Fifty-year-old Rukeya Khatun's (name changed) name appeared in the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published by the Assam government last year. She was very happy as the names of all the eight members of her family appeared in the draft NRC.
Yet, she had to come to the Chenga Inspection Bungalow (IB) on Wednesday to appear before the NRC officials as part of a hearing as some people have raised objections about the Indian citizenship of three members of her family.
"I am fasting due to Ramzan. I am here to be present before the hearing as someone has raised objections about the Indian citizenship of three of my sons. Fasting on Ramzan is sacred and I fast every year on Ramzan. But when the names of my sons are in doubt, I have to come," said Khatun, a resident of Bagodi in Barpeta district, while talking to this correspondent.
Khatun was on a fast from dawn to dusk. It was hot as the mercury was soaring and yet she took a 40 km one way journey from her home to the Chenga IB to appear before the NRC authorities to prove that her three sons are genuine Indian citizens.
"They (her sons) lost their father about ten years ago. I was told that the NRC process had been very strictly monitored by the Supreme court. We have submitted all the documents and hence the name of all the members appeared in the draft NRC. However, yet some people still have doubts about my sons, why?" asked Khatun.
Interestingly, while Khatun and her three sons appeared before the NRC officials during the hearing, those two persons who raised objections against them have not. When Khatun asked for the names and addresses of the objectors, they were told that the top court has asked that the identities of the objectors not be revealed.
"What is this? Anyone can doubt our citizenship credentials and we cannot even know the name as to who raised the objections against us? This is not justified," said Khatun.
The case of Khatun is not the only example. Over two lakh objections have been raised against people whose names have appeared in the draft NRC.
In Assam's Barpeta district alone, NRC authorities have received over 70,000 objections filed against some people, mostly Muslims -- most of whose names have already appeared in the draft NRC.
Thousands of people in the state have been forced to appear before the NRC officials to prove their Indian citizenship one more time only because some people have raised doubts about their credentials.
Although objections have been raised mainly against Muslims, there are also Hindus against whom objections have been raised. The objectors have failed to appear in the hearings so far.
"I hail from Rampur village under Sarbhog in Barpeta district. I live in Guwahati although we have our ancestral village in Rampur. However, I received a notice recently asking me to appear before the NRC officials as someone has filed objections against me and my family. When I asked for details about the objectors, they refused to reveal anything. Is this a joke that people are raising questions about my citizenship?" said Har Kumar Goswami, who had to leave aside all his work and rush to the hearing.
"People are being harassed in the name of objections. There are people who work as daily wage earners and have to leave all work and rush to the NRC hearings, affecting their livelihood. The apex court must take note of this and take steps to stop this harassment," said Goswami.
The NRC authorities in Assam started hearings for the objection cases on May 6 this year. While those persons against whom objections have been raised have appeared before the officials for hearing, in none of the cases have the objectors appeared so far, raising questions about the whole process of objections.
The opposition Congress in Assam has recently raised the issue of alleged harassment of the people in the name of objections and sent a memorandum to the state coordinator of the NRC, Pratik Hajela. Assam's Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia met the State Coordinator NRC and asked him to take corrective steps so that the harassment can be stopped.
"We welcome the genuine objections which have been filed against any ineligible person by following due process of law. However, it has come to our knowledge that large numbers of objections have been filed in a cyclostyled manner, in total violation of the law. Such objections have been evidently filed only with a view to harass genuine Indian citizens and derail the entire process," he said, adding that the objectors have neither attended the hearings, nor disclosed their identities.
Last year, the Assam government had published the draft NRC including the names of 2.89 crore people but left the names of 40,07,707 people out of the document due to some discrepancies in their supporting documents to prove their Indian identity.
While about 36 lakh out of these excluded people have submitted claims to list their names in the final NRC to be published by July 31 this year, some people have raised over 2 lakh objections against the inclusion of some people's names in the draft NRC, which has necessitated the holding of the hearings.
(Anup Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)
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