No Place Called Home

Assam’s D-voters in despair

25 September 2019

Since early this year, a couple from Assam’s Darrang district—a 61-year-old man and a 50-year-old woman—who are marked “D-voters,” have been living on the move, away from their home, in fear that the police will arrest them. Assam’s D-voters—or doubtful voters—have to undergo an arduous process to prove their Indian citizenship before the state’s Foreigners Tribunals. At the tribunals, the odds are stacked against these individuals—a slight variation in spellings or age can lead to a declaration that they are foreigners. This is compounded by a lack of effective legal assistance and reported pressure on tribunal members to declare individuals foreigners.

The 61-year-old said that they had paid a lawyer who did not help them, and that the police had asked them for money that they could not afford. “I didn’t give them any money and went into hiding,” the man said. “The police still come looking for us.” In end July, Zishaan A Latif, a photographer, travelled through five districts in Assam, documenting the devastation left behind by the floods that swept parts of the state earlier that month, and the plight of the people struggling for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens.

The final draft of the NRC, a list of Indian citizens in Assam, was published on 31 August. The NRC was first published in 1951, and the process of its updation began in 2013, following an order by the Supreme Court of India, which has since monitored the project closely. A total of 19,06,657 individuals have been excluded from the final list, and they will now have to prove their Indian citizenship before the state’s Foreigners Tribunals within the next 120 days. At present, there is no clarity on what action may be taken against the persons deemed to be foreigners. But over nineteen lakh persons face the prospect of statelessness.

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    Zishaan A Latif has been an independent photographer since 2005. His work has been featured in both commercial and non-commercial collections, exhibitions and publications worldwide.

    Keywords: National Register of Citizens Assam Foreigners Tribunal Election Commission citizenship