She said her name was Basheeran Begum. Then hesitantly she said, “Write Khatun please. My identity card says Khatun.” This was a common refrain in most places because small changes in names and spellings across varying government documents, often due to no fault of one's own, were being cited as reasons to exclude people from the exercise.
Basheeran had tried claiming her father’s legacy but when she went to submit land records in his name, the Panchayat officers claimed that they couldn’t understand anything because all documents had supposedly been drawn up in Urdu/ Arabic when they had been drawn up in Bihar. They asked her to get the documents translated. She went from office to office and was finally so discouraged, she came back without submitting any document at all.
We looked through her documents and realized that the Urdu portions of writing were followed by Hindi. Anyone would have been able to tell this with a little effort.
Basheeran’s own family and as well as her husband’s side of the family both come from Motihari district in Bihar. Her husband Liaqat Ali had moved to Assam at a young age to better his work prospects. This caused him to forfeit his claim on his family’s land in Bihar and because of this, his children are unable to establish legacy through their father. None of his ancestral property documents from before 1971 mention his name anymore.
Basheeran and her husband have been living and voting in Assam for a long time now. They are one among thousands of families across Assam that are caught in a tragic dichotomy - their families have lived here for generations but they do not have State-mandated documents to prove this. Within the whole NRC exercise, this means running a huge risk of being harrassed, penalised, detained and evicted.
“Even after the trouble I faced at the Panchayat, I went and retrieved a copy of our names on the voter’s list of Sivasagar and gave it to my youngest son to use, though they were from after 1971. All my five sons have submitted the exact same set of documents but only one has made it into the list. We have no idea how the others got left out”, she said.
Her sons were not around to meet us. As for herself, Basheeran seemed to have given up, having come up short against the lengthy, confusing, bureaucratic machinery that the process is mired in. There is no one to guide her through it all. When she heard that a team was visiting her village to talk about the NRC, she came running to see us in the hope that we would be able to help her sons and her.