The local panchayat office in Gova, a hamlet near central Assam’s Nellie in Nagaon district, is, on Monday, at once both heaven and hell for 800 edgy inhabitants from 12 villages under its jurisdiction.

One-fourth, or 200, individuals, from six-year-old schoolchildren to grandfathers and housewives, find their names missing from the consolidated draft National Register of Citizens (NRC), released Monday. This is not just any other bureaucratic record. Not figuring on the register could potentially lead to loss of citizenship, land, job, even mean a long stint in a detention facility.

To be sure, the state government has repeatedly clarified that no genuine citizen will be declared a “foreigner”. Appeals of those whose names are missing will be heard from July 7, says Raju Sharma, the local registrar of citizens’ registration at Gova.

The state is overall calm but tragic scenes play out at the Gova centre when the reality of missing names dawns. The 200 people at Gova are part of 4 million, among the state’s population of 30.9 million, facing a similar problem.

Abdul Malik’s son Sabbir Malik, who runs a shop, is the only one from the family whose name is on the list. Even that relief may be temporary; if the father can’t prove his ancestry, the son’s name will be automatically deleted.

The government owes Abdul Malik several months’ salary from his time at the now defunct Nagaon Paper Mill, which stopped production in March 2017. The mill was run by the central government owned, Hindustan Paper Corporation.

Malik wants to know exactly what went wrong. Until the state-level central coordinating office in Guwahati provides the official reason, no one can say for sure.

After several attempts going back and forth, Sharma seems to nail the problem. The surname of Malik’s grandfather, Dewan, and his don’t match. Moreover, instead of providing a magistrate-verified affidavit to prove ancestry, Malik submitted a self-signed declaration. That, apparently, wasn’t good enough.

The aim of publishing a list of all Indian citizens in Assam, on the directions of the Supreme Court is to identify genuine residents and illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Locals say migrants threaten their culture and are a drag on the state’s frail economy.

Things are even more touchy here in Nellie, where local tribals massacred 2,000 Muslim villagers in 1983, mostly Bengalis believed to be immigrants.

The terms of citizenship were sealed when the then Rajiv Gandhi-led government signed the historic Assam Accord of 1985 after a six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation. It was agreed that anyone who can prove that their ancestors entered the state before midnight of March 24, 1971 will be counted as citizens.

Geeta Rakhang, 34, Malik’s neighbour, has been smart enough not to commit Malik’s mistake. In official documents, she never traded her Karbi tribal surname for her husband’s, she says.

Residents need two sets of documentation to prove citizenship. The first step is to furnish documents in ‘List A’. This refers to any government-certified document from before 1971, such as names in a similar 1951 citizens’ register, or a school certificate, birth certificate, or land records. This is the so-called “legacy data”. Then, they are required to submit documents mentioned under ‘List B’, says Troilokya Saloi, the registrar of Nellie. The purpose of documents under ‘List B’ is to explicitly link the applicant with the name(s) mentioned in the documents in ‘List A’, thereby proving ancestry.

In a village officially called ‘No 2 Nellie Bagisa’, many are fighting a different battle. While preparing to submit ancestry documents for the citizens’ registry, local police served a surprise notice on Bengali-speaking Ratan Moni Das, 74, his wife Sabitri Das, son Rantu Das and daughter-in-law Samita Pal. Das’s family was under watch. The notice declared their “citizenship doubtful”, asking them to appear before a local foreigners’ tribunal, one among 100 set up to root out illegal migrants. “…If they don’t accept our case, I’ll have to die in a detention centre,” rues Das, claiming he migrated to Assam from Bangladesh in 1953.

When an updated draft is published next, those who fail to make the cut will be referred to tribunals to decide their fate.

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 22:56 IST

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