Fear of NRC exclusion continues to push Assam's poor over the edge, 20 suicides reported in past 6 months

Shajid Khan | Mar 12, 2019 | 5 min read


UDALGURI: The updating of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) for Assam has become a source of tremendous stress and anxiety for segments of the state’s population, so much so that nearly 20 people have killed themselves over the last six months fearing exclusion from the register.

These emotions do not necessarily arise from paranoia — after all, exclusion from the NRC implies revocation or denial of Indian citizenship and, perhaps, even deportation from the country.

The NRC contains names of all genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam. The process to update it started in 2013 under strict monitoring from the Supreme Court, which has set July 31 as the deadline for its publication.

On the midnight of December 31, 2017, a partial draft of the NRC was released; on July 30, 2018, the complete draft was released — 2,89,83,677 people were found eligible out of the total 3,29,91,384 applicants. Of these, 37,59,630 have been rejected, while 2,48,077 are on hold.


NRC anxiety flares up communal sentiments

Though the number of suicides is as per media reports, not official statistics, one more case, from last week, has come to light — a daily-wage labourer Bhaben Das (45) committed suicide late on March 3 in a tea garden in Bholabari under Kalaigaon PS, which is a mere two hours away from state capital Guwahati, in Udalguri district. And his small town, gripped with anxiety, has been buzzing ever since that fear of being declared a ‘foreigner’ and repeated serving of NRC notice pushed Das to take the drastic step. Family members and local community leaders allege that his death is a sign of betrayal from the BJP-led government, whose detrimental policies and politics of appeasing a section pushed Das, who left behind a wife and child, over the edge.

“He had been running from pillar to post to prove his citizenship and was under severe mental stress after being repeatedly served with the NRC notice,” alleged his mother.

Some local community members have hinted that communal sentiments have flared up and Das’s suicide is an example of how arbitrarily only Bengali Hindu names are being excluded from the NRC. They feel that this is a deliberate attempt on part of NRC authorities to brand Bengali Hindu names as “declared foreigner”.


Is votebank politics to blame?

Even as the death of their breadwinner has sparked a flurry of visits from several quarters, including student organisations All BTC Bengali Youth Students Federation (ABBYSF) and All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation and the media, the family, according to community members, is still waiting for a visit from Mangaldai MP Ramen Deka, who doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to visiting suicide-stricken families.

ABBYSF adviser Shyamal Sarkar fumed that locals are ready to oust him if he contests the forthcoming parliamentary polls.

Sarkar also alleged that the NRC update process and D-voter notices have been a nightmare for many genuine citizens of the state, a majority of whom are Hindus. “The state government is politically conspiring against Bengali Hindus; the saffron party’s commitment to grant citizenship to Bengali Hindus was just votebank politics,” he claimed.

“If the BJP was genuinely concerned about passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), 2016, it could have brought in the law through a President-promulgated ordinance.”

The CAB is just a political gimmick to woo the Bengali Hindus of Assam and West Bengal and garner their votes, Sarkar maintained. 

On October 28, 2018, Dipak Debnath (49) of Ulubari (Ghagra) village under Harisinga PS in Udalguri district committed suicide by hanging himself in the wee hours. On October 14, 2018, Bimal Chandra Ghosh (59), a liaison officer at an NRC seva kendra, committed suicide in a rented railway quarter in Jalukbari locality of Tangla town in Udalguri district, while on June 13, Gopal Das (65), purportedly also under pressure to prove himself an Indian citizen and afraid of being excluded in the NRC, committed suicide at Nislamari village under Tangla PS in Udalguri district. 


What’s the whole story?

But while civil society members and the public blame NRC exclusion for Das’s death, Superintendent of Police, Udalguri, Longnit Terang told this correspondent that the victim had sufficient documents to prove his citizenship and that, prima facie, NRC doesn’t appear to be the reason.

A local community leader, on the condition of anonymity, told this correspondent, “With the information we have collected, Das’s suicide may not have been entirely due to NRC, as he did have all the documents to prove his citizenship; however, it is true that he was being repeatedly served notices by NRC authorities.”

Sailen Kumar Sharma, president of Tangla Human Rights Forum, a local NGO working in Udalguri, said, “Every developing nation has policies regarding detection and deportation of illegal immigrants and grant of citizenship, but I am concerned about the plight of doubtful citizens. The government should draft policies for rehabilitation of illegal immigrants and grant them special status for working and living as dignified individuals; their human rights can’t be violated by making them languish in detention camps.” 

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