Anwar Hussain waited since early morning for his turn at a Nagrik Seva Kendra (NSK) in Golaghat district where he was urgently summoned for a re-verification hearing to establish his citizenship. On a 48-hour notice, he travelled all night from Kanhara village near Goroimari circle under Chaygaon constituency of Kamrup district, hiring a vehicle for Rs 18,000.
“We too want a pure NRC, but not at the cost of our health and earnings. We booked a Force Traveller vehicle, and travelled along with three other families from my village. It was tiresome. We started late, at around 7pm Sunday, and reached Golaghat at 5:30 this morning. We had to wait for the NSK to open at 10am before being finally called in,” said 33-year old Hussain who teaches English at a private school in Goroimari.
He heaved a sigh of relief as his second hearing to get enlisted in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) got over Monday afternoon. So did Yakub Ali, Rabiul Hussain, Daulat Ali, Mainal Haque and Hashmat Ali among thousand others who appeared for re-verification hearings on Monday in Golaghat district, travelling 300-500km from Sontoli, Kalatoli, Hatisolapam and adjoining villages under Goroimari circle.
Hussain had a word of praise for the NRC officials at the Golaghat North Development block office in Dergaon, who he said were on their best behavior. There are 19 hearing centres in Golaghat district alone.
“They were well-behaved, and their intention was seemingly good. We are unsure of our fate, but remain hopeful,” remarked Hussain who will have to wait for the verdict till final NRC is published on August 31, 2019.
Anwar Hussain also thanked the Indian army unit at Golaghat for providing them with drinking water and allowing the women and children to use the toilet in their campus. Nearly 150 families from Kanhara village had received re-verification notices from the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration (LRCR) of the Goroimari Revenue Block on Saturday.
“There was no toilet at the hearing centre. We saw an army camp nearby, and requested them to help us with drinking water and asked permission to use their toilet. They readily agreed. There were women and children including newborns who had travelled hundreds of kilometers...It was a big relief, and I am grateful to the Indian Army.”
The process of re-summoning, however, proved to be near fatal for villagers of Sontoli when a bus carrying 55 villagers to Golaghat met with an accident near Jorabat Sunday midnight, about 25 km from Guwahati. Each of these passengers had contributed Rs 700 to hire a bus for Rs 28,000 to the hearing centre at Khumtai. While 30 people were injured, seven are stated to be in a critical condition at the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH).
In the midst of it all, 70-year-old Rashmat Ali got lost for several hours upon reaching Golaghat. Anwar Hussain and a few others looked for him everywhere, and finally with the help of locals found him sitting with another person on the highway, not knowing where to go.
At another NSK in Golaghat, Daulat Ali of Singimari village attended his third hearing today, traversing a distance of about 370km. 15 people from Singimari under Goroimari Circle made way to hearing centres in three separate vehicles.
“I was the first in attendance, and the process was completed under one hour. It was extremely tiring. There were little children who vomited along the way. It was a 10-hour-long journey. We didn’t have a bath, and couldn’t have lunch. All our family members have featured in the complete draft NRC,” said Ali who had earlier attended a hearing on ‘Objection’ to his inclusion in the draft NRC.
Akram Hussain, a social activist in Kamrup district who will be attending a re-verification hearing on Tuesday at Chaygaon called it ‘an unnatural development’.
“Definitely, this has been done under someone’s pressure, because if it would have been done naturally, not many people would have been left out. Some vested interest group want maximum people from minority areas to be excluded from NRC. Earlier, they kept saying that 30-50 lakh Bangladeshis are present in Assam. Once NRC is published, if the number of people left out doesn’t correspond to their assumption, they would lose the trust build over the years. In 24 hours, over 2 lakh Objections were made last year.”
An NRC official, on condition of anonymity, stated that Family Tree hearings are held at the place or district where the maximum number of legacy data users of a family are residing, whereas family-based hearings take place in circle headquarters.
“Hearings are held in that manner. If my sister is married in Jorhat, and my ancestral roots are in Guwahati, she will have to travel to Guwahati for the Family Tree verification,” the official source said.
Considering the circumstances in which Family Tree based hearings are held, an April 10 order of the Supreme Court stated that the practice cannot be varied or modified. However, the State NRC coordinator was asked to ensure that at the time of hearing of claims, steps should be taken to ensure that no inconvenience is caused to the persons required to attend the hearing, and to see that they are not required to travel long distances, if possible.
The Supreme Court on July 23 had extended the deadline for publication of the final NRC to August 31 purely on request by State NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela, and rejecting the request of Centre and state government for re-verification. The court cited a sealed report submitted by Hajela that stated that names of 80 lakh people - 27 percent of names in the final draft NRC have been reverified during ‘claims and objections’ process. A week later, the Assam government released sensitive district-wise data on exclusions from the draft list on the floor of the state assembly and pushed for re-verification. The Opposition Congress, civil rights body Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RAAG), and a section of intellectuals said that the move is tantamount to contempt of court, citing a September 19, 2018 order through which the Supreme Court had directed Prateek Hajela not to share any information pertaining to the ongoing exercise with any Executive, Legislative or Judicial Authority of the state without leave of the court.
Former Assam Director General of Police Harekrishna Deka said people in Assam want an error-free NRC, but not one ‘corrected’ to suit political interest.
“It seems to be a political ploy. The Supreme Court rejected their plea for verification of 20 percent entries. Obviously, BJP is not happy. It cannot blame the Supreme Court, and so has targeted Hajela, the soft target. We are also interested in a correct NRC, but not one 'corrected' to suit political design. In such a massive exercise, mistakes may be there, and so there has to be a mechanism to attend to such mistakes even when the final NRC is published."