The hearing process for the 36.2 lakh claimants who were dropped from the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) started on February 15. The hearing process is underway all over the state, in 1,436 venues where 2,806 officials have been deputed for the tough job as per the official communiqué from the NRC authorities. When the NRC hearing process was started for the claim applicants, there appeared various discrepancies that needed to be sorted out. However, the NRC authorities began the hearing procedure for the claim applicants without taking this into consideration, a situation that has become painful for the general public.
When the process for hearing for the claim applications started, the general perception was that hearings must be held in areas that were accessible to the claimants. However, it appears that many people have been called for hearings situated in far-flung places. In such cases, a person may have to rush to the hearing venue, sometimes with their entire family. This has become not only hugely expensive, but is also undue harassment. Though there was an appeal before the Supreme Court of India that any person who had submitted a claim of application should not be called for a hearing to any place other than their on district area, but the Court remained silent on the matter. In most of the cases, claimants and witnesses are called for hearings 300-400 kilometres far from their place of residence. In some cases, claimants and witnesses have been called for hearings as far away as 700-800 kilometres from their homes.
For example, one Monirul Islam (Name and address changed) of Rakhalkilla village in the Goalpara district was called for a hearing to Laluk in the Lakhimpur district in upper Assam. The distance between Rakhalkilla and Laluk is 796 kilometres. Monirul Islam was called for a hearing because someone living in the Lakhimpur district used his grandfather’s legacy data. Even though the 47 family members who used the legacy data of Abul Kasem (Name and address changed) appeared in final draft of NRC, all of them were summoned as witnesses for the hearing of the person living in the Lakhimpur district. Monirul Islam is a daily wage labourer, and one brother supports his seven-member family by begging, due to his physical disability.
When Monirul Islam’s family received notice of the hearing, they called CJP’s toll-free NRC helpline. The family told CJP’s team in Assam of their inability to attend the hearing due to their dire financial situation. CJP’s state team mobilized local people in support of the family, and raised Rs. 27,000 for the family to hire a bus and attend the hearing at Laluk in the Lakhimpur district. CJP community volunteers Rafikul Islam, Rejaul Islam, Kurban Ali, Mokbul Hussain and Didar Ali from Goalpara, and Dipanta Kakati, Subinoy Pathari and Rajiv Ali from Lakhimpur were involved in this effort, and extended all possible help to the family. The person that used Abul Kasem’s legacy data is originally the grandson of Kasem Ali of Gossaidubi, which is only 5 kilometres from Rakhalkilla village. The family incorrectly used Abul Kasem’s legacy data, instead of using the legacy data belonging to Kasem Ali. It is worth mentioning that one son of Kasem Ali left Gossaidubi 50 years ago, and had no contact with the other siblings of Kasem Ali in long run, which led to this situation. Abul Kasem’s family members were able to establish their citizenship due to CJP’s efforts, but the fate of the family of one grandson of Kasem Ali still remains uncertain.
Volunteer Motivators speakThe main problem that arises during the hearing process is that people who attend hearings are not given any documents verifying that they presented themselves at the hearings and that they submitted all necessary documents, according to Majidul Islam, CJP Volunteer Motivator for the Barpeta district. Moreover, he said that the applications of people who submitted correction forms offline have not been updated. “Some NSKs remain closed, so many people can’t collect proper information regarding hearing the procedure,” Majidul said, adding, “At hearings, some officials raise some undue questions to puzzle the claimants and witnesses.” Majidul explained that in many cases two or three families have been called into hearing room at a time, ostensibly because officials want to leave early, causing confusion. Majidul also noted that the notice served to claimants and witnesses firmly states that anyone can attend on behalf of all those with the same Application Receipt Number (ARN). However, those who do not attend, including minors, are marked as ‘absent’ by disposing officers, who also question their absence; this could create problems in the future.
“The people dropped from the final draft of NRC are mostly uneducated and poor. They could not submit their documents properly. In maximum number of cases their forms were not filled properly due to absence of proper knowledge and awareness. Though many people having their valid documents, they could not submit those for their ignorance,” Anish Ahmed Bhuyan, CJP Volunteer Motivator for the Kamrup district said. “At the time of hearing of claim forms, they take all documents with them but they cannot submit the proper documents and respond properly to the queries due to illiteracy. Whenever I or other CJP community volunteers used to go to help these people, the disposing officials felt irritated. They even compelled us to come out of the hearing centres,” he added, saying that despite this, “We are extending all possible help to the distressed people so that no Indian citizen is left off the final NRC.”
Sitenjoy Sarkar, CJP Volunteer Motivator for the Bongaigaon and Chirang districts said that disposing officers did not accept many people’s citizenship certificates, even though the Supreme Court has declared them valid forms of identification. People have still been asked for alternate documents. Sarkar cited the example of Thakur Das Mandal of Bogorikhuti village under the Tamulpur revenue circle in the Baksa district; Mandal had a citizenship certificate from 1958 that was submitted by his granddaughter. The document was declared invalid by the disposing officer at the sub-divisional office in Bijni, in the Chirang district; the officer alleged that the revenue circle office at Tamulpur was established in 2003. However, when investigated, this was found to be false. In fact, the Tamulpur revenue circle was established just prior to India’s Independence, and was declared a sub-division in Tamulpur. The disposing officer apparently could not differentiate between the revenue circle office and the sub-divisional office. Sarkar noted that since the officer delivered his order regarding the document orally, there is no way to take proper legal action against him. Despite having “all sorts of complications, we are fighting against all these irregularities and discriminations,” Sarkar said of CJP’s work. CJP community volunteer Forhad Ali said that due to discrepancies in surnames and ages, many claim applications have been rejected, which is a violation of the Supreme Court’s order, and of the various clauses of the modalities and the standard operating procedure of the of NRC.
Volunteer Motivators go above and beyondIn this complex situation, CJP’s team in Assam is working daily for an error-free NRC with the help of all democratic and secular people of the state and also with the unrelenting efforts of CJP’s Volunteer Motivators and Community Volunteers all over the state. Whenever required, Volunteer Motivators, community volunteers and members of CJP’s state team travel to places and attempt to help in all possible ways. On November 3, 2018, Anish Ahmed Bhuyan, Volunteer Motivator for the Kamrup district rushed to attend a hearing at 0937 No. Batahidia NSK at Majortop in the Kamrup District to assist people who had been summoned for the hearing due to certain complications. This was not isolated case; he helps in such ways everyday.
Jamir Uddin Talukdar, CJP Volunteer Motivator for the Hojai and Nagaon districts rushed to Deputy Commissioner’s office on March 13, 2019. He consulted on a complicated case involving the hearing notice of one Fatima Begum from the Nilbagan area in the Hojai district. Fatima Begum’s hearing is scheduled for March 20, 2019. Fatima Begum has used her mother’s legacy data. However, a complaint was raised against her by her maternal uncle’s family. Talukdar has had detailed discussion about the matter with Pankaj Deka, the Additional Deputy Commissioner of the Hojai district and especially deputed for NRC work. He is trying to settle the issue with the help of oral evidence, as there is no other way. Talukdar is working daily across Hojai and Nagaon, including far-flung areas to tackle such cases.
On March 14, Faruk Ahmed, CJP Volunteer Motivator for the Morigaon district, attended a hearing after Motin Ali of Nalduba village in Dhing in the Nagaon district. Two families including that of Motin Ali, and another family from the Bilasipara area in the Dhubri district used the same legacy data. During the hearing process, it was proved that Motin Ali’s legacy data was genuine. Given this, the family from Dhubri was allowed to submit alternative legacy data after Faruk Ahmed’s intervention. Thus, the hearing process for both parties could be successfully completed.
On February 15, one Paban Saha from the Bijni area in the Chirang district was called for a hearing at the Block Development Office, Fakirganj in the South Salmara district. When Paban Saha rushed to Fakirganj, which is around 200 kilometres from his residence, he had to return, as the document he submitted was not available in the disposing officer’s database. He was again called on March 11, for another hearing. On that day, CJP Volunteer Motivator Sitenjoy Sarkar attended the hearing to assist him. In fact, the legacy data that Paban Saha had submitted was not his own. It was used incorrectly due to a similarity in names. So, Paban Saha requested the disposing officer to change the legacy document he had submitted with his claim application. Thus, the claims of both parties who had submitted the same legacy data at an early stage were settled amicably.
These are just a few instances of CJP’s efforts in Assam. We have monitored the situation in the state since 2017, and a CJP team visited Assam in June 2018. Since then, we have launched a toll-free helpline number to field NRC-related queries and an app that has helped facilitate the NRC claims and objections process. CJP Volunteer Motivators and community volunteers have been deployed all across Assam, and have helped process ten lakh claims forms. We intend to continue our efforts to ensure that all Indian citizens have their citizenship recognised and secure, and to work to avoid a major humanitarian crisis in the state.
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