Assam NRC: Citizens of Nowhere - How Their Fate Hangs in Balance

Those who are excluded from the NRC might have to fight a long-drawn battle to prove their Indian citizenship.

Updated
India
4 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Do you know what it feels like to be without citizenship?

85-year-old Surya Khatun’s entire family was named in Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, but not her. She says she was born in Assam and has had a valid voter identity card for years.

“I am a heart patient. I feel scared, whenever I see a policeman. If I have to go Foreigners’ Tribunals (to prove my citizenship), I will die there. I am unable to sleep at night, whenever I think about the NRC list.”
Surya Khatun, lives in Nalbari district in Assam

On 31 August 2019, the Assam National Register of Citizens was released – a list of Indian citizens living in the state. But the names of 19 lakh people living in Assam have been excluded from the list. Surya Khatun is among these 19 lakh whose fate now hangs in balance.

Being excluded from the NRC list does not mean that the person automatically becomes a foreigner. However, to acquire Indian citizenship, these 19 lakh people will now have to contest their exclusion from the NRC at Assam's Foreigners' Tribunals.

However, this can happen only after the final NRC has been notified by the Registrar General of India (RGI). Whereas, even a year after the NRC has been released, the RGI has not yet notified the list. The Quint spoke to some more like Khatun whose names have been excluded from the NRC.

‘I Cannot Find a Bride'

Ahmed Toweb, who was born in Assam, is a government engineer. Seven members of his family, including his parents and siblings, have all been named in the NRC list. However, it has excluded his name. He does not know why this has been done, and is worried about his future. Since his name is not in the list, he is finding it difficult to get married.

“I am single, but the parents of prospective brides are apprehensive – what if I am declared a foreigner? They are scared that if a person is declared a foreigner, he will be jailed, and then what will happen to their daughter. All parents have such worries.”
Ahmed Toweb, who lives inAssam’s Bongaigaon district

Ahmed is prepared to fight for an Indian citizenship in the Foreigners’ Tribunals but this can happen only after the final list is notified by the RGI.

‘Humiliating to Run from One Seva Kendra to Another'

Kaniz Fatima Laskar's name is not in the NRC list. However, her husband’s and children’s names appear in the list.

Fatima was born in Bihar and moved to Assam after marrying Nurul Laskar. She lives in Guwahati’s Kamrup Metropolitan district, Assam. Nurul feels that Kaniz was excluded because the officials in Assam may have failed to read her documents, which were written in Hindi.

“I doubt whether officials sent her documents to Bihar for verification. I now have to run from one Seva Kendra to another. I feel very insulted and humiliated. I find this whole process very inhumane. For how long can you keep people’s fate hanging in the air?”
Nurul Laskar, Kaniz Fatima Laskar’s husband

Laskar says that he will fight his wife’s case in the Foreigners’ Tribunals but his worry is that even these Tribunals may not be functioning impartially.

‘Orphanage Refused to Give My Documents Because She Married a Muslim'

Fatima Begum is 24. She grew up in an orphanage in Assam. She was a Hindu before she married Abdul Salam.

While the NRC survey was being conducted in Assam, she and her husband requested the orphanage to provide them with Fatima’s documents. But they claim that the orphanage authorities refused because she had married a Muslim.

Fatima lives in the state’s Bongaigaon district. She now has no identity proof, not even a ration card or a voter ID card.

“I could not make her ration card because her name is not in the NRC list. We don’t get rations. We have to purchase cereals with our earnings. During the lockdown we faced a lot of problems because we were not earning, and nor did we have a ration card.”
Abdul Salam, Fatima Begum’s husband

Over Rs 1,600 crore and around 55,000 government employees have been utilised to prepare the Assam NRC. Then why is the government not notifying the NRC list? Experts blame politics.

“The entire NRC started because they (political parties with vested interests) thought there are several illegal migrants here. The BJP state government says that this NRC will be scrapped. This is because they could not exclude as many people as possible. That is why they do not want to notify NRC.”
Aman Wadud, Human Rights Lawyer

Several media reports suggest that a large number of Bengali Hindus were also excluded from the list.

“Many Bengali Hindus are not named in the NRC list, and they make up the main vote bank for BJP government in Assam. Now, if government notifies the NRC list in its current form, it will affect their vote bank,” says Ahmed Toweb.

Those who are excluded from the NRC are worried about the long-drawn battle that they might have to fight to prove their Indian citizenship. In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle will be more difficult for those who may need to travel from one state to another, or visit multiple government offices in search for their documents.

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