Sajjan Begum’s home was different from all the other tin-shed homes in her village. It had wooden chairs. She was holding her husband Ashraf Ali’s Aadhaar card in her hand as she spoke. His name was spelt right in Hindi, but it was Ashraw in English.
Ashraf Ali had to attend three hearings for updating the NRC. For the first two hearings, he was accompanied by his children. He had to go for a third hearing on May 23 2019, since there was an objection filed against his name by some Dheeraj Baishya.
Ashraf Ali had no idea who Dheeraj Baishya was. The man hadn’t even submitted an address while filing the objection.
This time, it was too expensive for anyone else to go with Ashraf Ali. He borrowed Rs. 800 from his neighbours and set off alone.
No Dheeraj Baishya was present at the hearing. It seems he wasn’t required to justify why he had objected to Ashraf Ali’s name on the NRC list, nor had he needed to submit or clarify his own credentials. This was still not enough grounds to dismiss the objection.
The onus to prove the allegation false was on Ashraf Ali. The officer asked him which part of Bangladesh he came from, to which Ashraf Ali replied, “How can I be a Bangladeshi? I was born here.”
He was then asked to give his biometric details. There was a rumour making its way around the village at the time, saying that those who submit biometric data, do not make the list.
Ashraf Ali came home that day and refused to eat anything. He barely uttered a word. Before he left for Friday prayers, he took Rs. 800 from his daughter-in-law who had just sold her goat to pay off debts. He went to the neighbours and returned the money he had borrowed to travel to the hearing. That night, he didn't come back home.
Assuming he had gone to his brother’s house, Sajjan Begum set off early the next morning to check on him. On her way, she received news that some children playing in the school yard had found Ashraf Ali’s body. After saying his prayers, he had walked to the Government Lower Primary School and swallowed poison, taking his life.
He was 93 years old.
On the 31st of August, when the final list appeared, Ashraf Ali’s name was on the list. Sajjan Begum’s, however, was not.
As it turns out, Ashraf Ali was a carpenter. Sajjan Begum proudly points to all the furniture he had made – chests, tables, shelves, the stool on which she sits to cut vegetables. The wooden chairs, too, were made by him.
Her eyes haven’t been dry since the 25th of May. She says, “I’ve become like an animal now. Gone mad. If I keep something somewhere, I don’t remember what I’ve done with it.”
The family has no land of their own and their two sons now work as agricultural labourers, earning a daily wage. Her husband taken from her, Sajjan Begum pushes herself to tend to her home, but she knows her future there is uncertain.