For the Bengali-speaking Muslims of Assam or the Muslim minority of East Bengal origin, this could be their last chance to prove their citizenship and live a life with dignity.
Villagers walk past Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel patrolling a road ahead of the publication of the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Juria village of Nagaon district in Assam. (Reuters)
“My grandfather’s name is mentioned in the 1951 NRC and the 1966 Voters’ list. My father cast his first vote in 1983. But both my parents were declared D-Voters in 1997. My father proved his citizenship, but our names still remain missing in the updated NRC list,” he said.
But Kazi and his family are only among the countless others whose names are missing from the updated NRC. For the Bengali-speaking Muslims of Assam or the Muslim minority of East Bengal origin, this could be their last chance to prove their citizenship and live a life with dignity.
Farhad Bhuyan, a resident of Bahari village in Barpeta, is proud of his community – working people, soldiers, police officers, business leaders, doctors and teachers. But he lives in fear and worries he might not be able to stay in this country, the only home he has ever known.
He points to the name of his grandfather, Iman Bhuyan, barely visible in blue ink enlisted in 1951 NRC.
“I have submitted my Legacy Data – documents from 1951, 1965 and 1971. My grandfather was marked as ‘1. INDIAN’. We lived in a village called Tarabari in 1961, but it was completely washed away in erosion, after which my family shifted to Bhogdiya in Barpeta district itself,” he informed.
Bhuyan still has faith in the judiciary and wants no political party to hamper the Supreme Court’s decision-making procedures. Over the past few years allegations have often been levelled against the ruling BJP for favouring Hindu immigrants in the matter of granting citizenship.
“Genuine Indian Muslims have very often been harassed as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The government first came up with ‘D-Voter ‘tags, what if they now come up with a D-NRC class?” Bhuyan said.
The state coordinator of the NRC update Prateek Hajela has asked people not to panic, saying that the second draft would be prepared after further verification of the remaining 47 lakh people having doubtful parental linkage. Besides that, 29 lakh married women whose panchayat certificates were recently declared valid by the Supreme Court will also be verified in the second draft.
Aman Wadud, a Guwahati-based Human Rights lawyer who has been working closely in the NRC case, said there will be opportunities for claims and objections after the second NRC list is published and before the final list as well. “If someone’s name doesn’t appear in the final list of updated NRC, their cases will be sent to Foreigners Tribunal,” he said.
Currently, about 2,000 Bengali-speaking Muslims languish in six detention centres in Assam after the Tribunal declared them as ‘Foreigners’. Although a few got relief from the Supreme Court after they challenged the verdict, many are yet to find hope. A recent study claimed disrespect, discrimination and detention can have long-term physical and psychological consequences — on both who observe as well as who experience them.
Kazi said he keeps watching TV news to stay updated on NRC developments while Bhuyan pins his hope of making it to the second list. Failing the citizenship test is now the biggest worry for the undocumented lot from the state’s minority community. For others who are living legally in Assam, it’s just a matter of ‘pending verification’.