A total of 3,11,21,004 people were found eligible for inclusion in the final NRC, leaving out 19,06,657 applicants. However, barring the D voters, others have to cast their votes in the ongoing election if their names are on the electoral rolls.
The Mirdha family’s rejections were due to a single factor, Jahidul explained: the NRC authority considered all of them “descendants of D voter”. But the exclusion of Jahidul and his sons exposed the anomalies of the NRC upgradation process in the state.
To be included in the register, an individual primarily needed to submit two documents – first, to show their or an ancestor’s presence in India before March 24, 1971, the cut-off date for Indian citizenship in Assam; second, to show linkage between themselves and the ancestor under whose name the first document was submitted.
Jahidul presented data from the Assam NRC of 1951 where his father Nurul Islam had appeared as an 18-year-old. To show his connection to Nurul, Jahidul presented his voter identity card. Yet, his application was rejected on the ground of his mother being a D voter, meaning her citizenship was subject to scrutiny.
But according to , or CAA, anyone born on or after 26 January, 1950, and before 1 July, 1987, shall be an Indian citizen by birth. Ironically, one of Jahidul’s sisters, Nehar Khatun, 30, was included in the NRC on the basis of the same legacy data.
Moreover, even Jarina’s tag of being a D voter was erroneous, Jahidul said. The NRC of 1951 had contained her father’s name, he informed, and all his maternal uncles were included in the updated register using that legacy data.
Confident of the merit in his papers, Jahidul believes his family would get included in the NRC similarly.
“But for that to happen, the government has to start the tribunal hearing process as promised at the time of publishing the register. We have been living with anxiety for one and a half years now.”
According to the standard operating procedure, soon after the final list came out in August 2019, the NRC authorities were to issue rejection slips to each of the excluded persons for them to appeal to a FT within 120 days of receiving the notice. The quasi-judicial tribunals would then have to verify documents for declaring the appellant either as an Indian or a foreigner.
But the exercise has been in a limbo as the governing Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam remains unwilling to accept the register in its existing form. At the time, senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma that the list was “erroneous” as “more illegal migrants should have been excluded” and BJP and the state government would approach the Supreme Court again for “re-verification” of the citizenship in the border districts.
“NRC has become a political khichdi, a mess,” Jahidul said. When the draft of the register was published in July 2018, it left nearly 40 lakh people excluded. According to him, this made the BJP and some other jatiyatabadi, sub-nationalist organisations happy.
“They all saw this as a validation of their claims of Assam being flooded by illegal foreigners. So, they tried to take credit.” But once the figure dwindled by more than half in the final list, he continued, the same entities called it “flawed” and demanded a reverification. Also, according to Jahidul, the BJP’s hesitation stemmed from the fact that NRC had excluded lakhs of Bengali Hindus, a result contrary to its expectations.
But the state government’s demand for reverification made little sense, he told Newslaundry, as the Supreme Court and the Registrar General of India had only asked to start the 120-day claim window at tribunals for the rejected on the basis of the published NRC. “A random reverification will lead to unnecessary chaos and delay,” he said, before adding that many families had already been to several rounds of hearing ahead of the final NRC publication.
The Mirdhas themselves had gone to five hearings to plea for their inclusion in the register, Jahidul informed. Two of those were in Jalah for document verification and the other three in Mushalpur for witness testimony to verify the family tree. According to him, every round proved to be “a physical, mental, and economic harassment” as they had to travel to distant towns on a hired vehicle and spend the entire day in the process.
But Jahidul’s anger is not limited to the BJP government. The Congress, he believed, could have completed the entire exercise during their tenure as it was their “brainchild”. “It got nearly three years to do so,” he said, before pointing out that the issue has “surprisingly” not made it to the party’s manifesto this election.
Only on March 31, that his party, if voted to power, would accept and formally notify the NRC and issue identity cards to every citizen of the state. Further, it would ensure that the hearings of the appeals by the 19.06 lakh excluded from the final list began at the earliest and the genuine Indian citizens’ names were enrolled without further delay. The BJP, on the other hand, has promised correction and redressal of grievances in NRC in its manifesto, without specifying whether it will be through the 120-day claim process or a random reverification.
As political parties offer varied stances over the crucial issue, families like the Mirdhas have faced serious difficulties. Anxiety and fear apart, Jahidul has not been able to procure an Aadhar card for himself and link it to his Permanent Account Number, or PAN, card. This is because his fingerprints were recorded in one of the NRC hearings as per the procedure for claimants.
As he is yet to be counted in the citizens register, his Aadhar card application nine months ago got rejected. “The receipt copy showed ‘duplicate entry’ as the reason. I applied again about two months later but the result was the same.”
While the Mirdha family’s fate got entangled in the citizenship register because of an uncleared D voter tag, there are others who could get rid of the baggage but failed to get an entry.
Mahesh Banuary, 72, a retired government school teacher from Santi Nagar in Barpeta Road, had been confirmed as an Indian citizen by an FT on July 22, 2019. The Banuarys belong to the Bodo community, the largest tribe in the plains of Assam.
The verdict, however, did not get updated in the government’s record and he was excluded from the citizens register a month later. As a result, his son and two grandsons who live in Jharkhand could not get included either. Mahesh, like Jarina, got the D voter’s tag in 1997 because of which he hasn’t been able to vote all these years.
As many others, Mahesh’s disenfranchisement was not due to lack of documents to prove his presence in the state before 1971. It was probably because of a “whimsical” government officer who had randomly targeted his name on the electoral roll, according to him. “Sometimes what happens is that if you do not vote in an election or two, the authorities see it as a case of a doubtful voter. But in my opinion, this is only an excuse to forcefully increase the number of illegal foreigners in the state.”
At the time of applying for the NRC in 2015, Mahesh presented legacy data from the 1951 NRC which had featured his own name. His son used his high-school-leaving certificate and the grandsons’ birth certificates to show linkage to their respective fathers. Yet, these proved insufficient for them to be counted as Indian citizens in the final register.
The result has left Mahesh worried, especially for his grandsons – one in class IX and the other in class VI. “They have their entire life in front of them. What if they fail to secure government jobs only because of this?”
Also, like Jahidul, Mahesh has not been able to get an Aadhaar card because of pending biometrics with the government. He only has his PAN card for identification purposes, he said, and uses his pension passbook for banking needs.
What surprised Mahesh further was that his wife, Nirala Konwar Banuary, 67, had made it to the citizens register but still got counted as a D voter in the electoral roll from last year. As a consequence, the couple is not sure whether they will be able to cast votes on the polling day on April 6.
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