Surveyors held hostage in Bihar, researcher's house set ablaze in Bengal: Violent incidents multiply across India amid panic over NRC, NPR, CAA

  • A team of Lucknow-based researchers were held hostage by locals in Bihar’s Darbhanga on Sunday after being mistaken for NRC surveyors

  • In Birbhum district of West Bengal, 20-year-old Google India employee Chumki Khatun was attacked in Gourbazar village and a mob set her house ablaze

  • In Uttara Kannada’s Sirsi, angry residents tore off the registry of an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) who was on a pulse-polio visit

A team of Lucknow-based researchers were held hostage by locals in Bihar’s Darbhanga on Sunday after being mistaken for National Register of Citizens (NRC) surveyors. As the 12-member team, which included four women, reached the village and began visiting households to collect information, word spread that they were NRC surveyors.

 Surveyors held hostage in Bihar, researchers house set ablaze in Bengal: Violent incidents multiply across India amid panic over NRC, NPR, CAA

File image of protests against CAA, NRC. PTI

Furious and panicked villagers took them to the Jamalpur police station, where the situation was diffused and it was later found that they were working with a US-based PhD scholar from the Yale University. “Getting information (of the researchers being held hostage), we quickly reached the place and took them out of the village. Had we been late, they would have been attacked by the villagers,” Jamalpur police station officer Anwar Ansari told The Hindu.

The NRC final list that was released in Assam on 31 August last year had excluded over 19 lakh people. After the CAA became law in December, the Opposition’s chorus that the citizenship law and NRC are "two sides of the same coin" grew.

However, contrasting statements on the matter further fuelled fear and confusion, especially among Muslims instead of bringing any clarity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that there was no plan to execute the NRC was in complete contrast to the what Home Minister Amit Shah had said at an event in Guwahati about not allowing a "single illegal immigrant" in the country.

Similar statements were passed by Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari, about illegal immigrants being the perpetrators of crimes in Delhi, and Haryana Chief Manohar Lal Khattar, who called for the citizenship list’s implementation in his state. Additionally, Aadhaar card, voter ID card and passport not being sufficient to prove citizenship became another cause of worry.

The Darbhanga incident was reportedly the second such incident in the last 10 days. An employee of a Gurgaon-based television company was attacked while conducting a survey in the Karamganj locality of Darbhanga district on 17 January and later handed over to the police.

Similar incidents have been reported from Champaran, Bhagalpur and Begusarai. “Even if we’re not being attacked or held hostages at some places, people get angry and ask us to get lost the moment we begin our questionnaire. At some places they get violent too,” Binit Kumar, who conducts such surveys, told The Hindu, even as anti-CAA protests have spread over 12 districts of Bihar.

As protests against NRC, National Population Register (NPR) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) continue all over the country, the sight of researchers and surveyors has triggered panic and has led to the mistaken targeting of many.

Superintendent of Police, Darbhanga, Babu Ram said that such incidents have led the police to begin an awareness campaign in which residents are told to inform the cops or administrative officials if they suspect the presence of surveyors in the area instead of illegally detaining them.

Attacks on surveyors reported in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana

However, similar incidents continue to be reported from other parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Telangana. On Saturday, The Times of India reported that a three-member team deputed for administrating polio vaccines had been mistaken as NPR data collectors and thrashed by villagers in Uttar Pradesh's Meerut district. Two members of the team managed to escape and complained to the police.

“The moment we asked their (parents not willing to get polio drops for children) names, there was a strong protest and within no time, we were surrounded by a mob. We tried to explain to them the purpose of our visit. We even showed them the vaccine box and our IDs, but they didn’t listen to us,” one of the team members Kabir Ahmed Khan said. According to the report, Lisari Gate station officer Prashant Kapil said that this was not the first time such an incident had occurred in the area.

Accusing health officials of supporting the Centre’s CAA and NRC plans, residents around Abids, Golconda, Musheerabagh in Telangana heckled immunisation and health department officials and threatened to file police complaints against them.

This affected the tallying process of how many children were actually immunised in the national pulse polio drive as residents refused to provide information, said a report in The New Indian Express. Nagarjuna Rao, immunisation programme officer for Hyderabad, said that the situation got so tense that local leaders had to intervene and placate the residents.

On 22 January, Nazreena Bano, a surveyor from the National Economic Census department collecting data for the National Economics Census 2019-20, was attacked in Kota, Rajasthan. A mob snatched the woman’s mobile phone and deleted all the data she had collected on an app. The crowd also asked the woman to prove she was Muslim by reciting a verse from the Quran. The woman showed them an “Ayat Al-Kursi [The Throne Verse] card” from her wallet, following which the crowd was pacified.

In Birbhum district of West Bengal, 20-year-old Chumki Khatun, who was working for Google India and Internet Saathi, which is Tata Trusts’ digital literacy initiative for rural women, was attacked by villagers in Gourbazar village. A mob set her house ablaze, after which she and her family were forced to take refuge at the local police station. The police have not yet arrested anyone in connection with the attack.

In Uttara Kannada’s Sirsi, angry residents tore off the registry of an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) who was on a pulse-polio visit, The Economic Times reported last week. Although instances of people refusing to share personal information with officials visiting household for government programmes have mostly from areas dominated with minorities and in coastal Karnataka, districts like Vijayapura and Mysuru also have witnessed such issues.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his battery of ministers have said during multiple rallies and public meetings that the CAA would expedite grant of citizenship to refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, having fled religious persecution in their countries, without affecting Indians and that there was no move so far to bring in the nationwide NRC. On the other hand, Opposition parties have accused the Centre of misleading the people on the issue and pointed out that a country-wide NRC was mentioned in the BJP's manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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Updated Date: Jan 27, 2020 12:32:08 IST