The final draft of the National Register of Citizens, a list of Assam’s Indian citizens, was published on 31 August. The Supreme Court-monitored exercise excluded more than nineteen lakh individuals from the final list. They will now have to prove their Indian citizenship before the state’s Foreigners Tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies that adjudicate on the citizenship of suspected illegal immigrants.
A little over a month before the list was released, Zishaan A Latif, a photographer, traveled through four districts in Assam, documenting the arduous struggle for inclusion in the NRC. Most of the people he met were poor Muslims who did not understand the NRC process and had been excluded from the first two drafts of the list, published in December 2017 and July 2018. In some cases, despite possessing legacy data which proved their Indian ancestry through the accepted pre-1971 documents, they faced the prospect of being sent to detention centres. “Detention camp ke bare mein jab sunta hun toh aise hi aansu nikala ati hai”—Whenever I hear about the detention camp, I start to cry—Mohammad Nawab Ali, a resident of Darrang district, said.
Mohammad Nawob Ali and Mohammad Abdul Ali
Mohammad Nawob Ali resides in Bhagpuri, a Muslim-majority village in Darrang district. Among his extended family, comprising 16 members, Nawob Ali said that 13 were excluded from the first two drafts of the NRC. Nawob Ali, his wife and their younger son were included.
Nawob Ali, who teaches namaz to children, narrated why his family members were not named in those drafts. Mohammad Abdul Ali, Nawob Ali’s 85-year-old father, is a weak and ailing man. According to the son, the villagers used to called his father “Bhaadu Vyapari,” because of which all the government documents reflected the same name. “But in 1960, his full name was not there in the document—it was just ‘Bhaanu.’ In another list, it was ‘Jadoo.’ It was completely different,” he said. “We were so anxious, so we decided to not continue with this name.” The family changed it to Abdul Ali around thirty years ago, through a district magistrate, Nawob Ali said, but as a result, all of his father’s documents show a different name.