It was six years ago that a mammoth exercise was started to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 by identifying illegal foreigners living in Assam and since then lakhs of people have been living anxiety.
The government set March 25, 1971, as the cutoff date to consider the India citizenship, which implies that those who came before the midnight of March 24, 1971 are Indian citizens, while those who came after that have to be detected and deported.
Last year, the Assam government published the draft NRC from which names of 40,07,707 people were excluded due to ‘some discrepancies' in their documents submitted to prove their Indian citizenship. Over 36 lakh of them applied afresh to get their names included in the final NRC.
The NRC authorities, working under the supervision of the Supreme Court, also arranged for claims and objections process to enable the excluded people to attempt once again to prove their Indian citizenship.
For those who fail to make it to the final list, a long legal battle awaits. The excluded people will have 120 days to prove their Indian citizenship through the Foreigners' Tribunals across the state.
Ahead of the publication of the final list on Saturday, tension was palpable in Khutamari village in western Assam's Goalpara district. More than 100 people in the village had not found their names in the draft NRC. Most of them filed fresh applications to prove their Indian citizenship.
Located around 170 kms west of Assam's capital town Guwahati, Khutamari is a village inhabited by multi-religious people, including Muslims, Bodos, Rabhas and Koch Rajbongshis. Although Muslims have been living in the village since generations, some of them failed to find their names in the draft NRC.
"I was born here and have lived here. I have all my school certificates and everything to prove my Indian citizenship. However, I was categorised as a ‘D' voter in 1997 by the election authorities. I had to pursue the case first in the Foreigners' Tribunal and then again in the Sessions court here. In 2012, the court ruled that I am a genuine Indian citizen. Still my name was not included in the draft NRC," said 55-year- old Saheb Ali, a resident of the village, on Friday.
Like Saheb, his mother's name was also left out of the draft NRC. "My mother's name was there in the 1966 voters' list. When I was categorided as ‘D' voter, the court considered the testimony of my mother, who is a voter of 1966. However, her name did not figure in the draft NRC. I don't know what to do," said Saheb.
The names of 26-year-old Akbar Hussain and four of his siblings were also missing from the draft NRC. "Our father's name was there in the NRC. We have submitted legacy document of our father, but the draft NRC did not include our names. We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow," Akbar said while talking to this correspondent on the eve of the publication of the final NRC.
He said they gave "valid documents", but those were rejected. "We are genuine Indian citizens. How can they term us as foreigners? There are over 100 such cases in our village. They are all genuine Indian citizens," Hussain said.
Saheb Ali and Akbar Hussain are among over four million people in Assam living in anxiety for the past several months since the draft NRC came out.ALSO READ: Aadhaar to those who get entry in final NRC; those who can't prove citizenship, can't get it