Durga Puja is barely a month away, but the festive mood has been punctured by the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Bengali-dominated village of Khairabari in lower Assam’s Barpeta district.
This year, Bikash Saha and Dilip Kumar Basak were planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their neighbourhood puja with a Rs 10 lakh replica of Gujarat’s imposing Somnath temple as the pandal. The families of neither have made it to the final citizen’s register.
“It seems like they are determined to not accept many of us Bengalis,” said Basak, who runs an iron welding shop. He had submitted his father Narayan Chandra Basak’s citizenship certificate given at a refugee camp in Coochbehar in 1956.
Saha, who lives in a small two-bedroom house inside a slum, has bigger problems. He was dubbed a D or doubtful voter five years back. Border police and election officials can mark anyone a D voter if they suspect he or she to be an illegal migrant.
Saha has since been fighting a case against his designation as D voter in the Barpeta foreigners tribunal. His dubious citizenship status has meant that his two children have also been struck off the citizenship rolls.
“We are not sure what to do now,” said Saha’s wife, Padma. “What do we have to fear? We have papers. We will appeal,” she said, waving a sheaf of photocopied documents.
Not everyone is as upbeat. Across Khairabari, where many Hindu Bengali-speaking families settled down after fleeing riots and religious persecution in erstwhile East Pakistan, the exclusion from the NRC has fomented resentment and suffering. Planning finances for trips to the foreigner tribunal for appeals have replaced holiday plan buzz at neighbourhood pan shops.
Hari Arja, for example, had to pawn his wife’s gold earrings for Rs 7,000 to attend a hearing on his NRC status in August, reported Hindustan Times online.
He had submitted documents that showed his grandfather Mahadev Das, who fled to India from then East Pakistan, was on the 1970 voter list, but failed to finally prove that he was indeed the grandson – a consequence of the family taking to the Arya Samaj faith and changing their surname.
“We gave our refugee card, our voter ID and our PAN card. We do not know if they want to throw out all Bengalis. Maybe they do not want us here,” he said. His neighbours, all Bengali-speaking Hindus and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nodded.
Residents of Bengali Hindu settlements in Barpeta, Guwahati, Hojai, and Silchar expressed similar worries.
Fifty members of one family in Barpeta have been excluded from the final NRC that was published on August 31. The final list has excluded over 19 lakh people from the Assam NRC.
Fifty two-year-old Ahmad Hussain, a primary school teacher and his entire family, including 15 children, have been left out of the final list.
Ahmad Hussain and his family members, including 7 brothers, are residents of Nichanchar village under the Baghbor assembly constituency in Barpeta.
During the NRC application process, the family used their 1951 legacy data of their late father Harmuj Ali Bhuyan along with other documents.
Interestingly, the entire family apart from a brother of Ahmad Hussain, had been included the earlier draft NRC list but they have now been left out of the final NRC list.
The excluded brother from the earlier draft NRC was Abdul Baten.
When the NRC authorities served a hearing notice to Abdul Baten, he had used 1966 legacy data of late Harmuj Ali Bhuyan.
Ahmad Hussain doubted that the difference of the legacy data of 1951 and 1966 is the main reason behind this inclusion.
The entire family is now spending sleepless nights after their names were not listed in the final NRC, reported India Today online.
Ahmad Hussain, a teacher by profession, said, “We have found that not a single member of our family has been listed in the final NRC. There are 50 members in our family. We had used our father’s legacy data of 1951. Our family members’ names were listed in the earlier draft NRC but one of brother’s name was not included. When he applied a second time, he used the 1966 legacy data.”
“For that, we were served several notices. We appeared in hearings four times. But our names were not listed in the final NRC. We are now frustrated. We are worried about it. We will apply again following the government instructions.”
Several families across Assam have been facing similar issues of partial inclusion and partial exclusion in the NRC.
For them, the wait is now to get a notice so that they can take the next possible step forward.