Seventy-year-old Sadhana Barman Khersa belongs very much to the indigenous Dimasa tribe of Assam. But, that could not ensure her a place in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A diabetic and a heart patient, the retired teacher from Dholai town in Cachar district is wondering whether she would be able to again go through the process of another round of NRC verification because of her “frail” health.
A Times of India report quoted her daughter Sudipta, a college teacher, as saying, “If a Dimasa can’t make it to the final NRC draft, I dread to think about the plight of people from other communities. We are still in a state of shock.” Like in many other people’s cases, half of Sudipta’s family members’ names have appeared in the final draft NRC and half of them are out of the draft. Sudipta added that while hers and her father Bhubanjoy Barman Khersa’s name was included, her brother Debojeet and sister-in-law Debosree Barman were left out.
The report further quoted Sudipta as saying, “I have to apply for leave again to accompany my mother for filing claims and objections. How could the officials fail to include my mother’s name though all our documents were okayed during the verification process? The fact that she has a Dimasa surname should have struck them. I don’t know how my mother, who suffered a stroke earlier, will go through the process again,” said Sudipta.
Cachar was part of the Dimasa kingdom from 9th century to mid-19th century, encompassing present-day Dima Hasao district and Dimapur in Nagaland. About 98 per cent of Dimasas are Hindus.
The family is living its worst nightmare, wondering what will happen if Sadhana is declared a Bangladeshi and lodged in a detention camp. “My father, who is 90-years-old and bedridden, is worried about my mother. Will my mother have the strength to face the odds if she fails to prove her nationality? Will she be driven out of Assam?” questioned Sudipta.
There are many like Sadhana who are indeed genuine citizens of India yet, their names are missing from the final draft NRC. Forty-four-year-old Sanjoy Roy, a resident of Tangla in Udalguri district bordering Bhutan, is a trader of Bengali descent. Sanjoy spent Rs 14,000 to travel more than 500 km to Tinsukia in Upper Assam for the family tree verification of his wife. Yet, no one from his four-member family could make it to the NRC final draft.
Sanjoy, who is now preparing for the verification process again, is anxious. “I am a small-time businessman and my father is bed-ridden. I don’t know how I will go through the time-consuming verification process again,” he added, worried that his garment business may suffer in his battle to prove his citizenship. The idea of biometric profiling of people who will not make it to the final NRC “scares” him.
Azmal Haque, 51, a resident of Chaygaon in Kamrup district, spent his prime serving the Indian Army. Though his father’s name was included in the electoral rolls of 1966, Azmal, 52 years later, is desperately trying to be eligible for voting in the country he served as a soldier. Along with Haque, his son Elias (16) and daughter Sayeda (14) also did not make it to the final draft NRC. A Bengali, he remarked, “Was my father’s 1966 voters’ list, land documents of 1947 and my credentials as a former soldier not sufficient to ascertain my and my family’s citizenship?”
“We have no other option but to go through the process of claims and objections. For many, it’s a matter of life and death,” said Haque, who was served a doubtful (D) voter notice by the police last year. “The notice was withdrawn after they realised their mistake. But it was an embarrassing moment for someone who has served in the Army.”
He said he would fight till the end. “I am in a position to bear the expenses of going through the process and have all the documents to prove my family’s Indian nationality. But what pains me is that I have to do this despite serving in the Army,” he rued.
Mohd Nurul Islam, 55, is a NRC official who checked data of others but himself couldn’t make it to the final draft NRC. A teacher at Paschim Moinbari Higher Secondary School in the Kalgachia area of Lower Assam’s Barpeta district, he couldn’t make it as he is a ‘doubtful’ voter. This, despite the fact that Islam is himself closely involved in the process. As an NRC investigation officer, he has checked the legacy data and family tree documents of thousands of applicants. “I am a ‘D’ voter, Government teacher and an NRC official at the same time. What can be more ironical than this? I pay tax and have all the valid documents related to my citizenship. Yet, I could not prove my nationality. What can be more saddening than this?” he said dejectedly. Bengali-speaking Islam, who prefers to identify himself as an Assamese, queried: “How can I be a Bangladeshi when I am born and raised in Barpeta?” “How can my citizenship be doubtful when I have all the documents? You cannot imagine the mental torture and shame I have to face whenever someone comes to know that I am a ‘D’ voter. Two decades of carrying the tag is the worst form of social ostracism,” he said. ‘D’ voters and their descendants are barred from inclusion in NRC till the foreigners’ tribunal gives its clearance.