A long white cloth pinned to bamboo poles blows around the front entrance of Bhaben Das’s house on the auspicious day of Shivratri.
This white cloth, according to Assamese and Bengali tradition, denotes the recent passing away of someone in the household.
Das, a 45-year-old daily wage earner committed suicide at a nearby tea garden at Bholabari under Kaliagaon PS in Assam’s Udalguri district on Sunday night.
Speculations about his suicide – allegedly due to the fear of being declared a ‘foreigner’ and repeated serving of National Register of Citizens (NRC) notice – is rife in this small town.
Family members and local community leaders say that his death is a sign of betrayal by the present government, whose detrimental policies and politics of appeasing a section has forced him to end his life.
“He had been running from pillar to post to prove his citizenship and was under acute mental trauma after being served with repeated notice” alleged the mother of Das, who is survived by his mother, wife and a child.
Ever since Das’s death, a subtle anxiety has gripped the town of Kalaigaon, a two hour’s drive from state capital Guwahati.
Some local community members have also hinted that anti-Bengali sentiments have flared up, and Das’s suicide is an example of how arbitrarily Bengali Hindu names being excluded from the NRC.
They feel this is a deliberate attempt to brand Bengali Hindu names as ‘declared foreigner’ in an arbitrary manner by NRC authorities.
The death of the sole bread winner of the family has sparked a flurry of visits almost from all quarters, including student organizations All BTC Bengali Youth Students Federation (ABBYSF), All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation (AABYSF) and the media persons. But the family, according to community members, still awaits a visit from Mangaldai MP Ramen Deka who hardly manages time to visit the bereaved family members.
The Adviser of the All BTC Bengali Youth Students Federation(ABBYSF), Shyamal Sarkar alleged that the NRC updating process and D-voter notices have been a nightmare for many genuine citizens of state mostly genuine Hindu Citizens.
He further alleged that the state government has hatched a political conspiracy against the Bengali Hindus and saffron party’s commitment to grant citizenship to Bengali Hindus is just for vote bank politics.
“If the BJP was genuinely committed for passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, they could have brought the law promulgating ordinance by the President,” said Sarkar.
The Bill is just a political gimmick to woo the Bengali Hindus and garner their votes, he maintained. He also echoed the views of the locals that Mangaldai Lok Sabha MP and BJP leader Ramen Deka has never ever visited the bereaved family members of the NRC related suicides in Udalguri and people are ready to oust him if Deka contests the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls on BJP ticket.
Even as civil society members and the public blame NRC exclusion for Das’s death, Udalguri SP Longnit Terang told this correspondent that the victim had sufficient documents to prove his citizenship and prima-facie it doesn’t appear that the cause of suicide is due to the NRC.
Another local community leader told this correspondent, “With the information we have collected the person’s suicide is not apparently due to NRC as he had all the sufficient documents but it is true that he was being repeatedly served notices from NRC.”
“Every developing nation has policies regarding detection and deportation of illegal immigrants and grant of citizenship,” Sailen Kumar Sharma, president of Tangla Human Rights Forum, a local NGO, said.
Expressing concern over the plight of doubtful citizens, Sharma said, “The government should draft policies for rehabilitation of illegal immigrants and grant them special status for working and living as a dignified human because their human rights can’t be violated by making them languish in detention camps.”