As Assam reels with floods just days before it releases the final National Register of Citizens, there is one item that residents must keep safe apart from their lives: their proofs of citizenship. Flood rescue workers are coming across residents who are not ready to be evacuated until they have their documents safe in hand, reports say.
The final National Register of Citizens will be published on July 31. Nearly 42 lakh people were excluded in earlier drafts, and this is presumably their last chance. If they are left out of the final list, they will have to face foreigners’ tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies while rule on matters of nationality. Those declared foreigners by the tribunals will be stripped of the rights and privileges of citizenship, and risk being detained or deported.
State officials were in the final stages of hearing claims and objections to earlier drafts when floods struck.
“There is huge flood water and strong current in the Brahmaputra,” Parvesh Kumar, a National Disaster Response Force worker in Morigaon district, told NDTV. “Water is entering the villages first and we are tasked with this challenging operation to evacuate people. When we go to bring them, almost everyone carries a bunch of papers: their NRC documents. People are ready to leave everything but not their NRC file.”
At least 17 people have died so far due to the floods, with 30 of 33 districts of Assam submerged, PTI reported. More than 45 lakh people from 4,620 villages were affected, and around 1.01 lakh people were taking refuge at 226 relief camps. Morigaon is among the worst-hit districts.
According to rescue worker Kailash Sharma, a villager in Laharighat began “crying inconsolably” as he had left behind his NRC documents while being evacuated. “We sent our diver and he got the bunch of documents which was in the plastic pouch,” Sharma told NDTV.
Some flood-hit families are reluctant to even move out. According to The Indian Express, home and land will prove to be tangible markers of identity while proving citizenship. “This could be one of the reasons that they feel so scared to leave their homes,” an unidentified official from the local administration said.
Parvesh Kumar told The Indian Express that the families who agree to be rescued ensure that their documents are safe with them. “So many times, we brought them to safety, only to go back again because they realise they have forgotten their documents,” he said.
Samsul Alam of Mahmari village in Morigaon was rescued along with his 100-year-old mother, wife and children – along with his NRC documents. He told NDTV: “We somehow survived, we kept floating on a banana trunk, [didn’t] have anything to eat for two days. This flood has taken away my home, my land and my livelihood, but I am happy I have the most precious [things] with me – my mother, wife and children and NRC document. Without them, I would be stateless.”
Authorities conducting the claims and objections are also facing problems. “The overflowing rivers have submerged the low-lying areas and it has become difficult for us to communicate with those villages,” Satyali Biswas, assistant circle officer in Bhuragaon, told Time8. “The NRC Seva Kendras, hearing centres and documents are safe. It is the claimants’ villages which are reeling under flood waters.”
The stated aim of the National Register of Citizens is to distinguish genuine Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants living in the state. According to the terms, anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors entered Assam before midnight on March 24, 1971, will be declared a foreigner.
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