Breaking gender stereotypes was easier for Lakshmi than proving her identity

Urmimala Bhattacharjee | Aug 16, 2018 | 5 min read

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Guwahati:  

48-year-old Lakhshmi Rani Barman, from Choudhury Para, about 70 km from Guwahati, has had a rather difficult past. 

She was barely 27 when her husband left her without any notice, for another woman. Left with two sons, aged 12 and 14, she chose the unconventional option of picking up the pieces and standing up on her two feet.

Racing past gender stereotypes, Barman chose to start her journey as an autorickshaw driver, perhaps the only female to do so in Assam, then.

When pried about her choice of this particular profession, she says, “This empowered me. I don't have to depend on anyone to travel to Guwahati." Barman had started a small-scale business, which involved frequent travel to Guwahati from Choudhury Para. She would take passengers along, too, if she was travelling alone. Of course, the risk of travelling alone at odd hours of the day were plenty. Yet, the plucky character that she was, Barman braved through it all. Her daily journey was full of ups and downs, until she found some semblance of stability over the years.

Today, 20 years later, both her sons have settled down. At a time when one would expect relaxation and peace, the NRC verdict came out. 

It was a complete surprise to Barman that neither her name, nor her sons’, showed up on the list. This, she says, after submitting a complete set of legitimate documents that were mandatory. The entire village has been enveloped in a state of panic, with most of their names being left out, following rumours that people would be labelled foreigners and dumped either in detention camps or elsewhere. Those who would be spared, would have to live a chaotic life full of uncertainty with almost no hope for a decent future.

Barman, like most people in the Choudhury Para locality, is a refugee from the 1964 East Pakistan riots. Under rehabilitation programmes, these refugees were issued certificates by the then government. Families who migrated were given spaces to stay, under a land exchange programme between India and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

This is not the first time tragedy has struck citizens of Choudhury Para. According to the residents of this locality, the year 1988 saw mass evictions. As Barman recalls, “I was barely 16 then and had just given birth to my elder son. One day without any notice, men barged into our houses, threw out our belongings, got elephants to rampage around our locality, break houses and throw us away."

"The local MLA, Dr. Kamala Kanta Kalita, stood unmoved as the eviction went on," she added, still rattled as she recalled flashes of the incident. The eviction happened during the time of the Asom Gana Parishad-led government, headed by the chief minister Dr. Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. 

According to the Choudhury Para residents, a majority of individuals and their families have been left out of the NRC, reigniting panic and old scars from 1988. The main questions asked by them is that despite having an official refugee certificate and providing legal documentation, “Why is it that all names from this particular locality is missing?”

The villagers claim that the residents of Lamgaon, a locality at the other side of the road, are all registered with the NRC. "We have given our voter's ID card, ration card, land lease agreements and what not. What else do we give now?” rued Digen Das, Barman's neighbour. His wife and two sons’ names have also not made it to the NRC list.

Shakti Burma, another resident of the locality says, “We really work very hard and earn a living by making small bamboo seats. It is a huge struggle to spend so much money running around. We have given as much documents as anyone else. Where have they kept our documents? If others are registered, why not us?”

The NRC's key spokesperson and state coordinator, Prateek Hajela, has repeatedly assured of ample time to get their names included and rectified through the 'Claims and Objections' process till September 30, 2018.

But this seems to provide no assurance to the residents, since they do not have any extra documentation to provide. "What to clarify in the claims and objections? It is the same set of documents they would ask, and these documents are all we have, which is enough according to what they asked,” says Barman.

Despite words of comfort from and the circle officer that none would go to detention camps or jail, nothing seems to counter the anxiety in the minds of the entire population of Choudhury Para locality who have a strong fear of being either dumped into detention camps or spending the rest of their lives in foreigner's tribunal or the state high court for a respectable identity in the state.

"I have hustled all my life. Earned my bread through hard work and respect. This is not the future I waited for," laments Barman.

Video subtitles:

Byte: Lakhmi Barman

(03: 05- 03:16) It is the same story for us here. In the same family, for some their namer's of daughter's have come but son's missing. Same documents but still  99 percent people's name have  not come in our locality

 ( 03.26 to 03.40) We have documents of 1961, for 1967, we have land documents, Byte has voice over with visuals of the documents being shown by her

Byte Digen Das (Barman's neighbor) (02.40-03.05)

We have come in the year 1964. (points at the document). All of us have the same 1964 documents but in our locality, almost nobody has found their names in NRC final draft. This is what we object to.

Byte of Shakti Burma Shakti Burma: (00.00 to 00.35)

We really work very hard and earn a living by making bamboo furniture. It is a huge struggle to spend so much money running around. We have given as many documents as anyone else has. Where have they kept our documents. If others got their names listed, why were we left out?

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