Alimmudin, 70, and his family moved to Darrang from Barpeta in 1984 when the river Brahmaputra eroded their home. He has papers from the 1951 NRC, in which his name appears alongside his father’s. He has been voting since 1972. When he moved to Darrang, his name on the voters’ list was listed as Alimmudin Mandal (Mandal is usually indicative of Scheduled Caste status).
He was called for five hearings. Two at Sipajhar, the third at Kharpetia, the fourth at Dalgaon and a fifth at Mangaldoi. At the first hearing, one of the NRC officials was the Head of Department of Assamese at Sipjhar University, and had taught Alimuddin’s son, Babul. He told them that because of the discrepancy in name – one document with and one without Mandal – Alimmudin would not make it to the list. He said it was no use pleading with him, there was nothing he could do.
At the second hearing however, when they produced land documents in addition to the 1951 NRC list and voters' list, they were assured by a different official that there was nothing to worry about. Three more hearings, reams of documentation and many testimonies later, his name was rejected from the final NRC list that came out on August 31, 2019.
Alimmudin has eleven children. He is the legacy person for all of them. Four made the list, seven were rejected. All those who made the list had hearings at Mangaldoi, while the others had hearings at Sipajhar. Sipajhar had only Hindu offiicials, while Mangaldoi had a mix of Hindu and Muslim officials.
Rajmina Parveen, Alimmudin’s daughter-in-law points to the relevance of this. “Hindus here have trouble saying our names, and so they make mistakes while writing them too,” she says.
Rajmina is 24-years-old and belongs to a family of 21 brothers and sisters. All but five made it to the list. Rajmina is one of the few women to have passed the Class 10 exams. Despite submitting her matriculate certificate, she faced rejection. She has two children - her seven-year-old daughter, Noor Nahar Bina made the list while her two-year-old son, Rakibuddin Ahmed, did not.
Abida Khatun, Alimmudin’s daughter is in her mid-thirties, and is one of the few women of her age to have passed class 9. For ten years she has worked at an Anganwadi. “She is a government employee,” her brother tells us with irony in his voice. Abida, like Alimmudin, had to attend five hearings and she too, was rejected from the final list.
For her last hearing, which was just a few days before Eid, Abida travelled to the hearing centre on a makeshift boat made from the bark of a tree. Her marriage certificate has the name Abida Begum, instead of Abida Khatun, as is often the case, by way of custom. However, she says, because she's educated, she managed to make an online correction so that all her documents read Khatun and not Begum.
Yet, she didn’t make the list. Her husband and three of her four children made the list. Her oldest son, who recently passed his board examinations with distinction, was rejected.
At one of the hearings, Abida asked the official to read out what he had written. He refused, saying it was none of her business. Officials would cover their papers with their hands while writing. Her husband tried peering and was shouted at.
Abida spoke of how people were being intimidated at hearing-centres. When there would be too much noise, employees at the centre would warn people, “If you make too much noise remember that the army is here. Also remember that RSS volunteers are here, too.” She said many people ran away from the hearings out of fear. She noted how it was that much harder for minorities like Muslims to attend and get through hearings.
Apparently, if a family consisted of 15 to 20 members and was particularly large, hearings weren’t even conducted for them. They would simply be made to sign and leave, as Babul, Abida’s brother, testified. In some cases, this was followed by sensational news on the television, reporting that these were cases of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants being smuggled into Assam with forged documentation. The rationale was how could a single family be so large.
On the one hand, Muslims in India are being accused of having unreasonably large families, while on the other, having a large family in this situation becomes the basis to accuse them of smuggling illegal immigrants into Assam. Somehow between the state and the narrative produced by the Hindu right, Muslims come to be marked as forever suspect.
And yet, as Abida reminds us, suspicion is also specific to situations. “When they hired me at the Anganwadi, they didn’t ask any such questions. Now suddenly the NRC comes and I’ve become a foreigner?” This points to how easily labour can be extracted when convenient and disposed of when not – and the historical way in which this community has been treated in this region; brought in as labour by the Ahoms and the British and then repeatedly targetted and periodically expelled.
Alimmudin’s wife Shahar Bano, 57, grew up in Barpeta and moved to Darrang with her husband. She told us that Alimmudin writes poetry, which he often recites to her. He wrote his first poem in 2005 when just after the monsoon, they had climbed a hill on which there stood a temple. Inspired by the beauty of what he saw, Alimmudin wrote his first poem. “He’s been writing a lot more lately,” she said, “ever since this NRC process began.”
Alimmudin pulled out his book of poems, each one numbered and neatly ordered, written in the most beautiful hand. He read out one – written recently – which, like his first, also spoke of the beauty of Assam, his home. It was filled with praise for its wonders. But the last lines, which tasted different from the rest, read, “...a land of such oppression, this isn’t my homeland.”