Since 2016, a new wave of protest poetry by Assam’s Bengal-origin Muslim community has emerged in the state. The poetry centres itself around the persecution faced by the community in Assam, the existential dilemma faced by its members, who have been subjected to social and legal backlash for the articulation of their identity, and their vulnerability to exclusion from the National Register of Citizens. “When we speak our story, they say that we are exaggerating, we’re calling them xenophobic,” Abdul Kalam Azad, an independent researcher and poet, said. “Sometimes I wonder, I keep thinking, how can I transfer some of our suffering, in a positive way, to them ... to see this issue empathetically.” 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 NRC.
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.