Assam villagers smell a rat, worry their names won’t figure in National Register of Citizens

The suspicion that the government could go after them by not entering their names in the NRC is writ large on the faces of locals.

Published: 31st December 2017 08:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2017 08:37 AM   |  A+A-

Residents of a village in Goalpara district. (Express Photo Service)

GOALPARA: The suspicion that the government could go after them by not entering their names in the NRC is writ large on the faces of locals in Moriom Nagar, Rupnagar, Mama Bhagin Shil, Paharshing Para, Azadnagar, Gobindapur Chala etc which surround Moilapathar.

Hamidul Islam (32), who hails from Moriom Nagar, says the villagers fear that errors in the spelling of their names and those of their fathers and forefathers in official documents issued years ago could land them in trouble. The documents are needed to establish linkages with individuals who stayed in India before March 24, 1971, based on which the citizenship of applicants will be determined.

The NRC state coordinator, Prateek Hajela, admits that there could be errors during the process of verification of documents. “The applicants, whose names may not figure in the draft NRC, will be given one month to submit claims and objections with us. Still, if a person fails to prove his citizenship, he can move a foreigners’ tribunal,” Hajela explains.

Abdul Hai, an auto-rickshaw driver, says he ferries at least two to three people, who have been served notices on the suspicion that they are doubtful voters, to the court of foreigners’ tribunal in Goalpara every day. “Once the draft NRC is out, you will see the names of many of our people missing. A conspiracy is at work,” he predicts.

Barak Ali, a daily wage earner, says the poor will continue to suffer. “It is rare that the rich have been served notices by the foreigners’ tribunals,” he adds.

Ali Akbar (42) of Azadnagar says he had voted in several elections but had now been served the notice. “My lawyer said the verdict in the case will be pronounced on January 10,” he says.

Another villager, Md. Ekdul Hussain (53), says he is not sure if his name will be in the draft NRC.
“My suspicion is over re-verification of documents by NRC authorities. My neighbours submitted all documents, including some dating back to the 1960s, yet NRC officials are visiting their houses for re-verification. During the visits, they keep three villagers as witnesses for every individual, including kids. I wonder if something fishy is going on,” he says.

Women across villages refused to comment. They appeared panicked. Goalpara is among ten of Assam’s 33 districts where the state government fears there could be a law and order problem after publication of the “final draft” NRC. It will be published after the first two phases. The first phase is covering 2.38 crore of Assam’s 3.28 crore population. The state government has deployed additional central forces to the “vulnerable” districts.

Meanwhile, for the record, “moila” in the local language means dirt and Moilapathar, which was once a field, derived its name from the dirt, says Majibar Rahman, a local. It is now “Sonarpathar”, he adds hastily laughing. “Sona” is gold but the dusty and bumpy road traversing the village does not speak of its development.

In the lead up to last year’s Assam elections, the BJP had promised to build a corruption-free, pollution-free and illegal immigrant-free Assam. Ironically, the Centre is now trying to give citizenship to non-Muslim (read Hindu) immigrants through the amendment of Citizenship Bill. The BJP argues that the Hindus had fled Bangladesh in the face of torture and religious persecution.

“If India doesn’t give shelter to them, who will?” Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had told reporters in Guwahati ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

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