NRC: Panic grips 'over 10 lakh' Hindu Bengalis

Excluded applicants belonging to Hindu Bengalis and Koch Rajbongshis at No 1 Bajugaon village in Kokrajhar district on Monday. Photo by Mojammal Hoque

"What will we do now?" is the common question among Hindu Bengali applicants in Assam as organisations representing them on Tuesday claimed that over 10 lakh of total 19.06 lakh NRC left-outs belong to the linguistic minority community.

Grocery shop owner Robindra Paul finds it hard to resume his normal business since names of his family members were left out of NRC on Saturday. Paul, a 23-year-old resident of Basugaon in Western Assam's Chirang district, repeatedly asked why his name was dropped despite submitting 1962 land document of his grandfather as legacy data along with link documents. "Several others in our neighbourhood has also been dropped similarly despite attending hearings two-three times. I am unable to sleep at night," he said.

As Opposition parties in Assam continue to blame the ruling BJP's failure for the exclusion of so many names, panic is growing among Hindu Bengalis, considered the saffron party's vote bank. The BJP has also claimed that a large number of Hindu Bengalis were left out as NRC authorities refused to accept the refugee certificates issued by the Assam government before 1971, when they had migrated to the state to avoid "atrocities" in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

This despite the fact that a refugee certificate issued before 1971 was one of the acceptable documents for inclusion in the NRC.

"The NRC authorities rejected the refugee certificates as they could not verify them. Can they deprive someone's citizenship just because they failed to verify the document?" Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma asked. 

NRC 1951 was updated with March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date. 

Kamal Choudhury, president of All Assam Bengali Students' Federation, claimed that more than 10 lakh of the total 19.06 lakh applicants belong to Hindu Bengalis, even as NRC authorities have not yet released community-wise figures of the left-outs.

"About 8 lakh of them possesses pre-1971 documents as per our assessment. But their documents have been rejected due to negligence by the officials engaged by NRC authorities. The BJP government assured Hindu Bengalis not to worry. But how were genuine citizens left out when government officials were part of the exercise?" he asked. 

Choudhury's name also did not figure in the final NRC list released on August 31 as someone lodged an objection claiming that he was an illegal migrant from Bangladesh. "I submitted 1951 NRC having my father's name, 1952 land document as a legacy document. But I and my brother were left out whereas they included my sisters. My name has been dropped just because I have been fighting against harassment of the Hindu Bengalis having genuine documents. 

"BJP exploited the Hindu Bengalis for votes but they failed to protect them. Today they are under constant fear of the legal battle ahead in Foreigner Tribunals and being declared foreigners. We will continue to protest this and make sure that the BJP can't exploit them in the 2021 Assembly elections in Assam," he said. 

The federation leaders will stage a protest in front of India Gate in New Delhi on September 10 to protest the exclusion of the Hindu Bengali applicants. 

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