12, Jul 2019 | Syeda Ambia Zahan
At least six people have committed suicide in Assam in 13 days due to issues relating to National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the state, the final list of which will be published on 31 July. These suicide victims are of the age group of 14 to 50 years.
Citizen for Justice and Peace (CJP), a human rights organisation run by civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad has been keeping a tab on citizenship related deaths in Assam. According to its data, 57 cases of suicide relating to citizenship have been reported in various police stations across the state since the start of the process of NRC back in 2016. It also claims that the actual number of cases would be much higher than the official record.
The recent spate of deaths started from 26 June with Noor Nehar Begum, a 14-year-old girl from Rawmari Chapari, a village in a sand bar of Brahmaputra river under Dalgaon Police Station in Darrang district, committing suicide.
Noor was too stressed about a possible exclusion from the NRC after an additional list of exclusion was published. Unaware of the fact that the list sums up only those who are excluded in the final NRC and thus brings a possible inclusion for the rest in the final list, Noor took her life after her father went to an NRC Seva Kendra to check her name in the list.
“Her name was not mentioned in the draft NRC. When we heard about the additional exclusion list, we thought this is another draft NRC. She asked me to check her name in the Dalgaon NRC centre. So, I went there and found that her name was not included. When I informed her about it she got very frightened,” said Abdul Kalam, father of the deceased and a daily wage earner.
A week later another person, identified as Jaynal Ali, 40, hanged himself on 3 July, after he was allegedly told by his friends that he needed to pay a hefty amount of money to his advocate and NRC officials in order to get his family members’ name enlisted. Unable to manage the sum, Ali hanged himself in a tree near his house in the night.
Ali belonged to Abhayapuri sub-division of Bongaigaon district. The draft NRC, released on 30 July, 2018, had left out four of his family members. Since then Ali had been attending the NRC hearings with whatever savings he had.
On the night of 5 July, Rahim Ali, 37, from Bantipur village under Kayakuchi Police Station of Barpeta district hanged himself after five of his children — Hannan Ali (17), Mannan Ali (14), Rejina Akhter (11), Rumina Akhtara (9) and Rashmina Akhtara (7) were mentioned in the exclusion list published on 26 June.
“He was a daily wage earner and used to work in Guwahati. On 4 July, he came back to his village to appear in an NRC hearing on 6 July. After his family members informed him about the enlistment of names of his children in the exclusion list published on 26 June, he became very restless. On 5 July, we all went to the village headman and told him about the issue. We were supposed to go to the hearing together the next day. But at around 11 pm, he hanged himself in a nearby tree,” said Abdul Kader, a relative of the deceased.
A case has been registered at Barpeta Town Police Station by the family members citing NRC as the reason behind the suicide.
Zamser Ali, state coordinator of Citizen for Justice and Peace (CJP), Assam, said, “We have recorded 57 cases of suicide since the process of NRC started. We have included only those cases where a police case has been registered stating citizenship issues as the reason for suicide. But the actual number of suicides will be much higher as in many cases the police do not want to register NRC as the reason behind the death. Investigations in microscopic level show that most of those committing suicide were having valid documents to prove citizenship, but were not accepted by the foreign tribunals (FTs) for clerical errors in those documents. So, they feel hopeless and resort to end life.”
On 6 July, another woman, Kulsum Begum from Barkhetry area of Nalbari district committed suicide after she failed to acquire her birth certificate and other linkage document. Notably, most women from rural areas of Western Assam do not have documents like school certificate, birth certificate as they get married at a very early age, some without basic school education. Her name was listed in the draft NRC and was not part of the exclusion list published on 26 June.
“The reason behind these suicides is immense stress that has been put up by the FTs and their advocates. These poor people have been fighting their cases with all the savings of their lives. The process is depriving many genuine citizens from citizenship due to lack of resources to fight their cases,” said Najrul Islam, the district president of All Assam Minority Student’s Union (AAMSU) from Barpeta district.
Fifty-nine-year-old Ambar Ali from Chunpura village under Gabaradhana Police station of Baksa district committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving train after 22 years of fighting a case of D-voter. A financially and emotionally distressed Ali took the extreme step on 8 July after the names of his family members were listed in exclusion list as he was a D-voter.
On the same day, Amar Majumder of Silapathar of Dhemaji District in Eastern Assam hanged himself for allegedly making it to the exclusion list. His family members alleged that Majumdar was excluded despite having all valid documents.
“Since 1966, as many as 17 voter lists have been published till 2019, and many families in Assam have their names with incorrect spelling in all these lists. The mental and financial stress while collecting documents, the expense of being present in the hearings and then getting excluded from the citizenship list is pushing these people to suicide,” said Zamser.
An additional 1.02 lakh people have been mentioned in the Exclusion List published on 26 June. The draft NRC published on 30 July last year also excluded over 4 million people from the citizen’s registry.
Abdul Khaleque, Congress MP from Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency, said, “No foreigner would commit suicide if their names are not included in the NRC because they will go back to their own country. All these people committing suicide are genuine Indian citizens and they have nowhere to go. So, they are taking this extreme step. It is the duty of the government to enquire into all these suicides. The government also has the duty to provide legal aid to people so that they can prove their citizenship.”
Khaleque represents an area dominated by Bengal-origin Muslims where a huge chunk of the people have been left out of the draft NRC. It is feared that after the publication of the final list, the number of suicide cases will rise up drastically in the state.
The original article can be read here.