Of no fixed abode: In a village known for its D-voters, 48-year-old woman ostracised after Assam NRC exclusion

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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Cachar: While campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Silchar, Narendra Modi had promised to destroy detention camps housing Hindu migrants if his party came to power and free them of the harassment. Four years later, locals in Assam’s Hindu-dominated Cachar district are questioning those claims.

"Narendra Modi promised to abolish detention camps if his party comes in power. They captured both, Delhi and Dispur, but people's sufferings continue. If we check ground reality, we will see that harassment in the name of 'D-Voter' in Assam has increased almost three times after BJP came in power," says Sadhan Purkayastha, a social activist and former Congress leader who had won a municipality seat from Silchar.

Despite having his name in Assam’s electoral rolls of 1971 — the cut-off year for National Register of Citizenship (NRC) — Kumud Ram Das, 63, has been languishing in a detention camp for the last nine months. The Foreigners Tribunal has now sent a notice to 10 other members of his family as they are suspected of being ‘Doubtful or D-voters’.

While the cut-off date set by the NRC in Assam is March 24, 1971, the electoral roll was released by the Election Commission on 1 January, 1971. This means that Das and his family members can claim Indian citizenship simply by appearing before the tribunal court with the document. However, the family which resides in the Mohankhal village under Dholai constituency in Cachar district is now in a fix.

 Of no fixed abode: In a village known for its D-voters, 48-year-old woman ostracised after Assam NRC exclusion

Mohankhal Village in Dholai.

Das was arrested by the police in 2017 and is in a detention camp at the Silchar Central Jail for over nine months now. His wife Kamakhya Das, 48, had to spend all her savings on the case but to no avail. With their 19-year-old son Kishan Das absconding, poverty has hit them so hard that she does not even have the money to visit her husband in Silchar.

“I am happy that my husband is getting food at least twice a day in the jail which we are not able to have at home. This was never a situation in our house,” she says adding that she had to dip into their savings earmarked for their daughter’s marriage this year.

“I gave at least Rs 50,000 to lawyers which was not enough they said. According to them, someone complained against our family in the tribunal. I don’t know who the person is,” says Kamakhya. “I had to sell the two cows that we had at a really low price because my husband’s freedom is more important to me. My son left us due to the fear of being arrested and imprisoned as his name was also included on the D-voters list.”

“We are not criminals. We voted every time. The leaders even came to our doorsteps during political campaigns but now, no one is coming out to help me in this situation,” says the anxious woman.

Kamakhya Das says she has spent all her savings on her husband's case but to no avail.

Kamakhya Das says she has spent all her savings on her husband's case but to no avail.

Compounding her problems, Kamakhya's husband’s arrest and prolonged detention has led to a near ostracisation of the family. There is a strange sort of fear among the people in Mohankhal village and surrounding areas. They don’t visit the Das family or invite Das on any occasion either. Though they sympathise with her and praise her strength, everybody is afraid to express it openly.

Over 90 percent of the population in Mohankhal and surrounding villages belongs to the Hindu community and most of them claim to have voted for BJP for decades. They are now angry and disappointed due to the harassment caused by D-voter notices they receive so often. Locals claim that more than 50 families in that village and nearby areas have been slapped with D-voters notice by the Foreigners Tribunal in recent years and a section of local police is allegedly trying to take advantage of the situation.

Prabodh Ranjan Das, 60, who is one of the few educated people in the locality, is also a suspected D-voter. He has a school leaving certificate of 1970 and land documents of his father which go back to 1954. He says he is not afraid and even challenges the police to arrest him if they have the courage.

“It is alright that I was served a notice from the tribunal as I have the necessary documents to prove my Indian citizenship. But police came to my house when I was not at home and asked my wife about me. When she said she didn’t know where I was—which is the truth—they used cuss words against her. We are poor people but our pride more important than the nation or a government,” Prabodh says indignantly.

Prabodh Ranjan Das shows his school leaving certificate from 1970.

Prabodh Ranjan Das shows his school leaving certificate from 1970.

“I am ready to give my life for this. Narendra Modi is not just the Prime Minister but like a god to common Hindu people like me. I know he is doing it for the betterment of our country but our sufferings are now exceeding a certain limit. I wanted to commit suicide after my wife was insulted by police,” he reveals.

During his campaign for Lok Sabha elections in Cachar, Modi had promised to destroy each detention camp here and protect Hindus from this harassment — if he became a prime minister. Locals now claim that most of the notices in the area were served after 2016 — the year BJP formed the government in Assam.

The lone minister from Barak Valley in the cabinet of Sarbananda Sonowal is Parimal Suklabaidya, who is the legislator of Dholai.

Suklabaidya is a renowned figure in Assam’s political fraternity and a great speaker who has rarely touched upon the D-voter issue. Breaking his long-standing silence on the NRC issue at a public meeting recently, he said, “Having a citizen count, using the strongest possible rules, is important for the future of our state. “Our chief minister intends to unite culture of Barak Valley and Brahmaputra Valley but we need to address the infiltration issue first. Mass presence of illegal migrants in our state should not be encouraged and people are happy to tolerate the trouble caused by NRC or D-voter issue.”

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

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Updated Date: Aug 09, 2018 16:36:36 IST


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