Testimony Of
Razia Khatun, Yusub Ali and Mohiruddin

Razia Khatun died at an NRC hearing-centre of a heart attack on 5 August, 2019. She was 55.

Razia’s name had appeared on both, the first and second drafts of the NRC list, but just before the third list was to appear, she was summoned to a hearing-centre. She received a notice dated 3rd August, at 3 p.m. on the 4th of August. The hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. the next morning. She had been summoned to a centre near Jorhat, about 350km away from her village.

That same day, Razia’s son Yusub Ali (38), her husband and their other children were scheduled to attend a hearing at another centre. And so Razia, who could not read and write, had to make her own way there, and attend the hearing unaccompanied by any of her family. Her son-in-law agreed to take her, but she was still very frightened.

She left with her son-in-law in a hired car that night for which they had to spend Rs. 30,000. It was the time of the monsoon, and the village had recently been flooded. The festival of Eid was only a few days away. Hours before they received the notice to appear at a hearing, the family had bought goats for Eid worth         Rs. 16,000. They had to sell them for Rs. 12,000 the same day. “There are very real physical and financial problems we face; this is just the sort of thing that Muslims are made to contend with,” Yusub said. “What we had to spend on a vehicle – there are families who could not manage to scrape together a sum of money like that in a month.”

Razia and her son-in-law arrived at the hearing centre at 7:45 in the morning. She was due to appear at 11 a.m. to make her submission. She died just minutes before handing it in, sitting on a chair as she waited her turn. “She would tell us she wished to die before having to go to any NRC hearing and that's what happened,'' Yusub told us with a sad smile.

Her son-in-law later took her to the hospital accompanied by police officers from the centre. No post-mortem was performed. Her body was brought back in an ambulance. Mohiruddin and Yusub only returned a day after Razia’s body arrived home, after their own hearings. “She used to say, ‘When I die, don’t wait for too many people to come, bury me immediately, as soon as possible.’ We couldn’t do even this for her since we arrived so much later, and that is what is eating my father up the most,” Yusub tells us.

Yusub’s father Mohiruddin, 63, keeps mostly to himself and has become very quiet after Razia’s death. He says he has no will to eat and is ill from the pain. The memory of her death keeps coming back to him and he cannot sleep. “We sent her with hope,” he says, “but only her body returned.”

Yusub made it to the final list. His sister, who submitted the same documents, did not. Both of them have been submitting documents since 2015. Moiruddin’s name appears on the 1966, 1971 and all subsequent voters' lists. They have a land-tax document for their family home dating back to 1918.

Yusub spoke at length about how rejections happened; of the kind of obstacles and roadblocks placed in the way. As the hearings began, he told us, a number of problems seemed to arise: the same person would often receive a notice for two consecutive hearings, only a few days apart, at centres hundreds of kilometres away, so arrangements had to be made to travel to both centres in a very short amount of time.

He gave the example of someone called Majid Ali - one document had a name printed with the correct spelling and the other had Maja Ali. The Employment Reference Number (ERN), father’s name, house number, and all of the other biometric data had the correct name. However, on account of this error, Majid Ali was listed as two separate people, and called upon to attend two hearings, one on the 3rd of August and another on the 7th, only for his name to be rejected eventually. Since he was a legacy person, nearly everyone else in his family was also rejected.

Yusub also spoke of how his daughter and niece, both two-years-old at the time, had also been summoned for a hearing, pointing to the seemingly arbitrary but most definitely targetted nature of the objections filed against citizens belonging to certain minorities or marginalised communities. To point to the depth of bias against Muslims, Yusub told us of an incident on a Guwahati bus where a woman was sexually harassed by one Sanjeeb Das. When he was caught he claimed his name was Saiuddin, a Muslim name, knowing that would change the nature of public outrage. Yusub’s friend and neighbour sitting beside him added, “We’re Muslims, aren’t we? That’s just how it goes. An accident of birth can make enemies of us all. Our fate is sealed by the names given to us at birth.”

Yusub’s home has not been the same after the death of his mother. The air is heavy with grief. Razia’s death had been reported in the news. The official cause of her death was a cardiac arrest. She was prone to high blood pressure, the news reports said. But as Yusub reminds us, “It was fear that killed her.”