22, Jun 2018 | Deborah Grey
In this edition of our series on how the idea of Indian citizenship is being made and unmade in Assam as the National Register of Citizens is being updated, we bring you the story of Anjaan Musafir*. He is a man who could be India’s answer to DB Cooper, given how he has successfully evaded authorities by being on the run for nearly twenty years! However, unlike Cooper who high-jacked an aircraft and parachuted from it with millions of dollars, Anjaan Musafir is an ordinary daily wage labourer who dreams of becoming a farmer. Musafir fled his home shortly after receiving word that he was being considered a Doubtful Voter (D-Voter) by Election Commission officials.
“I’m not a smart man, but I know what prison is,” says Musafir sounding almost like Forrest Gump. “I got a notice saying I was being considered a D-Voter. It was because my father’s name Nausher was entered as Naushad in the voters’ list. It was the EC officials who made the mistake,” he recalls. “While I have some documents, I knew that if I ever got caught and sent to jail, I would never walk out alive. So I fled shortly after being served notice the first time,” he says matter-of-factly.
Musafir ignored subsequent notices and did not appear before a Foreigners’ Tribunal that eventually ruled against him ex parte (in his absence). Anjaan Musafir, therefore, went from being an Indian to a D-Voter to a Declared Foreigner (DF).
“I thought foreigners were western tourists. Do I look like a foreigner,” he asks with an almost childlike enthusiasm. He giggles a bit before turning serious again. “How can I be a Bangladeshi,” he asks. “I was born here in Assam. My father and grandfather were born here. Before I fled, everyone I knew was either from my village or the neighbouring village. That was my world,” he says shrugging his shoulders.
According to NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela, out of the total 87,000 people declared foreigners so far, 14,000 people have been found to have arrived between 1966-1971 and have been duly registered with the Foreigners’ Registration Authority. This leaves 73,000 people whose citizenship is disputed. Hajela says, “We have been able to identify and locate only 4,300 of them, but the rest are absconding and untraceable!” Musafir is one such absconder.
In the years since he fled, Musafir has done odd jobs. These days he works as a daily wage labourer in an around Guwahati. “There is a lot of construction activity going on, so I make a decent living,” he says. Back home in his village in Goalpara, Musafir’s wife and children as well as neighbours have been telling officials and cops that he abandoned his wife because of his ‘simple-mindedness’. Now even the authorities don’t bother the family. But Musafir is aware of his responsibilities. “I go home every three to six months to give my wife some money,” he says. “I reach way past sunset and leave at daybreak before anyone else even finds out I was there,” he says his eyes brimming with excitement.
Musafir’s sons have grown up and manage a small shop selling grains in their village. His daughters are married. Musafir has only one dream. “I want to go back to my village and grow my own crops. All I have ever wanted is to till my own land and be a farmer,” he says with a faraway look in his eyes. As I say good bye, I ask him if he is going to his village to meet his wife and he replies, “Honestly after all these years, sometimes I don’t know if I am coming or going. I just know I can’t stay in the same place for too long. So I keep walking…”
*Name changed on request
About the NRC
The National Register for Citizens (NRC), a record of ‘legitimate’ Indian citizens living in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The ostensible objective is to weed out ‘Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. However, the numbers tell a chilling story… one of a conspiracy of ‘othering’ and exclusion. 3.29 crore people from 68.27 lakh families in Assam have submitted over 6.5 crore documents with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to prove their Indian citizenship. But the NRC recently published a list of only 1.9 crores as legal citizens.
Lakhs of Assamese people, many of them from poor and marginalised communities, are under threat of having their legitimate citizenship revoked. CJP believes this is discriminatory. Join us and raise your voice against this injustice. Become a member to know more about our campaign in Assam.