30, Apr 2019 | CJP Team
Even as the rest of India is busy with the Lok Sabha elections, a handful of people in Assam are focused on a more pressing issue. They are more politically aware and active than many others, but have had no time this election season. This group of people comprises Volunteer Motivators (VMs) and Community Volunteers–a total of around 500 people–for Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), who are engaged in helping people navigate the processes related to Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). At a time when most are avidly following national politics, this group of volunteers has been working day and night to safeguard the citizenship rights of thousands in Assam, to ensure that no Indian citizen is excluded from the final NRC.
The final draft of the NRC, which was published on July 31, 2018, excluded more than 40 lakh people. CJP has played an active role helping those who were excluded submit claim applications. Hearings for claim applications began on February 15, 2019. The entire CJP team in Assam has been involved in motivating the public so that they are not absent for their hearings.
Moreover, a large number of people have received notices to attend hearings as witnesses, even though their names have been included in the draft NRC. The CJP team has been working to ensure that these people are present at these hearings, so that anyone who has submitted claim applications with the same legacy data is not affected, and that no one can misuse the legacy data of a particular inherent. Volunteer Motivators and community volunteers have been working tirelessly for the collection and serialization of proper documents. In many instances, volunteers have had to accompany those affected by the NRC at hearings given the complexity of the documents.
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.
The story of one family, in particular, stands out. The family, which is poor and not educated, had been relying on CJP for help since they called the CJP toll-free NRC helpline during the initial hearing period in March 2019. The family in question had been unable to find legacy data of their own, and so submitted their NRC claim application using the legacy data of someone else, who had the same name as their grandparents. This was, however, surrendered during the first hearing of their claim application. At the time, they were given CJP’s toll-free number, and called our helpline centre in Guwahati. Morigaon community volunteer Faruk Ahmed was present at the centre, and after speaking to the family, he met with them, but was unable to find adequate documents, even though visited the family three times. CJP state coordinator Zamser Ali finally found a Panchayat voter list from 1962, and advised Faruk Ahmed, after which a voter list from 1966 and the family’s land documents were finally recovered. In early April, the NRC authority declared the family’s claim application valid. However, surprisingly, the family received three more hearing notices after April 20. They sought help from the CJP team in Assam, and Faruk Ahmed and other community volunteers attempted to change the date of the hearings in at least two locations, but were unsuccessful, given the ongoing elections. So, Faruk Ahmed began his journey on Thursday, April 25, taking 11 members of the family in a rented car to two of the hearings, in Raha and Kathiatoli. At the second hearing, the mutation officer felt that the family was being unnecessarily harassed, and asked the higher authorities to relieve the family from having to attend the third hearing.
It is concerning that, at a time when the Supreme Court has asked the NRC authorities to avoid undue harassment during the hearing process, that a family was summoned for three hearings in three different places on the same day. This happened just 12 days after the Supreme Court’s directive.
Moreover, in its April 12 order, the Court also directed that hearings must be held in suitable places so that people who are poor and disadvantaged do not face undue harassment. However, on Thursday, April 25, one family in the Sivasagar district in upper Assam was summoned for a hearing in Kharupetia in the Darrang district, 500 kilometres away. Mubarak Ali, CJP Volunteer Motivator, and a group of community volunteers from the Sivasagar and Darrang districts had to work for three days to arrange food, lodging, and communication for the family, so that they could attend the hearing.
Even as the elections have been underway, the CJP team in Assam has been busy with helping compile documents and counselling those for whom there was little chance that their names would appear in the final NRC. CJP volunteers assured these people that CJP would extend all possible help in the upcoming legal fight for their citizenship. CJP is working to ensure no Indian citizen is left in jeopardy, and we can use all the help we can get.