Testimony Of
Roshan Begum

Except for her mother, Roshan's family of eight have been left out of the NRC. Her mother, Tabiya, is an adivasi, a tribal, from Assam. Her father left Bihar when he was 14, after both his parents passed away. He dropped out of school and came to Upper Assam to look for work. There he fell in love with Tabiya, they got married and settled in Sibsagar where all their children were born. It is here that we met Roshan.

Ever since the NRC was announced, Roshan, 29, has been coordinating with her father's family in Bihar as well as government offices in Bihar and Assam, in trying to source their legacy documents.

Roshan's father is the only earning member of the family after her older brother split from them and moved away. Her father has had to shut his chicken shop and travel to Bihar four times since the process began. He doesn't remember enough about places in Bihar so he usually takes someone else with him. The expenses pile up – so far they have spent Rs. 30,000 in just trying to source the documents.

Roshan felt that her uncle’s daughter in Bihar was reluctant to share any documents. Perhaps she thought Roshan’s family would lay claim to ancestral property. Roshan couldn’t tell whether her cousin was being honest about not being able to find the papers - another instance of the NRC process causing ruptures within families.

As part of the NRC documents, Roshan and her family had submitted land records from 1919 that were in the name of her father’s father. To establish her link to her father, Roshan had submitted her school-leaving examination’s admit card and to establish the link between her father and grandfather, she submitted her father’s voter ID and PAN cards.

The family has had to attend two hearings so far – one for her father, another for her brother. All family members had to be present for both. Roshan and three other siblings were not summoned for any hearings. However, all their biometric details were taken and they were told by the officers on duty at the NRC centre that this was done in order to synchronise their Adhaar details.

When Roshan had last checked online, none of her family members apart from her mother had been included in the Citizenship Register and there was no way of knowing the reason for omission.

We ask her what she will do next. Her father has been quite unwell. Sometimes Roshan has had to travel with him, sometimes she’s had to travel in his place. “I will have to go to Bihar once again, possibly even to West Bengal, which is where some of my family lives”, she tells us.

The question of what is home keeps coming up as Roshan speaks. Bihar, where her father is from, doesn’t feel like home to her. “It doesn’t feel familiar. It’s alright for a short month’s holiday but eventually I want to get back to my home in Assam.”

When we ask her about her exclusion from the NRC which labels her a videshi, a foreigner, she starts to laugh. “They might claim that. But my oldest sister’s name which was initially left out has been included after submitting a certificate from the gaon bura (village head) establishing legacy through our mother. How could it be that she is a citizen but her younger sister is an outsider?"

Roshan is unmarried like two of her sisters. Two other older sisters are married and live with their husbands’ families. The eldest one submitted her mother’s legacy document and was included in the NRC but the other who submitted their father’s legacy, got left out. She is worried about the fate of her children now.

Roshan and her other siblings didn’t know enough from the start to be able to plan what documents to give. When the messages flashed on their mobile phones informing them that the NRC process was on, they consulted with their Panchayat members who were also fairly clueless about the details of the process. “If you don’t have documents predating 1971, just submit what you have,” they were told.

They didn’t have their mother’s documents anyway and were encouraged to submit their father’s. There were some people in the village who cautioned them that this process is for creating a ‘Hindu list’ and their father is Muslim, so they might get into trouble later. Roshan feels they were right in their assessment. That is indeed what has ended up happening. At the NRC Kendra at the time of submission, Roshan had asked the officer if she should mention that their mother is a non-Muslim. “You are all Muslims now, just let it be”, he had said.

Subsequently, another officer mentioned that it might help to add the detail. In retrospect, it looks like that their mother’s religion did work in favour of her mother and eldest sister. She now wishes they had known a little more in advance so they could have been better prepared.

In 1998, when there was a Bihari Bhagao agitation, Roshan’s family had gone back to Bihar and gathered as many documents as they could. They also had land records from Assam from 1999 onwards. So, in a sense, given the history of persecution faced by Muslims and migrants in the state, they were prepared but perhaps no amount of preparedness was enough. Roshan felt that Bihari Hindus who were submitting similar documents were being included and Muslims were being rejected.

Roshan is in two minds about whether the NRC is necessary or not. She feels it must be good because it claims to weed out videshi or outsiders but she is unhappy because the entire process is tedious and stressful for everyone and at the end of it, the wrong people are being identified as videshi. When we asked her who and where the real videshi are, she had no answer.

“We will keep trying. But we will not go anywhere else. Simply because there is nowhere else to where we belong. No process that makes a country and its government disown so many people can be a fair process”, she concluded as we wrapped up the conversation.