Assam: How NRC spurred applicants to trace family trees
Most people who live in the hinterlands of Assam knew little about family trees—a concept that was used to verify whether an applicant was indeed genuine
Kokrajhar/Guwahati (Assam): In Bongaigaon’s north Salmara, 190 km from Assam’s capital Guwahati, Sanatan Rai heaved a sigh of relief after finding his name in the second draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) last week. It has been a stressful year for the Rai family. One crucial detail had kept him and his family members from being listed in the first draft—his grandfather. The death of his parents and the fact that he himself never found out the name of his grandfather was the cause of all the trouble.
“My grandfather had died long back, but he did figure on the 1951 NRC list. But we did not know his name. We didn’t even interact much with him when growing up. So when the time came, all our cousins and I had to sit for months together to figure out his name and what we needed to do with the data,” Rai said.
Like Rai, most people who live in the hinterlands of Assam knew little about family trees—a concept that was used to verify whether an applicant was indeed genuine.
The final draft of NRC in Assam has still left 4 million people in limbo, out of a total applicant pool of 32 million. It has, however, prompted all the 32 million applicants to dig out their family tree.
“People had to submit manually their family trees, which included their ancestors whose legacy data they would quote in their application. We would then match the digitized family tree record with the manual one in case of any discrepancy,” Prateek Hajela, state coordinator of NRC Assam.
In south Assam’s Kashikotra district, Ipshita Baruah did not have an inkling about the whereabouts of her grandfather—without whose records, she stood no chance of being included in the draft NRC.
“My grandfather had left when my father was very young and then my father came and settled down in Assam. We did not know how to go about making a family tree and where to get the information. It took us six months, from the time we got to know about NRC, to trace our ancestor and then put it down in proper order,” she said.
Officials said that the task of putting a family tree together was infinitely more difficult for women in rural areas.
“Among the Muslim clusters here, you will find very few unmarried or divorced women. But these women have faced huge problems in the NRC...not only is the family tree given incorrectly but the Qazi-Nama (certificate of marriage) is also not recognized,” said a senior Assam government official in Kokrajhar, seeking anonymity.
Papri Bhattacharjee, who works for the Assam government, was taken by surprise when her name was not included in the final draft of NRC. Bhattacharjee, who got a new passport in 2016, submitted a voter list from 1966 which had her father’s name on it.
“Even that wasn’t enough to establish my lineage when I had applied for my passport,” she recounted on Tuesday. Back then, she found in her father’s home a registered deed showing her grandfather taking ownership of a property. “On the strength of that registered deed, I secured my passport,” she said.
Also read: How one couple fought for the NRC in Assam
The NRC authorities didn’t ask for those documents. They only asked to check the 1966 voter list, she said. However, later while she was travelling abroad, her father was called to submit more documents to establish his lineage. He showed the same documents.
“In Assam, you learn at a young age to preserve documents from before 1971. But still it took some time to locate them,” she said.
Surprisingly, her father’s name has been included in the final draft but not hers. Ditto for her husband and two daughters. “I will have to go through the tedious process yet again,” she said.
Aniek Paul from Kolkata contributed to this story.
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