Rohen Ali’s illiterate wife has learnt to identify one English letter — D. It evokes more dread than delight.
She doesn't know when Rohen, 37, will return home from a detention camp for persons of questionable citizenship — marked D (doubtful) voters.
Rohen is one of the state’s 147,000 such voters whose fate was decided by a foreigners’ tribunal.
Rohen’s neighbour in Khumri village Samad Ali misses his D-voter wife Khabirunnesa, languishing in another detention camp. “How can she become a D-voter when her father was in the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC)?” he asks.
Rohen’s father, Lalchand Bepari, too had his name in the 1951 NRC and voted in the elections in 1966, five years before the cut-off date - March 25, 1971 - was decided for filtering Bangladeshis from genuine Indian citizens in Assam.
Many of some 600 inhabitants of Khumri, near the Bangladesh border west of Goalpara (140 km west of Guwahati), are D-voters.
None, though, are aware that elections in Assam have since 1985 — last of Assam's anti-foreigner agitation years — been fought to turn the D-listed into Bs (Bangladeshis). And, conversely to help them be legal voters again.
The ‘D-tag’ looms around Bengali Hindus too, despite the contest between the BJP and Congress for elevating them from ‘migrants’ to ‘refugees’.
Legal experts say the D-voter concept is controversial. “There are no clear criteria for D-voter as per law, and tagging them invariably depends on the subjective judgment of the electoral registration officer of each assembly segment,” says advocate HRA Choudhury.