The fear over India’s citizenship test has caused 61 deaths and suicides

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Aslah Kayyalakkath

The souls, that lived in this land for about a half century, who were married, who had kids, who learned here, who were wholly born and brought up from here, who even had been involved in the election procedures of this country are now tagged as ‘foreigners’ .The people of India’s northeastern state of Assam which counts up to 2 million in population, are now excluded from India’s citizens list. The central Government has published the final National Register of Citizens (NRC), a list of recognised citizens in the state of Assam, excluding nearly two million people amid fears they could be rendered stateless.

Excluded people will get 120 days to appeal and those failed to submit documents as proof for inclusion shall be imprisoned by the Government. But human rights activists say that the entire process of NRC has been riddled with inconsistencies and errors. The government has already announced its plan to build more detention centres. Nearly 1,000 people are currently lodged in six detention centres located in the jails.

The National Register of Citizen was put forward by the central Government asserting that it shall protect the indigenous culture of Assam from illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But then reputed sources have claimed that this list was riddled with errors and was incomplete since the first list from 1951, which was put up on the basis of the 1951 census report, was prepared.

Assam, surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar remains the only state in India to have its own register and the state accommodates about 100 foreign tribunals within their boundaries. These foreign tribunals pave the way to prove themselves their citizenship. People should show that they lived in Assam ever since 1971 march 24 so as to be included in the list, only then shall the foreign tribunals submit the report before the Division bench in Guwahati High court. It’s based on this report the India’s Supreme court approves the final draft of National Register of Citizen.

By claiming that there has been an increase among the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the hardship over citizenship approval has been increased. The rejection of the natives and considering their race as the grounds for it has now become something usual. Attitude towards the Muslim Assamese resemble that of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

The trouble caused by the citizenship has peaked in visible forms among the Muslim community of Assam due to the updating in the National Register of citizens, which shall accommodate only the so called ‘actual citizens’. As it threatens mainly the Muslims, its clearly understood that they don’t aim at the renewal of NRC, but aim on the racial annihilation towards the Muslim minority in the name of citizenship. The change brought by the central Government in the citizen law (Citizenship Amendment Bill) is now highlighted so as to justify that they don’t target the immigrants but their identity. India’s Hindu right wing leaders including prime minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah plan to change the law to grant citizenship to the refugees from neighbouring countries, but Muslims will be excluded. India’s lower house of parliament has already approved Citizenship Amendment Bill that would grant residency and citizenship rights to non-Muslim immigrants.

To make matters worse, anxiety over citizenship has prompted many a people to commit suicide. Rather than tagging it as suicides, they shall be named as well-organized murders in the name of citizenship by the authorities. They feared revocation or denial of Indian citizenship and, perhaps, even deportation from the country. To add this, the bewilderment is that the Hindus who committed suicide over the anxiety of NRC in 2018 (before passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill which grants citizenship to all except Muslims) is three times more than the Muslims who killed themselves.

Deaths by Citizenship

As he could not include his spouse Kadhbanu within the NRC list even after making huge struggles, Hitmat Ali, who had been included in the list already, committed suicide on June 17. The troublesome period in the detection center which his wife had gone through, has become the driving force behind Hitmat Ali’s decision. Ali was 50 years old.

Balijan Bibi, 43 from Kheluagaon village has a similar story to tell. But unlike the first incident, here she has ended her life not the male partner. Balijan Bibi was all alone while her husband was stuck in the detection center after being twice recognized as a foreigner by the tribunal. Her husband Ajballah Ali, 53 has tried twice to move forward legally to make it to the NRC list and had even paid for the third case which was about 20, 000 rupees. But then the court order was in no solace for him. Assam High Court didn’t even give a slight note of attention but just dismissed the case. As a result, he had been arrested and kept in the detection center. This prompted Balijan Bibi to kill herself and thus remains her five orphan kids.

17-year-old Noor Nehar Beegum in Ramwari Chapri village committed suicide on June 26. She made it to NRC list but was dropped later which ended up in her death.

Jaihal Ali, 40 was also tagged as a suspected foreigner. He ended his life as he couldn’t spare the amount to move legally. Four of his relatives were also not included in the previous year list.

Rahim Ali, then 37, has killed himself on July 5 for the same reason. His five little children, eldest among them is 17 and the youngest is just 7, were also excluded from the list on June 26 by which Ali was depressed which ended up in his death. He has been working constantly for his family to get into the list but he couldn’t and his fear of losing his children prompted to hang himself and put end to his own story.

Kulsum Beegam committed suicide on July 6 as she couldn’t make her birth certificate. Kulsum has made it to previous NRC list but was dropped in the latest list.Women from rural areas of Assam still strive to formulate their birth certificate, school certificate.. etc, but fails mostly due to technical errors.

40-year-old Amba Ali jumbed in front of a running train after being fed up working about 22 years to prove his citizenship. Ali has been in the D – Voter (Doubtful voter) list for the past 22 years.

Samar Majumdar committed suicide as she wasn’t allowed to stay with the privileges of a citizen even after gaining all the required documents.

Anar Hussain and Zabeda Khatun’s 40 days old infant died due to heatstroke as her parents were in the queue from 3 long hours at the NRC office which is 50 kilometers away from their home. They had been queuing in the sun for three hours. The couple had to travel to the hearing center in relation to Zabeda’s sister’s name being misspelt in the NRC, even though their own names were on the list.

Until now, the anxiety over NRC has caused 61 deaths and suicides.

All these incidents stated clearly marks that the Bengali Muslim Community of Assam are enforced to confront endless legal phases to prove their own existence, to get into the label of citizen and the financial expenditure is beyond their capacity. Those who could bear the cost are also not freed from the hardship whatsoever.  

Aslah Kayyalakkath is the founder editor of Maktoob Media

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