26, Nov 2018 | Zamser Ali
After CJP called for assistance in helping people file NRC Claim forms in small and remote villages, over 200 government employees, teachers, educated youth and members of a few social organisations came forward. They took advantage of a three day holiday and joined hands with CJP to help fill out as many as 10,000 NRC Claim forms in some of the most inaccessible villages and hamlets in Assam’s interiors.
There were three consecutive days of holidays in Assam, beginning with Guru Nanak Jayanti on Friday, followed by Lachit Divas on Saturday and finally the usual Sunday weekly holiday. This allowed several people to travel to far flung places like Baghmari under the Biswanath district of Assam and create history of sorts! A new history of social responsibility in response to the call given by the Assam chapter of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).
Over four million people have been left out of the NRC draft, most of them from socio-economically backward communities. Now CJP, drawing from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, will step in with a multi-faceted team of lawyers and volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 18 of the worst affected districts. Your contribution can help cover the costs of a legal team, travel, documentation and technological expenses. Please donate generously here.
CJP’s work in Assam
CJP had been monitoring the situation in Assam since the first draft of the NRC was published in December 2017. Thereafter, in June 2018, we sent a fact finding team to access the on ground situation. After the final draft of the NRC was published in July 2018, we took up the Herculean task of providing legal aid and assistance to all those who were left out of the NRC in filing Claim forms to have their names entered into the NRC. Today, about 500 community volunteers and 50 Volunteer Motivators, associated with CJP, are working day and night all over the state, especially in the most vulnerable and remote areas where large numbers of people have been dropped from the final draft NRC.
The community volunteers associated with CJP are working on the ground to mobilise active and literate persons from within the community to assist the process of filling up Claims forms at the Nagrik Seva Kendras (2,500 in all), educating persons on how to fill up these claim forms, counselling people about the serialisation of documents; the necessity of collecting documents as are needed. Besides the training includes distributing learning material for the empowerment of youth, students and educated people so that ordinary neo-literate and working class persons are equipped to handle the complicated process of filling up the claim forms with the NRC.
Moreover, a competent and empowered team has also been managing CJP’s Toll Free Helpline Centre in Gauhati. Any person who calls in from any part of the world can be advised and counselled and, in fact, receives all possible information regarding the filling up of NRC claim forms. These combined and multi-pronged efforts have generated a mass awareness among the people of Assam.
Impact of CJP’s campaign
On November 21, CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad and our Assam Project Coordinator Zamser Ali appeared together on a Facebook Live broadcast to highlight the plight of people who were facing several challenges in filing claims to have their names included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A day after this, NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela issued a notice to all local NRC officials to make certain accommodations for married women and children under 14.
The greatest impact of CJP’s efforts was felt in Baghmari village in Biswanath District in upper North Assam over the weekend. In response to this steadfast hard work, and the continuous appeals made by CJP, about 200 government employees, teachers, the All Assam Minority Student’s Union Workers (AAMSU) and various individuals, youth and students among them, came together to extend their three days community service for the poor and illiterate, so that all claim forms of the NRC can be filled up within these three holidays. About 200 community members including CJP community volunteers and AAMSU leaders set up 60 tables for the purpose of filling up the claim forms of NRC.
Keramat Ali, community volunteer of CJP from Baghmari recounted the experience saying, “In this area, as many as 76% people have had their names dropped from the final draft of NRC. This is only because of illiteracy and absence of awareness and access, despite the fact that they actually have all proper documents. This has meant that a huge number of people could not submit their NRC applications properly at the initial stage. This was the only reason that a huge number of people had had their names dropped from the final draft NRC.” He goes on to say, “This time when I called on CJP’s toll free Helpline number of NRC, and, I was connected with them as community volunteer along with two others in our locality, we started our work and campaigning in a systematic way. It was this that encouraged community representatives to come out in a massive way to help the poor and underprivileged sections of the people.”
He adds, “On Friday, November 23, when the mega NRC claim forms filling up effort was started, for the first day we had set up 60 tables for community volunteers to fill up the NRC Claim forms. On each and every table there were at least three persons available for filling up the forms very seriously. Moreover, we have set up an extra desk of 20 members for screening all documents before allowing anyone to go to the ‘form filling’ table.”
“On Friday the work was slow, as many people attended first time for filling up the NRC claim forms. On that day, we issued 1400 slips (showing number of persons helped). On Saturday, the number of slips issued was increased to 7000. Out of these, about 90% of the forms were filled up” says Baharul Islam, community volunteer of CJP and general secretary of Biswanath District All Assam Minority Student’s Union (AAMSU).
Irfan Ali, the working president of the Baghmari Local Committee, AAMSU and CJP’s community volunteer said, “Even when people are busy with Panchayat election, these people are busy in filling up claim applications. We came to know that till now, out of four million people dropped from the final draft of the NRC, only 5 lakh Claim applications have been submitted during the last 60 days. We have only 20 days ahead of us, of which there are only 11 working days. In this short span of time we will have to submit 3.5 million claim applications. It is a challenging task and we must complete our work within the time frame. If anyone fails to submit the claim applications he may be directly be declared as a foreigner.”
Another local youth also named Irfan Ali promised, “after completion of filling and submission of claim forms in our locality, our youth and students will go other parts of the state to help the distressed people.”
Good begets Good
Based on this experience at Baghmari, the combined effort of educated youth, students and government employees of Sonitpur District began a similar mega program in Solmara nearby Tezpur in Sonitpur District. On November 24, in the mega camp in Tezpur where 20 tables had been set up, about 3000 claim forms were filled up. These two program have created a positive energy and elicited a popular response from other parts of the State.
A local teacher and writer, Noor Hussain recounts, ‘people of Baghmari under the Biswanath district created history today. About 200 People including government employees, educated youth, AAMSU workers, all came out openly today to help the distressed people for filling up NRC claim applications. All this was in response to the call by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP)
The community volunteers gathered at the Hamidur Rahman Senior Madrasa, counselled and filled up claim applications around 60 tables for the people dropped from the final draft NRC. The volunteers have committed to filling up another 14,000 forms in the three days from November 23-25, 2018 using the advantage of the government holidays.
This initiative and drive was designed and implemented by CJP community volunteers Keramat Ali, Baharul Islam (who is also General Secretary, Biswanath District, AAMSU) and Irfan Ali (Working President, Baghmari Local Committee, AAMSU). The program was attended and supervised by Major Mubarak Ali, CJP Volunteer Motivator, Sonitpur, Shaiiz Uddin Ahmed, Advocate, Gauhati High Court, Rihan Akhtar and Zamser Ali on behalf of the State team of CJP.