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NRC D-day: 'If a Gujarati or a Punjabi is Considered Indian, Why Raise Questions Over Bengalis?'

Image for representation. (PTI)

Image for representation. (PTI)

With their own fate and that of their families in limbo, many Assam residents are living in dread through the final countdown to the release of the citizens’ list

Guwahati: After attending six hearings, 70-year-old Prantosh Roy, a businessman in Assam’s largest city Guwahati, has a question for the government: why are ordinary people being forced to suffer the pain of India’s partition decades later? The final National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be published in less than 24 hours, and the fate of over 40 lakh people will be decided. Roy is one among many who await the results after going through a “harrowing” citizenship test.

“We became Indian citizens after Independence. Why this harassment for Indians, original Indians? It is not about 40-50 lakh people. If a Gujarati or a Punjabi is considered Indian, why raise questions on citizenship of Bengalis?” asks Roy.

The NRC was created in 1951 to ascertain who was born in Assam and is Indian, and who could be a migrant from neighbouring, Muslim-majority Bangladesh (East Pakistan, at the time). The register is being updated for the first time. It deems as Indian citizens those who can prove they were residents of Assam prior to 24 March 1971 – the day before Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan.

Roy says his grandfather was born in Krishnanagar city of West Bengal’s Nadia district and relocated to Brahmanbaria in Tripura district of then East Pakistan about a century ago. While his elder brother moved to Assam in 1951, Roy came to Guwahati in 1960. He proudly displays a picture of him with Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal when he was felicitated along with others for serving a 19-month jail term during the Emergency.

While in school, Roy says he was part of the Azad Hind Volunteers and participated in a protest rally from Manipur to Delhi. A release certificate from Gorakhpur jail where he was lodged for 11 days as a political prisoner is another of his prized possessions. Roy remains hopeful that the NRC authorities will consider it as proof of his citizenship, and get him listed in the final register.

“I believe in Bharat Maa and Maa Kamakhya – there cannot be injustice, and I am confident of being in the final NRC,” says Roy.

Roy also served as the district vice-president of the All Assam Students’ Union in 1970. AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya says the organisation will stand with anyone who is a genuine Indian citizen and moved to Assam after 24 March 1971.

“The updating process of NRC is based on the Assam Accord. It is a list of Indian citizens. After a long time, a long-pending demand of people would be fulfilled. But the government is trying to shelter Bangladeshis by extending the timeline of filing an appeal from 60 to 120 days. We will stand with genuine Indian citizens,” says Bhattacharya.

The central government has stated that people whose names don’t appear in the final NRC cannot be deemed foreigners till all legal options are exhausted.

Like Roy, Manik Ali from Bhalukabari under Goroimari circle of Kamrup district has attended four hearings since 15 May 2019. Ali says he has left his fate to God, and is apprehensive that so many hearings might go against him and his family after they made it to the Complete Draft NRC.

“Not just my name, but all my family members are in Complete Draft NRC. But I had to appear for four reverification hearings for my siblings and their families. First, it was for my two younger brothers and their children, then my nieces were called for a reverification,” says Ali, adding that the process is to establish linkage, and confirming that he had submitted all documents required to prove his citizenship.

A ‘Keep Calm’ plea has been issued to people by the state government and Assam police, and stringent security arrangements have been put in place to maintain law and order.