Kamala Begum’s husband died eight years ago. She has two children and was living in a rented house in Jorhat town when we met her. When the NRC was announced, her documents were filed like everyone else’s. However, she did not make it to the list. Unknown to her, in government records, she had already been classified a D-Voter. There was an ongoing case against her that she didn’t know of because the notices were sent to a previous address.
Being a single woman with children and an unmarried sister made her a less-than-ideal renter. She hadn’t got along with a former landlord and when the first few notices were served to her to appear before the Foreigner’s Tribunal, she didn't receive them at all. In fact, she feels that the landlord did not forward them to her intentionally. It was only much later that she found out about her situation when the former landlord forwarded a warrant issued for her on 25th September, 2019.
By then, in the eyes of the law she had already defaulted. She was confused and in shock. She had to rush to find a lawyer to represent her in the ongoing proceedings. It was the lawyer who looked through the documents and explained to Kamala that the case against her had been going on since 2008. There were allegations of her having lived in Assam illegally since 1971 and not submitting any documents to disprove the charges. Because of Kamala Begum’s predicament, her children’s names had also been automatically excluded from the NRC.
It is easy to see how a woman like Kamala gets systematically excluded from information. Yet the burden of accessing information and of providing proof is placed on her with no support network and multiple vulnerabilities.
“My lawyer does not speak properly to me. He keeps asking for more and more documents and more and more money without explaining what is going on with the case. I've already had to pay Rs. 40,000 in anticipatory bail surety and lawyer’s fees. At this rate, soon I will have nothing left.”
Kamala and her family have no idea who might have filed the D-voter allegation against her in 2008. Now because of what might have been an anonymous tip-off, her whole life and future and that of her family, is in jeopardy. On the evening of our visit, she was still hopeful that if she submits the right legacy documents, she would make it to the NRC in spite of the pending case against her.
Later we learnt that Kamala Begum was sent away to the detention centre at Jorhat.