“This Goalpara detention centre is being built for people like me. The officials will ensure that I will be picked up and detained even if I have all the documents,” explained Surman Ali, a businessman who is currently on the run.
The National Register of Citizens is exclusionary and was made to discriminate against the citizens of the country. Even if you are on the NRC list or even if you have all the documents, if an objection is filed against your citizenship, you have to go back to the foreign tribunal and prove your citizenship again. It is an endless process draining you of funds and energy.
The first ‘foreigner’ case was filed against Ali in 2001. “It was filed by the border police and I believe it must have been vendetta. I have a hardware store in new Matia market and our family has owned most of the land in and around the market,” highlights Ali.
He went to the local civil court and with the existing documents, he was able to prove that he was an Indian citizen. The local court then declared that he was not an illegal immigrant.
But, his woes did not end there. In 2009, a case was filed against him against him again stating that he was an illegal immigrant.
Four generations ago, Ali’s family had moved to Assam from Bangladesh. They had initially settled in Hajo in Kamrup district. But, due to floods and destruction of their homes, Ali’s grandfather had moved to Matia in 1960s. His grandfather Esabuddin had bought land in the area and Ali has land documents to prove it. Ali’s father Noor Hussain’s name is also there on the land documents of 1966. Moreover, his grandfather’s name is on the 1966 voter list. But, none of these documents seem to be enough. Ali’s father had died when he was two years old and his father’s younger brother Artosh Ali married his mother Zabeda Bibi.
In 2009 too, the foreigner’s tribunal again confirmed that Ali is an Indian citizen and not an illegal immigrant. The 2009 order recorded that the Electoral Registration Officer and the Local Verification Officer had stated that Ali could not produce all the documents, but Ali has been able to “produce more than the required documents”.
And yet again, his name has not appeared in the final National Register of Citizens. Ali’s name was there on the first and second draft of the NRC. Thankfully, his wife’s name is on the list and so is his uncle’s name.
“The National Register of Citizens is flawed. How many times will I have to prove that I am a citizen? Don’t I have the right to live in peace. I have a business to run, a family to take care of and here I am again running away from being caught as if I am a criminal.”
“Since my name is not on the list, the police can put me in a detention centre. I rarely go to my house now because if I get imprisoned in a detention centre, it will be difficult to get out,” explains Ali.
The border police, who is supposed to verify the citizens, do not do their job. “Every time they go to a person’s house, they want eggs, meat, chicken or money. They tell us, if we give them money, they will clear our documents. Why should I do that? The system is flawed. How many people can afford to pay bribes to prove that they are citizens. I am a businessman, own shops in the market, so I can pursue the case in courts. The officials are never questioned or suspended for filing wrong reports. This is a never-ending process,” said a harrowed Ali, who met this reporter on a clear road, near open fields. This allowed him to keep an eye on the approaching vehicles.
Ali is now planning to approach the Gauhati High Court to finally find closure on his status as a citizen.