Meeta Rishidas (name changed) is from the neighbouring state of Tripura. She lost her parents when she was so young that she does not remember them. She was brought up by her father's brothers and sisters. When she married Shipon Rishidas, she moved to Silchar in Assam where his family made a living selling footwear at small shoe-shops.
Meeta’s mother-in-law is also from Tripura. Her family had moved to Tripura from East Bengal and settled there. For the Rishidas, a community listed as scheduled caste, marrying people from Tripura was not unusual.
Meeta lives with her husband’s family, which includes her mother-in-law, her brother-in-law and his family. Meeta and Shipon have two children – a boy, 7, and a girl, 4.
When the NRC process began, all the members of their family applied. However, when the list was released, it didn’t have Meeta’s name on it. The names of all other family members including her husband and children appear on the list. This was surprising to them and they thought there had been a mistake. Meeta’s name was on the same Ration Card as her husband’s.
The reason she was given was the lack of a document linking her legacy data. Meeta went back to Tripura to gather all documents that could support her claim. These were resubmitted to the NRC Seva Kendra (Help Desk). But her name still didn’t appear on the list. The family consulted a lawyer who could not explain what the problem with her papers might have been.
Over time, Meeta has grown subdued and depressed. She worries that she doesn’t even have a voter ID card, unlike the others. The fact that her name hasn’t appeared on the list is going to make her look suspicious in the community. People will want to keep their distance. Added to this is the fear and trauma of what the implications might be. She does not know what will become of those who have been excluded. Until the detention camps were built, people were being sent to jails. Will she be sent to jail? Will she eventually be sent off to an unknown country? Will she have to spend the rest of her life separated from her children and her family?
After the final NRC list was made public, scams were rife. People who claimed to be able to get names added on it, sprang up. Many in desperation and hope, paid their fees, only to realize that the agents who had taken their money had simply disappeared. Meeta’s family was advised to be careful of such scams.
Meeta’s niece, Supriya is in Class 10. A meeting was held at her school for the 20 or 25 students who had been left out of the list. The students had documents from the school to support their claims and yet they had been excluded. Supriya tells us that when the first NRC list was released, hundreds of thousands (over 40,00,000) of names were left out. Because so many names were wrongfully left out, this list had to go through a further revision. The current list came down to 19,00,000. She feels this is still a high figure. If the documents are re-checked, this number will go down further. She feels this is the time when people need to help each other, like the school is doing. They organised a meeting with the parents, closed the school at midday in protest and led a protest rally.
For Meeta, the only recourse is to file a claim at the Foreigners' Tribunal (FT). Her family has done this, now they must wait. Whenever the FTs begin to function, Meeta's family will have to go through the ordeal again. Meeta got her voter’s card a few days ago and voted in the 2021 election.
Yet the exclusion of her name from the NRC has worn Meeta down. Her family knows that Meeta needs all their love, support and reassurance. They are unstinting in it. They have made it clear that they will not let anything happen to her, come what may.