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Aliens in their own land

The New Indian Express
01 September 2019

Fear, anxiety and panic takes centre stage in Assam after the National Register of Citizens published its final list; families left torn apart as names slip and disappear. 

Atense Geeta Rani Paul (65) says she will consume poison but will not go to a detention camp for illegal immigrants.

She is worried about being hounded by the police as her name has not figured in either of the two lists of National Register of Citizens (NRC) published earlier.

Her daughter-in-law, Prabhati (30), too has missed the bus. However, her two sons and the only daughter have made it to the list.

The worries of Sudarshan Paul (55) are over his three married daughters who have remained excluded. Paul and his wife Bappi are, however, among those included.

ALSO READ: 19 lakh out of final Assam NRC

He ekes out a living by driving an auto-rickshaw. It has remained off the road for the past few days. The reason is understandable.

Both these “divided” families hail from Lalganesh area of Guwahati. No doubt there is widespread panic among those left out and their family members but it has so far remained subdued.

Following a survey conducted in three districts, human rights body National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) claimed that around 89% of the over 41 lakh people excluded have been suffering from extreme mental trauma.

ALSO READ: Assam final NRC list – 10 pointers

They are now pinning hopes on the final list of the NRC to be published on Saturday.

The NRC is being updated based on March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date.

This means people, who submitted pre-March 24, 1971 specified documents, will be included in NRC.

Not enough

All that Geeta Rani could submit was her school certificate of 1968. NRC authorities did not consider it.

“I was born in West Bengal’s Dhupguri and I am the only child of my parents. My father passed away when I was a child. Later, I lost my mother too. I had searched for their documents but found none. As such, I submitted my school certificate of 1968,” she said.
Her worries increased after the Foreigners’ Tribunal had summoned a neighbour, Sameli Das, for a hearing on August 30. The border police that deal with the cases of suspected illegal immigrants along with the tribunals allegedly put up the notice issued in the name of Sameli at a public place in the neighbourhood.

ALSO READ: NRC demand gains wind in Odisha’s Kendrapara

“They could have delivered the notice of summons to the family as they have her phone number and residential address. By putting it up in a public place, they basically wanted to humiliate her,” Geeta Rani alleged.

She too had deposed before NRC authorities the other day for re-verification of her documents.
“I had submitted the same old school certificate along with my PAN card. I will consume poison and end my life but will not go to the detention camp. The detention camps are in a shambles. I have heard and read so much about them,” she said.

Her son, Mintu (35), is even more worried. He is confident that his wife Prabhati (30), who hails from Sapotgram in Dhubri district, will make the cut as all her siblings and parents have been already included.

“I haven’t had a sound sleep for a long time. I am worried about my mother. She has diabetes and high blood pressure. As she is tense about NRC, her health is deteriorating with each passing day. I fear she might die of a heart attack. She has not been eating for the past few days,” Mintu said with anxiety writ large on his face.
“Even last night, he cried inconsolably. On seeing him cry, she (Geeta) too cried,” Prabhati said.
“I consoled them saying God will take care of us,” she added.

Brave face

Lest the suspicion of NRC authorities about his three married daughters strengthen by reading this report, auto-rickshaw driver Sudarshan Paul tried to put up a brave face by saying he has no worries.

He said he was sure the names of his daughters – Sampa, Rubi and Seema – would be included in the final list.

However, his neighbours said he had been so tense that he had confined himself to his house.

Paul said he had migrated to Guwahati along with his parents and siblings from Tripura ahead of 1971.
“I wonder how they suspected my daughters’ Indian citizenship when I am included in the list,” he argued.

According to the NRC rules for inclusion, children have to submit documents establishing their linkage with their parents or forefathers. A lot of people, especially those without birth and school certificates, have suffered.

There are hundreds of such divided families where the father was included in the NRC but the children excluded; father excluded but children included using the documents of the father; one sibling included but another sibling of the same parents excluded; entire family members included but one member declared a foreigner by the Foreigners Tribunal and excluded from the NRC.

Meet the man who knocked on SC’s door

On a sad day on October 30, 2008, an elderly couple Pradip Bhuyan and his wife Banti Bhuyan from Guwahati sat together with activist Abhijeet Sarma to do something for the Assamese people given the burning issue of illegal migration of people from Bangladesh.

Nearly 100 people were killed in serial bomb blasts, triggered by the militants, in Guwahati and elsewhere in the state on that day.

The couple and Sarma planned that they should file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and they did it on July 20 the next year. It was due to their relentless efforts that the apex court issued a directive to the Centre in 2013 to update the document.

Pradip (85) and Banti (80) were not available for comment but Sarma said over the past ten years, he visited Delhi more than 60 times in connection with the petition. Recounting the events leading up to the filing of the petition, he said they were concerned over harassment of people and vote-bank politics on the “Bangladeshi” issue.

“We realised that the illegal migration of Bangladeshis assumed an alarming proportion and that various parties were playing vote-bank politics. One day, we visited the house of uncle and aunty. We told them about our plan. They were excited and ready to help us. They wanted to do something for Assam,” recalled Sarma.

He said Bhuyan soon started preparing a draft even as his (Sarma’s) organisation Assam Public Works started collecting data and documents on the immigrants.

A senior advocate helped them fine-tune the draft. The next year was the turning point when the petition was filed and admitted by the court.

“I gave ten years of my life for the people of Assam. The Bhuyan couple and some others helped me financially. I also spent from my pocket in pursuing the petition,” the 46-year-old Sarma, who is a businessman, said.

“We wanted to solve the problem once and for all. Over the past 40 years in Assam, there has been a market in the name of Bangladeshis,” he said.

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