Of no fixed abode: Silchar woman now 'officially' a citizen, but earlier detention over misspelt name continues to haunt her

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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Silchar: Of all the things that Suchandra Goswami remembers about her stay in a detention centre in Silchar, it is the memories of the cold, hard floor that still make her shudder.

"It was the summer of 2015 and it used to get quite hot at times. Fourteen of us were cramped into a tiny cell. Sometimes, I sat on the floor to keep cool as I waited day after day for the nightmare to end. I still get sleepless nights when I look back at that time,” the 47-year-old from Malugram in Silchar told 101 Reporters.

Suchandra, a science graduate from Cachar College in Silchar, and wife of a retired school teacher, was detained for three days in May 2015 after she was served a D-voter notice. She was detained though she had all the necessary documents to prove her identity as an Indian citizen, she claimed.

 Of no fixed abode: Silchar woman now officially a citizen, but earlier detention over misspelt name continues to haunt her

Suchandra Goswami with her husband Gauranga Goswami (right) and son Gaurav (left). Swapnaneel Bhattacharjee/101Reporters.com

Her father, Mukul Roy Choudhury, who passed away this year after a long service as a forest ranger in Assam, had arrived in India from Bangladesh soon after the Partition, in 1950s.

The nightmares of the detention centre were revived when Suchandra found her name missing from the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on the midnight of 31 December, 2017.

“I could lose my identity overnight. I was scared,” said Suchandra.

Relief came on a piece of paper when Suchandra’s name appeared in the second draft of the NRC published on 30 July, making her Indian citizenship “official”.

Besides Suchandra, her husband Gauranga Goswami and their 22-year-old son Gaurav were also on the list.

"I don’t want anyone to go through what I did," she said.

"Three days seemed like three years in that cell. I was housed with drug addicts and criminals. The toilets were very unhygienic and the food that was served was of extremely poor quality,” she added.

While Suchandra tried to come to terms with the circumstances that had landed her in the detention centre, back home, her family also struggled.

Her husband, Gauranga, said that he ran from pillar to post to arrange for her bail. “Somehow, I managed to arrange Rs 30,000 and she got bail. It was a horrible time for us,” he says.

While finding their names in the second NRC draft has provided relief to the family, Suchandra says that her mind was not completely at ease.

It’s a spelling error that is bothering her.

"My name on the second list reads Suchandro," she says, adding that it was a spelling mistake that landed her at the detention centre three years ago.

"I was served a D-voter notice by the Foreigners’ Tribunal in 2011 which I ignored because it was addressed to Sochindra. I thought it was somebody else until police barged into my house in 2015. I had all valid documents to prove my citizenship but no one listened to me. I finally won the case in August 2015," she says, adding that a number of people have found their names spelled incorrectly in the NRC.

“This could create trouble for people. The government needs to eliminate these loopholes while updating the NRC,” she says.

Suchandra's son Gaurav says the family suffered a lot, both financially and mentally, when his mother was put in the detention centre. He said the process to update NRC is necessary to resolve the persistent issue of illegal immigrants that has riddled the state for years.

"Misspelling of names is possible due to clerical or technical errors, but the authorities should ensure that it does not push people towards any trouble," Gaurav says.

Forms for objections, claims and corrections process will be available at NRC Sewa Kendra across the state starting 7 August.

The author is a Silchar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters

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Updated Date: Aug 05, 2018 16:05:33 IST