“They came late at night demanding our fingerprints”: Three Sisters of Tubuki The Making and Re-Making of Indians as Citizens in Assam: A CJP Series

20, Oct 2018 | Deborah Grey

Something insidious is underway in Tubuki village in Kampur Tehsil of Assam’s Nagaon district. Border Police personnel are allegedly going to people’s homes late at night demanding fingerprints! Three women from this village have alleged that officers of the Border Police came to their homes after dark, asked them to provide fingerprints and left after making them sign a document in English, a language they don’t understand.

Momina, Jamila and Raziya are housewives from rural Assam. Occasionally, these women take up daily wage work to supplement their family income, but mostly they are busy looking after their young children, the sick and the elderly people in their families. When the Border Police men came knocking at night demanding their fingerprints, two of the women complied, a third resisted.

Over four million people have been left out of the NRC draft. Nearly half of them are women, most of them from socio-economically backward communities. Now CJP has stepped in with a committed team of volunteer motivators who are travelling across some of Assam’s worst affected districts spreading awareness and helping people fill forms as a part of the NRC Claims and Objections process. We have also set up a 24 hour toll free helpline number 1800 1020 138 that is available in four different languages. We aim to scale up our campaign and for that we need your support. Your contribution can help cover the costs of travel, documentation and technological expenses. Please donate generously here.

But now the women fear their fingerprints could be misused. We met the women when our fact-finding team visited Assam in June 2018.

Momina Khatoon was home alone when the Border Police came knocking on her door late at night

Case-1: Momina Khatoon*

“They came to my house on June 8 at night. There was no one else at home, so I got scared. They said I need to resubmit my documents as my father Fakruddin’s sister Hafiza Khatoon’s citizenship was suspected,” recalls Momina Khatoon who appeared shook up five days later when our team met her in Nagaon. “Aunt Hafiza had been cleared of being a D-Voter in the past, so now I wonder why she is suspected of being a foreigner,” she wonders.

Momina is a daily wage worker and mother of four children. Her aunt had been suspected of being a doubtful voter but was found to be a legitimate citizen later. But now that there are fresh suspicions about her citizenship, it is likely to affect the citizenship of her siblings such as Maria’s father Fakhruddin.

Momina moved to Tubuki 17 years ago when she got married. She has submitted all her legacy and linkage documents. “I have already submitted all necessary documents for enrollment in the NRC. I gave my Village Panchayat document, my voter ID, my father’s voter ID, my father’s NRC legacy data code… everything,” she explains wondering if her citizenship could be suspected.

“They asked me to provide prints of all my fingers and I didn’t know I could refuse, so I complied,” she says. “They made me sign some document in English. But because I am not familiar with the language, I have no idea what was written on the document,” she says looking equal parts scared and confused.

Jamila Begum had all documents but felt suspicious, so she asked the Border Policemen to come back later

Case-2: Jamila Begum*

Jamila lives in the same village as Momina Khatoon and she too had a similar experience. The 29 year old mother of two says, “The men from the Border Police knocked at my door on the night of June 8 and said that my name had been rejected from the NRC. I wondered how this was possible as I had submitted school leaving certificate, voter ID, my father’s voter ID, as well as my Panchayat certificate.” Jamila says the Border Policemen asked her for names of her children and then took her fingerprints.

Interestingly, the information that her name had been excluded should ring alarm bells given how this incident took place on the night of June 8 and the final draft was published and made public only on July 30!

Moreover, Prateek Hajela, the State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) clearly told us that they had never asked anyone for fingerprints nor had they communicated any such request to the Assam Border Police. “The NRC does not fingerprint people. Also, we do not control the Border Police. We have never requested them to fingerprint anyone,” said Hajela when told about reports of Border Police allegedly fingerprinting people. This is significant given how the Border Police specifically told Jamila that her name had been excluded from the NRC and not that her citizenship was suspected.

The names of Jamila’s father-in-law, two brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law had appeared in the previous list and she was confident that because she had submitted her verified documents, she would be included in the final draft. “I had all the documents but I did not show them any that night because I felt suspicious. I asked them to come back later. They came once again on the night of June 11. I showed them all documents and they left after taking my signature on some form in English.” She says, apart from one D-Voter uncle Abdul Hamid, no one else in the family has faced any citizenship related issues.

Raziya Begum refused to give her finger prints!

Case-3: Raziya Begum*

But Jamila’s sister Raziya felt something was amiss and decided to stand up to the Border Police! “When the Border Policemen came to my house on the night of June 11, I flat out refused to give me fingerprints,” she says.

The Border Police men told her she needed to submit documents to prove her citizenship. Raziya offered her documents for inspection immediately, but they insisted on her fingerprints. Raziya found this insistence quite suspicious and wondered why anyone would want her fingerprints. She feared that her fingerprints could be misused.

She said, “I told them they can take a look at my documents right now if they wanted, but there was no way I was going to give them my fingerprints!” The Border Policemen left telling her she had five days to submit her documents.

They also gave her the following notice issued by an officer of the Kampur Police Station.

Notice given to Raziya by Assam Border Police

Meanwhile, Advocate Humayun Kabir who represents all three women says, “Great injustice is taking place and it is rural housewives like my clients and not some foreigners or terrorists who are suffering.”

But, according to the Assam Police’s own website:

The Govt. of Assam vide letter No. PLB.149/2008/Pt/8 dated 21/10/09 issued a Notification stating that the Governor is hereby pleased to authorize the police officers of the Government of Assam entrusted with the process of detection and deportation of foreigners as well as other Police Officers entrusted otherwise in the affairs of the Government of Assam to perform the following function namely. To obtain fingerprints and photographs of suspected foreigners before or at the time of referring the case to the Foreigners Tribunals.

However, given how the Border Police went about the procedure with Momina, Jamila and Raziya;

  • arriving at their homes late at night
  • telling one of the women that her name has been excluded from the NRC
  • demanding their finger prints
  • forcing them to sign documents in a language that they did not understand,

one wonders if the Border Police made any attempt to make these women citizens feel comfortable, explain to them what was happening and their rights as citizens in such situations?

*Names have been changed to protect identity

*Feature Image: Representational Image


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