The unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh into Assam over several decades has posed serious threat to the socio-economic, political and cultural fields and as a step to resolve this longstanding issue, the process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) update was undertaken in the State.
NRC came into being as a method to get rid of the dominating nature towards a community specially the East Bengal origin Muslim communities who are doubted as foreigners from decades to decades.
The legal step demanded by various organisations to solve the foreigners’ issue and as a solution to it all people agreed from all castes and religions, being so diversified in nature, was NRC. And everyone accepted that on the basis of the Assam Accord, people, who came to Assam before March 24, 1971 and their family members would be included and declared as Indian citizens in the process of NRC. Hence, it was a historical decision taken in Assam which was accepted by all the fractions of society including the Assamese nationalist, regional groups, Leftist, etc., who found NRC to be the solution of the foreigners’ problem.
This article deals with the questions which have risen at the onset of publishing the final draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) among the people who have no proper legal documents and are without documents. It has been noticed that there is lack of awareness on NRC among the economically weaker sections of the society like the construction workers, domestic workers and unorganised workers of Guwahati and those residing in the towns of the State.
The most disappointing fact has been noticed in the process of submission of applications and other documents by these people was that the administration did not provide any assistance to fill up those applications and totally ignored the problems faced by the people in the process of NRC. Therefore, cases are overcoming where the people who migrated to the city in search of livelihood after losing their land due to river erosion or eviction, or who lost their land and livelihood in regional conflicts, and faced huge confusion and problems, which were not entertained by the authority.
It is hard but we have to accept that urbanisation process in Assam is very unstructured and unplanned being an industrially backward State. Especially, Guwahati as a growing city is not planned and structured, thereby lacks basic services and affordable housing for the economically weaker section such as daily wage earners and labourers which creates two problems in general.
Firstly, this section of people have been facing problems in finding rented houses with their minimum earnings, settles in the existing slums, hills, wetlands and other state bare lands. Secondly, because of their establishments in these lands they have to face forceful evictions by the administration from time to time. Regular evictions or threat of evictions create a mentally disturbed state of mind and insecurity among the people as a result, they are forced to change their houses at regular intervals of time.
Hence, it is normal that they do not possess proper legal documents or their documents are not safe for timely shifting of their spaces due to eviction or other reasons (previously due to various circumstances such as flood, erosion, regional conflicts and development led evictions, these people have lost their property and personal belongings, for which reason they do not possess proper legal documents, land lease papers or voters list, etc.).
The urban poor such as laboures and daily wage earners do not enjoy the benefits or basic welfare schemes introduced by the Government only due to not possessing proper legal documents. They also don’t get benefits of the welfare schemes, implemented in the cities such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, different housing schemes, subsidies, gas or electricity connection, etc., because they fail to submit necessary documents. Therefore, under which circumstances these people cannot submit their necessary legal documents in the process of NRC needs a level of discussions and solutions.
Therefore, to study the situation of the urban poor in Guwahati as what problems were faced by them in the process of NRC we as a team conducted a field survey in the slums. In the particular study, we came across cases such as not possessing legal documents due to changing of spaces, lack of awareness and cases of illiteracy for which they had to depend on others for filling their applications.
We visited the Uzan Bazaar old railway colony and conducted the study where people showed utter interest in the process of NRC accepting it as a necessary step by the Government. We detected lack of knowledge among the slum dwellers about the NRC and its importance, and the necessary documents that need to be submitted in the process. Some of them shared their experiences in the whole process which enlightened us about the hardship they had faced.
The story of a 30-year-old lady is being depicted here. She hails from Nalbari district of Assam, belonging to a Kaibarta (Schedule Caste) family, earning as a domestic worker and presently a resident of Old railway colony, Uzan Bazaar and marrying a Harijan boy from the colony she registered her name in the electoral roll. It is worth-mentioning that her husband’s family migrated from a remote village of Bihar to Guwahati long back, tracing before 1971 but her father-in-law at that time due to lack of awareness did not find it relevant to register his name in the voters’ list and his name left to be enlisted.
Similarly as her father-in-law migrated at a tender age from Bihar, thereby the family is not sure whether his name has been included in the Bihar’s voters’ list or not. Therefore, under the circumstances of not being able to submit the legacy data of his family before 1971, the name of the lady’s husband was not included in the first draft list of NRC and the officers asked him to submit the legal documents for inclusion of his name. On the other hand, the lady is facing problem for this situation in spite of belonging to an indigenous Assamese family.
Due to family dispute with her maternal family, they too did not include her name in the family tree which was needed to be submitted. With less education and knowledge of filling an application she tried to fill the application form at her place of working, but due to some unavoidable reasons, the person, who filled the application for her, wrongly filled the family tree with the names of his own family members instead of her.
Also, the lady’s grandfather’s name was wrongly printed in the legacy data for which she is now answerable before the NRC officials. Thereby, she was worried and said, “Without proper knowledge, a woman like me, how can correct these anomalies without having any assistance from the government?” On the same way, from the same family if her husband’s name excludes from the list, then what will be the situation. She asserted that if the Government doesn’t think over the situation of people like her then they will “become foreigner in their motherland”. “Lack of Government help in awareness of name correction and filling of application forms” pushed them to face these hurdles.
Another case of hindrance from the same community came forward to us. Two sisters of 45 to 50 years old told that their parents were originally from Bihar and migrated to Guwahati. Belonging to a Hindu Dalit family, their parents were daily wage earners and to their unconsciousness, their names might not have included in the voters’ list in or before 1971. So, they were unable to register their names in the process of NRC because of not finding the legacy data either of their father or mother.
Never stepping the gates of school, the elder sister told us, “We are not aware about the fact whether our parents’ names were included in the voters’ list before 1971 or not, we searched for the data but couldn’t get hold of it. Again in the year 2015, due to an incident of fire we were in massive loss as all our documents were burned. Now it is true to say that we have no documents to submit. We were born in 70s. As we were not admitted to school, we have no certificate to submit too. We continued to shifting places from here and there since our childhood but now when it comes to prove our citizenship, but we can’t.”
Similarly, the people settled in the slum areas and people shifting places in search of safer space, employment and education are in such a situation it is difficult to prove themselves as Indian citizens. We need a solid conclusion for the hurdles faced by the people who are illiterate and poverty-stricken and have to make them aware and support them post-final draft publication in correcting their names, data and in submission of applications for inclusion of their names in the NRC. As these people have remained unaware of the legal and necessary documents from generation after generation and passing their lives without those documents, we have to initially accept the fact that they would not be able to bring a document from nowhere as asked by the authority concerned in a lesser time period.