GUWAHATI (Assam): The stories of Tafiz Uddin and Nizamul Haque Choudhury best describe the chaos that has been unleashed in Assam by the authorities of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
They got just 24 hours’ time to assemble their family members for re-verification of their citizenship documents with the officials of NRC Seva Kendras (NSKs), located over 360 km away.
Thousands of families are undergoing untold miseries and practical problems due to the arbitrary notices sent by the NRC authorities. They have been summoned for the re-verification of their documents despite their names figuring in both drafts of NRC. The notices are apparently solely for Muslim-majority villages of Lower Assam.
Tafiz Uddin (50), a farmer who hails from Sontoli in Kamrup district, had to borrow Rs.13000 to bring home Nasir Uddin, the younger of his two sons, from Bengaluru. But he is still not sure if the name of Nasir Uddin will be included in the final draft of NRC to be published on August 31.
Tafiz Uddin had received the notice at 7 am of August 4 and he was asked to depose before an NSK at Dergaon, 366 km away from his village, in Upper Assam’s Golaghat district the next day by 9 am along with his family members. He and some of his neighbours hired a bus together by shelling out Rs.30000.
“I had borrowed Rs.13000 from a lady who works in a panchayat and sent Rs.5000 to Nasir Uddin who works in a factory in Bengaluru. The Bengaluru-Guwahati flight fare that day was Rs.16000. As he did not have that much of money, he caught a train and arrived home two days after the hearing was over. We had submitted his documents to the NRC authorities but they were suspicious. We have no idea if his name will be included,” Tafiz Uddin said.
The Class XII-passed Nasir Uddin had left home in a fit of rage a few months ago as his father could not afford to send him to a college.
“The day we received the notice, there was absolute chaos and panic in Sontoli. Except for a few families, all others had received the notices. Driven by panic, people cried. A lot of families had to borrow money by mortgaging property, selling off livestock, jewellery etc and even begging for money on the roads to arrange bus fare to go to the NSKs. The buses were few and they charged high fares,” Tafiz Uddin said.
The bus that they hired had 41 people and they went without food until returning home in the morning of August 6.
Nizamul Haque Choudhury (31) is a contractual teacher of a government school. His family too was given 24 hours’ time for deposition before an NSK at Titabor in Jorhat district, located 390 km away from his village in Kamrup district.
“We had to move heaven and earth to get a bus. Eventually, we got one which charged Rs.40000. Forty members of four families went by the bus and we shared the fare. When we were leaving, we saw people standing in front of their houses looking for a vehicle, any vehicle. Every bus, van, truck, mini-truck, poultry van, fish van, electric rickshaw; everything with four wheels was ferrying people out of the village,” he said.
Another problem that he faced was about his stepmother, Tahirun Nessa, who was called at a different NSK in Lower Assam’s Barpeta.
“She had received the notice first. When I was thinking about taking her to the NSK, I received the notice. Both the hearings were on the same day and at different places. She is illiterate and cannot speak Assamese. Her brothers could have accompanied her but they were called in yet another NSK. Eventually, she had to go alone. Our names have already figured in the two lists published earlier. We don’t know why we are being tortured this way,” Choudhury lamented.
Earlier, the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the updation of NRC, had issued an order wherein it was clearly mentioned that the NSKs, where people are called for hearings, should be within a convenient distance. This has been blatantly violated.
Four people, including a woman and a child, were killed and several others were injured when buses carrying NRC applicants met with accidents in three different places in the past four days.
“Thousands of Muslim families across Assam, which have already made it to NRC, are receiving the notices. They are being given just one to two days to depose before NSKs in places which are located 400 km away. Every district has the NSKs. Why were the people not called to the NSKs which are located close by?” asked senior Gauhati High Court lawyer Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, who is also a leader of Brahmaputra Valley Civil Society.
“We suspect that NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela has been scared into issuing the fresh notices or some forces are doing this. When he himself had told the Supreme Court that re-verification of documents, covering 27 per cent of the applicants, has been already done which made the Supreme Court to reject the requests of Centre and Assam government for 20% sample re-verification in districts bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the other districts, under whose direction the fresh notices are being served to people,” Choudhury further asked.
RTI activist Akhil Gogoi too slammed the NRC authorities.
“Following multiple verifications, the names of most of these people were included in the NRC. What was the need for the re-verification of their documents? The act of the NRC authorities raises many questions,” he said.