Amid Pandemic & Flood, NRC Haunts People of Assam

Indian or not, asks the Foreigners Tribunal to people in Baksa, Assam amid floods and a raging pandemic.

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"I cry. I am sick of the tension (over the D-voter issue). I really feel scared about it,” said Samartha Banu, recounting her struggle to prove citizenship as the government tightens curbs on D-Voters, or doubtful voters who have been disenfranchised for allegedly lacking citizenship credentials.

With Assam being the first state to go through the updation of the National Register of Citizens, millions have been left displaced as the list dropped out their names.

But amid floods and the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the Foreigners Tribunal now adds to the woes of those who have not found their names in the 2019 NRC list.

The Quint travelled to Baksa to meet these D-voters, who will now have to prove that they are not illegal immigrants.

'I Feel Scared About It'

59-year-old Banu, aggrieved and uncertain about her future, said her husband and daughters' name featured in the NRC list, while she and her sons didn’t make it there.

“In 1989, I cast my vote twice. And when I went to cast vote the next time, I found that my name was removed. I had no clue. I was not aware of any way to fix it, nor was my husband... I received the D-voter (Doubtful voter) notice. How will I deal with this? We have no land or money. My husband is not able to work now.”
Samartha Banu, Local resident

Another anguished woman, Firoja Begum recently visited the Foreigners Tribunal in Barpeta to defend her citizenship, after receiving the notice.

Firoja said, "Due to the lockdown, my sons couldn't find work. There's no income... When the notice came, I did not eat for two days. We were in tension."

Most of the notices were issued in early June but people received them in late July for appearance in early August.

Ashraful Hussain, a social activist in Assam, said the lockdown and flood at the same time led to a lot of hue and cry among people. And because it was flooded everywhere, there was no way they could go out. In addition to these, people didn't even have money to help themselves.

'Took Rs 60,000-70,000 to Prove the Nationality of One Person'

In July, Kasim Ali, another local, received a notice from the Foreigners Tribunal in Barpeta. He was asked to appear before the Tribunal on 10 August to prove that he’s not an illegal immigrant.

Meanwhile, Kasim's family was left battered by the floods. Their land washed away and the family had to be shifted to embankments. Sharing his plight, Kasim said that his sons are not able to find work, while he has taken ill.

“For one of the family members with doubtful voter issue we spent Rs 60,000-70,000. Now, I am facing the D-Voter issue. How do we solve this now?”
Kasim Ali, Local Resident

The Mental Trauma of Being Doubted

The trauma to prove their citizenship has placed people under extreme financial and mental duress.

With no money, work, food or housing, the 'D-voters' now find themselves in a quandary.

"Because of it (the D-voter notice), I cannot even sleep in peace," said Firoja Begum.

'They Have All the Documents'

Meanwhile, Hussain claims that the government has documents of all the people who were served the notices.

"All the cases I dealt with have all the documents. They were doubted without any investigation. Who investigated and when was the investigation done, the government has no information about it," added Hussain.

With over 19 lakh people excluded from the 2019 NRC list, how long will the struggle for identity continue?

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