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Jabeda Begum’s Plight In Assam Shows How NRC Can Go Horribly Wrong For Minority Women

Posted: February 25, 2020

Assam resident Jabeda Begum has allegedly been unable to prove her citizenship despite having 15 ‘legal’ documents. Has the Assam NRC gone horribly wrong, especially for women minorities? 

As if declaring 19 lakh people stateless at one stroke wasn’t inhumane enough, the latest news about Jabeda Begum not being able to prove her citizenship in spite of possessing 15 legal documents is a stark reminder of how the entire process reeks of inefficiency, corruption, high handedness and a general lack of empathy towards those poor hopeless souls who have to go through the process.

And all this when the Supreme Court was monitoring the process. Just imagine what will happen when the Indian Government does an all India NRC. If you believe that our government is going to do an excellent job with the NRC, kindly recall the massive failures of Demonetisation and Goods and Service Tax (GST) implementation.

A trial of its own

If you feel that Jabeda is lying (something that most of our ‘citizens’ who often come across as misogynist, Islamophobic and aporophobic, have already assumed by now), please hear her side of the story to get an idea of how millions of lives have been uprooted in a manner that should make us all hang our heads in shame, due to an exercise that was always problematic from the very beginning.

After her name was excluded from the final NRC list, Jabeda Begum was forced to sell off her land to pay for the expenses of fighting cases at the foreigner’s tribunal and the Gauhati High Court where she lost. Now she is working as a daily wage labourer at a miserly rate of Rs. 150 per day while also supporting her family, which includes an ailing husband who is not in a condition to work and a daughter who is studying in Class 5. She had two other daughters as well, but one of them passed away and the other one went missing. Although her future looks extremely bleak now, like most mothers, she is more worried about the future of her daughter who often goes to sleep on an empty stomach.

Try and put yourself in her position and imagine the unbearable pain that she has had to go through for so long. Now ask yourself if it shouldn’t be logical to not only question, but dismiss the entire exercise which has had negligible benefits while at the same time making a mockery of the lives of so many people at a cost of Rupees 1600 crores to the exchequer (this cost does not include the money spent by more than 3 crore individuals who had to prove their citizenship and the cost of filing appeals at the Foreign tribunals and High Courts).

Most documents are in the name of men

As explained by legal expert Faizan Mustafa while evaluating the case of Jabeda Begum, the NRC exercise has a gaping hole that has the potential of pushing more women, first into statelessness and then possibly into detention camps.

When it comes to documents relating to your identity, many women simply do not possess those because others in their family do not care about it. They are made to depend on the men of the house who apparently have more important things to do like imposing their patriarchy on them. They are married off at a very early age, and most of the identity documents that they possess are generally in their husband’s name.

The unintended consequence of this pan-Indian practice in Assam has been that where you have to prove your citizenship through legacy documents connecting you to the NRC in 1951 or the Voter List in 1966 or before, many women have no documents relating themselves to their parents who would have featured on these legacy documents, something that jeopardizes their path of proving their citizenship of India. Need I say more?

Did we find any illegal Bangladeshis after all?

We have spent time, money, effort and everything else we had – all to find out that there are supposedly 19 lakh people who could be illegal immigrants. That too we are not sure as of now. And the final result has left no one happy, while putting millions of people through possibly the worst time of their lives.

What this exercise has supposedly done is nothing much apart from giving our government and the people supporting their agenda, the perfect excuse to brand millions of people (read Muslims and poor people) as Bangladeshis without any proof, putting their lives in jeopardy, something that was reflected in the recent illegal demolition drive in Bengaluru.

The government both in Assam and the Centre is apparently not happy with the final result because firstly, they were expecting more Muslims than Hindus in the list which did not happen, and then they were expecting the final number to be greater than 19 lakhs because all the while political parties were quoting astronomical figures (which went into crores) about the number of Bangladeshi immigrants living illegally in our country.

So now they are planning to conduct a nationwide NRC but they won’t do it directly.

They will first prepare the National Population Register (NPR) – a highly dubious exercise in my opinion, because although it may not ask for any documents upfront, it will ask you questions about the date and place of the birth of your parents to try and determine your Indianness. This data will then be used by the bureaucrats (the less said about our bumbling, inept and corrupt bureaucracy the better) to mark millions of our fellow citizens as doubtful voters. This is sure to begin a process that will yield nothing, but will result in the kind of madness that we may have never seen before.

And we are talking about 1.37 billion people going through this exercise. No wonder that people are out on the streets protesting against the impending disaster that will befall all of us.

It might win the government behind CAA some elections, but it will cost us our democracy and our sanity. If that is what you want then suit yourself.

First published here.

Image source: YouTube

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