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Separated families unite at NRC verification centres in Assam

NRC offices in Assam has to verify cases of family tree mismatches across the state by May 31, 2018 — the deadline set by the Supreme Court.

india Updated: Apr 01, 2018 12:28 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
National Register of Citizens,NRC verification,Illegal immigrants
People wait to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Goroimari of Kamrup district in Assam on January 1.(AFP File Photo)

Hasan of Azara locality on the outskirts of Guwahati officially established he is Meer Hasan of Assam and not an illegal immigrant in the state on Sunday.

Standing outside the National Register of Citizens (NRC) verification centre at the circuit house in Guwahati, overlooking the Brahmaputra, Hasan and his family members breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Moments ago, the process to update citizenship records to weed out illegal immigrants in Assam had accepted his credentials as an Indian.

The family expects a smooth sailing from here on to the NRC list.

At some point, when NRC officials came on a home visit to gather data on their family tree, someone gave his name as only Hasan and not Meer Hasan. Inevitably, a mismatch occurred with the NRC’s legacy data documents.

The legacy documents include the 1951 NRC and electoral rolls up to midnight of March 24, 1971, the cut-off date according to the Assam Accord.

According to the accord, all foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, illegally shall be detected and deported from the state.

This mismatch necessitated Hasan to be present at the NRC centre with his two brothers, three sisters, cousins and other relatives.

All of them had to be there to prove they knew each other. The sisters, all married, had to travel to Guwahati from different parts of the state.

“Our family will no longer have to run around proving we are Indian citizens,” said Hasan’s cousin Nabiullah.

Difficulties noticed during the verification exercise
  • People are getting notices to report at distant places for verification, and this is tough for the elderly, patients and the poor, according to NGO Citizens Rights Protection Co-ordination Committee
  • Most mismatches occurred because people did not offer complete, or correct, names of kin.
  • This did not match legacy documents on the family, according to multiple investigating officersBurden of proof is on applicant
  • Investigators are coming across old and illegible documents
  • There is no clarity on what will happen to those whose names do not make it to NRC lists
  • Deportation has not been discussed with Bangladesh, and there are several cases where people declared "foreigners" are in detention camps

While one family can breathe easy, the NRC office has its job cut out. It has to verify 4.8 million similar cases of family tree mismatches across the state by May 31, 2018 — the deadline set by the Supreme Court.

As many as 8,350 officials are investigating these mismatches manually in 4,131 venues across the state. They are scanning documents and questioning individuals and their relatives.

Prateek Hajela, state coordinator of the NRC, said, “It will take nearly 900,000 hearings to verify all the mismatch cases.”

Collection of family tree data through home visits started after August 31, 2015, after people had submitted verification forms as sought by the NRC, which wants a foolproof data set on citizens that will also check out with legacy documents.

Individuals submitted their forms based on their legacy documents.

Incidentally, the verification hearings in front of NRC’s investigating officers have reunited some families and thrown up emotional roller coasters.

For instance, at Sipon in the state’s Sivasagar district, Bina Arandhara, who became Bina Begum after marriage, met her family after 12 years at a verification centre.

Her family had not approved of her marrying a Muslim, but there was no rancour when they met to get over the data mismatch together.

In February, NRC officials saw a person apologise to his father for having thrown him out of their house 10 years ago. “The angry father had not declared his son’s name in the family tree, leading to data discrepancy,” said an investigator who saw them patch up.

Yet, not all family tree mismatches are mistakes, according to NRC investigating officers.

During scrutiny, they are coming across individuals who have forged documents or bribed others to use their legacy data in a bid to have their names verified for the list.

An investigating officer in Nagaon spotted several cases in which people declared foreigners or Doubtful Voters (which would keep them out of the NRC list till cases are pending) tried to get through the verification by changing names.

“A woman confessed she hadn’t applied in her name, but a different one because she was on the list of Doubtful Voters,” said the officer, who did not want to be named.

“She had given a gaon (village) panchayat secretary certificate to prove her antecedents. It looked forged and is being investigated,” the officer added.

Incidentally, the NRC office will also have to verify gaon panchayat certificates shortly and that will be another
extensive exercise.

Officials will have to scan 2.9 million of these certificates beginning April 2.

First Published: Apr 01, 2018 09:40 IST