Of no fixed abode: Beedi worker Fajlul Hoque holds legacy documents from 1942, yet misses NRC ticket in Assam

Editor's Note: Of the 4 million who didn't make it to NRC, 2.48 lakh have been marked as 'D' voters. The Supreme Court has asked Assam government not to take any coercive action on those who are found to be without proper documents as required under recent National Register of Citizens. NRC, a product of Assam Accord, is expected to solve the fear of Bangladeshi immigrants that has been prevalent in the state for quite some time now. The Centre proposed in 1999 an updated NRC in Assam to solve the problem of "illegal immigration" and two pilot projects were conducted in Dhubri and Barpeta districts. But breaking out of a riot in Barpeta grounded the project. In 2005, when All Assam Student Union opposed the prime minister's visit to the state, tripartite talk between AASU, State government, and the Centre resulted in a decision to prepare a model for the NRC process, which was delayed yet again by over 5 years by the state government. It was only when Abhijeet Sharma of Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO, filed a writ petition in 2009 that the SC's direct intervention led to the start of NRC process in 2014. Firstpost will run a series which will feature 30 profiles in 30 days of those residents of Assam who have not been covered under the final draft of NRC which will decide if they continue to live in the state that they call 'home'.

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Dhubri: Fajlul Hoque from Assam’s Dhubri district, 270 kilometres from Guwahati, was quite sure until July that his name would feature in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). After all, what could go wrong? The 58-year-old had submitted all the required documents to prove he was a “genuine” citizen of the country.

Being left out from the NRC, released on 30 July, burst his bubble, but the worst was yet to come for Hoque. It was only after this rejection that he found out that a case has been running against him at the Foreigners’ Tribunal since 2002.

“In 16 years, not once did I get a notice from the tribunal informing me about the case. What was I supposed to do?” said Hoque, who rolls beedis for a living in Gauripur's Balajan Part-2 village. “I only got to know about this when officials at the Balajan NRC Sewa Kendra told me that I wasn’t included in the list because a case was pending against me at the Kamrup Metro Foreigners’ Tribunal. They told me I was case number 772/2002.”

Faiqul Hoque, a 58-year-old beedi roller who was left out of the Assam NRC. Image Courtest: 101Reporters/Syeda Ambia Zahan)

Fajlul Hoque, a 58-year-old beedi roller who was left out of the Assam NRC. Image Courtesy: 101Reporters/Syeda Ambia Zahan

After many sleepless nights of sifting through his memories, Hoque said he finally remembered the circumstances that had led to the case being registered against him. He said he had once been mistaken for an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant when he was in Guwahati in 2002.

“Those days, I was working as a rickshaw puller in Maligaon. I had come to Guwahati in 2001 in search of job opportunities. Things were going well until August 2002 when I was rounded up by the police on suspicion of being a Bangladeshi national. I was taken to the Jalukbari Police Station. They noted down my name and asked me to name a few people from my native village, including the village head. They told me it was not safe for me to work in Guwahati and let me off,” he added.

After a while, Hoque returned to his village and thought no more of the incident. Three months later, in November 2002, a team of border police from the Golakganj Police Station under Dhubri district visited his house.

“The policemen said they had received a notice in my name from the Jalukbari Police Station in Guwahati, and I needed to show my documents. I showed them my land and legacy documents. I also made them talk to the village head. After that, the team asked me for some chai-pani money. I gave them Rs 100 and they left saying that I would not be disturbed again. And I wasn’t. I thought the matter was over and completely forgot it over the years. But now, my family is suffering, too,” he said.

Hoque’s three sons and two grandchildren have also been excluded from the Assam NRC.

He said his family had submitted legacy documents and land deeds after they applied for the NRC on 12 July, 2015. Pre-1971 legacy documents are required to prove that one’s ancestors were living in Assam before 24 March, 1971.

“I gave my late father Khamir Ali’s land document from 1942. He was in the voters’ list since 1966. My three daughters-in-law and wife have made it to the list. But since I was rejected, my children did not stand a chance,” he explained.

Hoque said he was enrolled as a voter in 1980. “I am a bona fide citizen of this country. When I didn’t find my name in the first list of the NRC, everyone told me I shouldn’t worry, and that no genuine citizen would be left out of the NRC. But now, I’m anxious. I have got in touch with an advocate, but in most cases, it takes the tribunal years to deliver a judgment,” he said.

A social worker in Dhubri, Illias Rahman Sarkar, said that at least 90 percent of the 5,000 residents of Balajan Part-2 village were enlisted in the NRC, but Hoque’s was a peculiar case. He believes that Hoque has every reason to worry as he is running out of time.

“It might take years for Hoque to prove that he is a genuine citizen. The updated NRC draft is supposed to be out by 31 December. He is left with just a few months to prove his citizenship, which seems like an impossible task,” Sarkar said.

In Assam, over four million people have been left out of the final draft of the Assam NRC, and the process to file claims and objections is on in 2,500 NRC Sewa Kendras across the state.

The author is a Guwahati-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com


Updated Date: Aug 21, 2018 17:55 PM

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