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‘Illegals’ in their own land

July 31 was the deadline given by the Supreme Court to residents of Assam to produce documents to prove their domicile. This is the story of one Hindu family who relocated to Delhi due to lack of education certificates, despite having eight other documents like Aadhar, birth certificates and bank statements

Fifth March 2018 is a date Anuj and his family will always remember. This is when they landed in Delhi to escape the harrowing reality of exclusion from the National Register of Citizens (NRC). As state coordinator of NRC Prateek Hajela claimed, this was done to “weed out illegal immigrants” in the final draft of the list.

This is the poignant tale of this Hindu family which, despite having ancestors rooted in Assam, was unfortunate enough not to find their name on the NRC. For purposes of this story, the family will have to be given pseudonyms to protect their identity. It consists of the breadwinner of the family Anuj, homemaker Anita, children Rohit (12) and Rahul (15).

Anuj initiated the idea of moving to Delhi as a solution to escape a possible loss of livelihood. Other than social, cultural and economic aspects of their predicament, the political angle associated to it could also bring hardships.

Understanding the legality of the situation, Anuj gets candid with Patriot and shares, “According to the government of Assam, we are to be deemed as ‘illegal immigrants’. Our inefficiency to submit educational certificates and employment or service proofs have led to us fleeing the state. It is dangerous to even think about what possible consequences could be carried out as our supposed punishment. In Delhi, however, to carry out any legal work; identification in the form of Aadhar card, birth certificate or bank statements work like a charm. It is only for the Assamese state that we stand the risk of facing criminal charges. Our accountant here assures us we have complete security with the documents we do have.”

The Supreme Court requires 10 identity proof documents including land documents, permanent residence certificate, life insurance policy of LIC, any licence/certificate issued by any government authority, documents showing service/employment under government or PSU, bank/post office account, birth certificate issued by competent authority, educational certificate issued by board/university and record/processes of judicial or revenue court.

All the documents have to be in existence up to midnight of March 24, 1971.

“The whole scenario is a complex plight for us. We are suddenly uprooted and homeless. What pains us most as a family, is that we have a history seeded in the soil of Assam for almost 100 years. Our forefathers cultivated land for fish farming, and set up industries for tea bag making. Our family always believed in creating small-scale jobs for the unemployed. For our core morality lay in lending a helping hand to others.

“I always remember our family having a strong business ethic. Education in terms of attaining a degree or certificate was never needed to validate our intelligence. My parents or their elders had never seen the walls of a classroom.”

In line with this tradition, neither his father nor Anuj himself had ever taken an exam from a certified education board. This lack of educational certificates has now become the crux of their predicament.

“Our ancestors were never introduced to the schooling culture; they considered it to be time wasted on futile practices and unproductive routines that only hobbles a person from reaching fruitful rewards of life,” says Anuj. “That was one document that we, as a family, were unable to provide the government.

With the family income solely anchored in family-run business, they had no experience of employment in the private sector or working in a government organisation. “Mostly, we took pride in building a fortune for ourselves and the people who are seeking employment,” rues Anuj. “Therefore, we lack documents pertaining to government affiliation and employment or service-related proofs.”

Over the years, the family had successfully managed to establish a steel business, aside from the original family business. Right from scratch, they built quite a different source of sustenance.

Explaining how he began the painful process of relocation, Anuj explains, “I saw more scope in the steel industry than in our traditional business. Five years back when we became familiar of the process of upgradation of the NRC list, I started looking for places in Delhi to set up our factory, and fortunately found a reasonable one in south-west Delhi. Because we had a fair idea about our situation, I made sure our business did not take a hit. Consciously making effort, I allocated some of my most trusted employees to Delhi, to look after the factory work here. They did an incredible job without letting me down. Delhi also worked out for us due to some of our relatives living here. They helped us greatly.”

However, it was not all smooth sailing. Rohit, the younger son, suffers from a stuttering problem. He was enrolled in a special school in Assam that treated children with reading, writing or comprehension problems, where disorders were given adequate attention and care.

His parents did manage to find a special school for Rohit in south Delhi but they are not satisfied with the progress he is making. The boy himself felt that in Assam, there was more scope of betterment and perhaps even complete treatment for his speech disorder. Assam was his comfort zone, Delhi is too fancy, he says — here there is more emphasis on simply getting things done rather than actually spending time on treating them. Fearful instead of confident, he has to brace himself each day in the hope of finding comfort; studying amidst alien walls and adapt to a completely system.

“It was unsettling, to say the least”, says Anuj, when asked how the rest of the family adapted. He adds, “At first, we all went through a phase of total denial. We never expected the central government would actually go ahead with it, because the whole idea sounded completely barbaric and cumbersome. We had to prepare ourselves to toughen it out. Our inability to produce documents required by the Supreme Court-sanctioning authority to live on the soil of Assam, became a terrible fate for us.”