Of no fixed abode: Freedom fighter’s children, grandchildren ponder future after Assam NRC draft leaves out their names

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: As a young boy, Sanjit Debnath would often visit his father’s garment store in Masimpur, 12 kilometres from Silchar town in southern Assam’s Cachar district. “I still remember the respect my father commanded from people in the area. Many of them only visited our shop to hear him narrate, once again, the time he spent in jail during his student life in the 1940s while fighting for the freedom of India,” said Sanjit, a 65-year-old retired government employee from Silchar.

Sanjit Debnath is an ex-government employee. Image courtesy: Swapnaneel Bhattacharjee

Sanjit Debnath’s father was a freedom fighter. Image courtesy: Swapnaneel Bhattacharjee

“My father, Bhuban Mohan Debnath, passed away in 2003. He would have never thought that one day, it will be his children fighting for their identity in a country he loved and would have gladly died for,” Sanjit said just days after his entire family found their names missing from the second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The 19 members of the family who have been left out of the final draft include five of Sanjit’s brothers (Ajit, Bijit, Sujit, Asit, Biswajit) their respective children, and his sister Swapna. All of them reside in Silchar, except Asit, who stays in Delhi.

While two of the brothers, including Sanjit, retired from government service, the remaining brothers and the sister are government employees. Sujit, meanwhile, runs a homeopathic medicine shop. The family members are aged between five and 68, with Ajit being the oldest and Sanjit’s granddaughter Supritha being the youngest member. The names of the spouses of the family members were, however, in the second draft of the NRC.

Sanjit said, “None of our names were in the first list. But since most people did not make it to the list, we were not anxious. We are clueless why our names are missing from the final draft despite submitting documents such as land deeds and a copy of the voters’ list with my father’s name on it dating back to 1960s,” he said.

He said that the family got all documents verified at an NRC Seva Kendra in Cachar district’s Palonghat on 5 April. “The officials told us everything was in place. They did not raise any red flags,” said Sanjit, who completed his higher secondary from Cachar College in 1972, and was employed with the Inspector of Schools in Cachar district until his retirement in 2015.

Sanjit said the road ahead would be tough and that he expected long-drawn-out legal procedures. “We will visit the NRC Seva Kendra and submit application forms for claims. It might take a long time to resolve things,” he added. More than 40 lakh residents of Assam found their names missing from the final draft of the NRC, of which nearly 4 lakh were residents of Barak Valley.

“People whose names are missing form the final draft of NRC are going to suffer, particularly the poor. They’ve already suffered a lot during the verification process as a large number of people had to go to distant places to report to NRC Seva Kendras,” Sanjit added.

“Many from my family have served the government in various capacities. Some are still in service. We are not able to digest the fact that despite working for (the government) for so many years, we were put under the ‘not included’ category,” he said. “Sometimes, I wonder what will happen to us if we are not considered genuine citizens of the country? Will our pensions be stopped? Will my siblings in government jobs be suspended?” Sanjit asked.

For now, there are no answers.

Source: https://www.firstpost.com/india/assam-nrc-freedom-fighters-children-grandchildren-ponder-the-future-after-their-names-go-missing-from-final-draft-4920911.html