On the evening of 4 August, Meherunissa was travelling in a bus with over fifty others—all of them residents of the Mohatoli and Selosuti villages, in Assam’s Kamrup district—to attend a hearing that would determine her identity as an Indian citizen. The previous day, the residents of the two villages had received notices from the National Register of Citizens authorities that summoned them for a hearing in Jorhat district, around 400 kilometres away. On their way to Jorhat, a truck carrying hot tar and gravel hit the bus. There were no fatalities, but several passengers, including Meherunissa and her son, suffered severe burn injuries because the hot construction material poured into the bus through its windows. None of the passengers were able to appear for their hearings scheduled for the next day. On 31 August, when the final NRC was published, the entire group had been excluded.
Meherunissa’s husband, Shahidul Islam, and their two daughters, Salma and Shamima, had received reverification notices as well. On the day of the accident, Islam recalled, he was traveling with his daughters in a different bus to a NRC centre in Koliabari town, around seventy kilometres from Mohatoli. When Islam heard of the accident, he and his daughters rushed to the local hospital where the passengers had been admitted. Family members of several others did the same and all of them missed their hearings as a result. They, too, were excluded from the final NRC, barring a few who had somehow been included—consistent with the arbitrariness that has marred the updation process.
The NRC is a list of Assam’s Indian citizens that was first published in 1951. Since 2012, the Supreme Court has been monitoring an updation of the register. Individuals seeking inclusion in the NRC are required to show that they or their ancestors were residents of Assam, either listed in the 1951 register or the state’s electoral rolls from before 25 March 1971—the cut-off date stated in the Citizenship Act, 1955. The rules governing the updation process empower the NRC officials to conduct a “verification of names of such persons considered necessary.” They do not prescribe specific guidelines on who can be subject to such verification, leaving it to the discretion of the local NRC officials. Moreover, the standard operating procedure guiding the NRC stipulates that applicants must be given at least 15 days notice for a hearing, but the residents of Mohatoli and Selosuti were given less than 48 hours.