to be included in the final NRC. 

When Bordoloi went to check, he was issued a fresh application receipt number. “They told me my name had been included,” he said.

But Bordoloi would soon find out that the ordeal was far from over.

In March, his wife, Pikumoni who applied with him was summoned. She was accused of “stealing legacy” – the NRC authorities suspected she had drawn her ancestry to an unrelated person. She had drawn her legacy to her own father.

“They also called my wife’s sister who used the same legacy–their father,” Bordoloisaid. “She told them they were siblings.”

In April, Pradip was called for a hearing where his documents were checked and found to be in place.On July 29, his wife was summoned to another hearing. 

“We were told that now it is finally done and they have forwarded the case to state coordinator’s office,” said Pradip.

Both of Bordoloi’s children have also been left out of the draft NRC. 

The soldier, who was dropped from NRC

On August 31, Delbar Hussain, a soldier in the Indian Army Medical Corps, he was not an Indian citizen – at least in the view of the NRC authorities. “Reject,” the status note against his name said.

Hussainwas part of the July 2018 NRC draft. But his name was struck off in June 2019. A notice informed him that his inclusion had been a mistake because he was the “descendant of people having case pending at Foreigners’ Tribunal/other court.” The NRC rules stipulate the exclusion of those facing trial as suspected foreigners and their descendants.

Hussain’s mother and two elder brothers, Rustom Ali and Sahidul Islam, had stood trial in a Foreigners Tribunal and won. The tribunal had adjudicated they were not foreigners. The notice still asked him to appear at a hearing in a week’s time to defend his citizenship.

The hearing itself went smoothly, said Hussain. “We flooded them with documents: my service records, police verification records from the time of recruitment, we gave them everything,” he said. “The officer said there was nothing to worry about anymore.”

Yet, on August 31, he was left out of the final NRC.

Hussain’s two older brothersmade the list, but his two younger brothers have been rejected along with him. All five had drawn their legacy to the same person: their grandfather.