NRC may be religion-blind but Muslims in Assam feel they are being singled out and persecuted
Muslims in Assam point out that even after their name appeared on the NRC, objections were filed against their inclusion, often by strangers and outsiders
“I had to sell my cow for a measly Rs 15,000 to ensure I have money to go to a foreign tribunal for hearings. Like most people here, I have a small house and a few cows, but I am a daily wage labourer. The only other option to have cash is to ask the money lender, but he will charge 5% interest. Where and how do I pay him. The only option left will be to die,” said a distraught Ajmöl Hoque.
He is one of the residents of Pubmohimari village, which is almost 3 hours away from Guwahati. His village, which falls within Kamrup district limits, has no public transport and neither does it have proper roads reaching it. All it has is a cobbled, muddy road lines with paddy fields and Chinese nets on both sides.
Amidst this picturesque setting, there is a disaster brewing. Hoque’s is not an isolated case. In their cluster of almost 12 villages, with almost 15,000 population of mostly Muslims, names of almost 3,000 have not appeared in the final National Register of Citizens list, which was released on August 31.
But, even after a person’s name appears on the NRC, their woes do not end. Objections are filed against their inclusions. This only increases their litany of woes as they will have to borrow money to keep appearing at these foreign tribunals. It is nothing but harassment. More so if they are Muslims. Even 40-year-old Tarabanum’s name has not appeared on the list. Her husband had died last year and she has no steady income. Her son Shafique Ul’s name is on the list. She has been forced to borrow Rs 10,000 from a money lender to reach the site of the foreign tribunal.
“The only thing I can call my own is a small ‘kacha’ house. Will I have to sell that too to call myself an Indian citizen? Where will I go after I sell that. That is why I feel, it is easier to die,” mumbled Tarabanum. In her case, she was called for hearings four times; two of the times, the hearings were at the local FT, the third time she was called to Rongia and the fourth time, she was asked to appear at a foreign tribunal at Golaghat, which is more than 400 km away.
Tarabanum’s name had appeared in the first and the second draft lists. Despite rules stating that citizens should be called to nearby FTs, she was called to FTs far away. If people do not appear for hearings, they are declared foreigners ex-parte, but since several people in the village had received the summons in Golaghat, they all managed to go and reach there in time.
Tarabanum has legacy documents related to 1951 as her father was included in the NRC then and she has documents pertaining to 1971. “If her documents were not in place, how could her son have been included,” asked Zia Ul Haque, the local madrassa superintendent. Zia Ul Haque’s name is not on the list and neither is his wife Rashida Begum’s name. His mother Hafiza Khatoon and his sister Yasmin’s names are on the list. Names of two of his brothers are not on the list.
“Our legacy documents are from 1951, 1966 and 1971. I have the land documents of my grandfather Joyanul Ali and I even have a passport. Every time I go to the foreign tribunal, they say all my documents are in place and that it will appear on the list the next time. But it never appears,” explained a harrowed Zia.
“At least I am one of the educated people in the village. But most people whose names have not been included do not even know how to read or write. How do you expect them to understand all of this? They all feel defeated,” underscored Zia. Ajmol Hoque is one of those who feel defeated by the process. “I got the summons thrice and once it was in Rongia, which is more than 120 kms away,” said Hoque. Being a labourer, he gets work for less than 150 days in a year and he is paid Rs 300 a day. “Several of us have to hire a Winger (15-seater Tata van) and in such situations, the travel companies increase the rate. If we do not go, we will be called Bangladeshis, so we are forced to sell what ever we have to reach there. Even then our turmoil isn’t over. It has only worsened,” said Hoque, almost choking while speaking. Hoque’s name didn’t appear on any of the lists despite having documents.
Cases of objections Ensuring that their names appear on the NRC is not the only issue that these people fret about. Even if their names are on the list, complaints are sent by strangers against them and once again they will be out of the list. In most cases, Muslim names are targeted and often, complaints are filed by mostly Hindu strangers. This gives wind to the rumours that the BJP had initiated the process of NRC only to exclude genuine Muslim citizens from the list by tagging them as Bangladeshis.
Complaints have been filed against the inclusion of several of the villagers and most of them were by Debojit Goswami, Budhamani Das and Tapan Kolita. “None of us know who these people are. They are not from any of our villages or even neighbouring places. They file their complaints and they don’t even appear at the hearings. We are left to appear and then our case is stuck,” said Amir Hamaja, whose entire family was on the draft list published on July 30, 2018.
But, in the final list, only his name has appeared and not that of his family, which includes 11-year-old Amiran Neesa. A complaint was filed against his inclusion by Debojit Goswami.
In case of Nurul Islam, it was Budhamani Das, who filed a complaint against the inclusion of Nurul Islam and his family members. Islam’s name and that of his children had appeared in the first draft published. Then an objection was filed against Islam and his daughter Salma Khatoon in June. In this case, the hearing was quite far away at Rongia. And now in the final list his name has appeared, but not that of his wife Khadija Begum. Both Hamja and Islam have legacy documents from 1951, 1966 and 1971. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be enough.
“This is nothing but to target us. In these villages there are mostly only Muslims, but all of our families have been here for generations,” said Saidur Rahman, a volunteer with Association for Protection of Civil Rights. It’s not only residents in these cluster of villages that are facing citizenship worries, news from Bongaigaon, which is 140km away, filtered in that a woman whose name hadn’t figured in the NRC had committed suicide.