In our search to find women who are resisting the anxiety and violence of the NRC, Jarjina’s was the first home we visited in Sivasagar. She was well-known in the area and soon the house was bustling with people, each one being treated with compassion and hospitality. It came as a surprise to us that someone as aware, articulate and educated as her had not been able to provide the required documents.
Out of a family of ten, only two of Jarjina’s sisters have made it to NRC, in spite of everyone having submitted the same legacy document – that of their father, Karim Ahmed. It is a mystery how two of Karim’s daughters made it to the NRC given that Karim’s own paperwork was rejected.
Jarjina’s father was an adivasi who after being sent to work at the house of a man called Hafeezat in Dhubdor, gave up his adivasi identity, adopted Islam and changed his name to Karim Ahmed. Karim’s father was sure that if he ever lacked anything, Hafeezat’s family would provide for him.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. Hafeezat and Karim’s families broke into a fight at the NRC Kendra in Nazira during their hearing because the women of Hafeezat’s family did not wish to share their legacy with Karim’s.
It was only at the NRC Kendra that Karim’s children found out about their adivasi heritage. They were originally Karmakars – a fact he had hidden well through the years, for risk of being shamed and of not finding marital prospects for his daughters. An indigenous identity might have saved them from being excluded today. But his former identity was obliterated due to Karim’s conversion.
During the course of the next hour, over an endless supply of tea and snacks, he shared his life’s journey. “I was a little boy during the Nagaland war. I remember the firing would go on for hours and the bombs would keep us awake at night. I’ve been living here in Haluating on and off since then. I remember everything. But my tragedy is that I don’t have the necessary government papers to prove it. However, I guarantee you that there is no one in these parts who can claim that I’m Bangladeshi.”
In his youth, Karim had eloped and married Nawab Ali’s daughter, Jameela, in Raidinga who had died young of a lightning hit. He never remarried. As was common then, she had no identity documents linking her to her parents. She had been offered a piece of land as a gift from among her father’s property but as the daughter, she had refused. Being young and idealistic, Karim had also not insisted. Today he laments - if only they had accepted the gift, there would have been an easy paper trail.
After failing to establish legacy through her father’s adopted Raidinga family, Jarjina and her siblings were asked to get a land-tax receipt or something of equal weightage in their mother’s name. Her father pleaded with his brother-in-law Noor Ali’s son, Fatho Ali , to give him something that would help the children establish their legacy.
After a lot of coaxing they relented and shared an old land settlement record in the name of Nawab Ali, his father-in-law, that had subsequently been transferred in his son Noor Ali’s name. The gaon bura (village head) from Jarjina’s mother’s village has also given them a certificate attesting the link between Jameela and her children.
“Why must I then suffer such humiliation? I gave birth to these kids, I raised them single-handedly after their mother died and today that is not enough, I have to prove my relationship to them? Today my daughters might say something in anger, tomorrow it will be one of the grandchildren. Why must I be susceptible to such taunts? Why should I be dependent on them at all?” With this Karim Ahmed broke into tears. His daughters told us that he had been having suicidal thoughts lately.
As we were leaving her cosy wooden hut, someone told us that a local women’s organisation saw great leadership potential in Jarjina and had tried to encourage her to get training in the NRC process so that she may raise a voice for others like herself.
Her husband had disapproved and would often beat her up when she raised the subject. He had also been threatening that he would remarry if she were taken away to a detention camp. The very real and immediate threat of detention had loomed large in every one of our conversations that day. Stories of pain, fear and violence were spoken of in hushed tones, cracked voices and in sentences left incomplete.
And yet both Jarjina and her father manage to brave it with a smile. “ I’ve travelled toTinsukia, Lidu, even all the way till Kaliakhan for the hearings. At this rate, Allah willing, I’ll end up visiting many more new places till my very last days”, Karim Ahmed laughed.