Assam’s herculean effort to prepare a citizens’ list to detect illegal immigrants from mainly Bangladesh has struck many indigenous residents, including prominent ones, off it. Among those who have not made it to the draft National Register of Citizens or NRC are relatives of India’s fifth president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and those of noted freedom fighter.
NDTV met 55-year-old Ziauddin Ali Ahmed, Rangiya district’s Borkukuria village, 60 km away from Guwahati. The soft-spoken farmer-turned-fisherman, who lives in extremely humble means, is the nephew former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.
His entire family of four persons is missing in the draft NRC since they were missing from the 1951 NRC and subsequent voters’ lists till 1971 that were digitised by NRC authorities.
Those who have applied in the NRC had to establish their link with their ancestors who have lived in Assam before 1971 – the cut-off year – and for many families like Ziauddin’s, proving linkage is very difficult without “legacy data” – entries digitised from the 1951 NRC, and voter lists from 1966, 1970 and 1971.
“Our ancestral village was in Golaghat but my father settled here. Now, for NRC we looked for legacy data but we could not trace a single data in the NRC portal for linkage of our ancestors… I hope the government will consider and grants us a place in the NRC,” Ziauddin said.
Local residents claim many Indigenous Assamese Muslim families face the same fate.
Ziauddin Ali Ahmed is the nephew of India’s fifth president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.
“Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed is Assam’s pride so if this can happen to his relatives, think about what happens to people like us with no background. We are certain there were lapses on the officials’ part,” said Sariful Hussain, a resident of the village.
Five kilometres away from Ziauddin’s village, in Rangiya town, the Assamese family of a freedom fighter too is perplexed. Four of the 18 relatives of 89-year-old Krishna Kanta Lahkar could not make it to the draft. The reason: their legacy code had data of another family – yet another lapse in digitisation.
“We have our documents but in our legacy code, they have put data of another family. In the part draft, released earlier, our name was not there. We brought this to the notice of NRC office, they assured us corrections would be made but again in the full draft, we are out,” Mr Lakhar’s brother Chandra said.
These are not one-off gaps in the NRC process. There are other issues that have left thousands struggling to prove their citizenship. In all, the process has excluded some 40 lakh people.
Among factors which have compounded the problem is that there are undocumented people who didn’t vote before 1971 and also don’t possess any land documents. Also, in 1951, seven districts were not included in the NRC. And for some places, the government does not have records of the 1966 voter list. Many under the age of 18 who don’t have birth certificates and have not been included in voter lists are also out of luck.
Anyone who falls through these cracks, won’t find legacy data to prove their ancestry.
“It is a was a gigantic exercise. 2.39 crore applicants. We have traced linkage of each and every person with documentary evidence,” said NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela, the man in-charge of the project, said.