Nearly 10% of Assam’s population lives in river islands called chars, formed as a result of Brahmaputra changing its course. Most char residents are Muslim farmers. Many families are settled in the area since the end of the 19th century.
Apart from living in constant fear of losing their land and homes to water, the Muslim farmers are scared they won’t find their names in the National Register of Citizens.
The NRC is supposed to be a list of all genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam. Almost 40 lakh names were left out of the final draft of the NRC prepared in July 2018.
Karwan-e-Mohabbat, a collective that documents incidents of hate crime across India, recently released a new video depicting the struggles faced by these char residents in the wake of the NRC.
Siddique Ali and Shehnaz Parveen live on river islands and have lost almost all of their land to erosion by river. The costs of obtaining paperwork for the NRC are high, and these people with meagre sources of income are being forced to sell their land. Some of them have proper documentation and are still called foreigners. “We are not foreigners,” Siddique Ali says. “We have all the documents of the 1951 NRC and the land document of 1953. But they say we are immigrants and keep asking for documents.”
Teacher and poet Dr Hafiz Ahmed asks, “People who change their houses tens of times, how will they have documents?” There are over 2,200 char villages across 14 districts of Assam.