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Despairing tale of Biswas family gives terrifying sight of ‘Foreigner hunt' in Assam

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Guwahati, Aug 31: The despairing tale of Biswas family shows the terrifying glimpse of the impact of National Register of Citizens (NRC) NRC, we cannot even get into the dept of this term 'NRC' it's just a government programme for all of us but for the people who are going through this process of NRC it about their existence, their identity. It's not less than a nightmare for the people whose names have been excluded from the NRC list.

Representational image

Assam government have finally released the updated NRC list on Saturday, where over 19 lakh persons were excluded from the final NRC list. It is the culmination of a years-long exercise meant to separate Assam residents from so-called "foreigners". A preliminary list, released in August 2018, excluded over 4 million residents.

All that has been faced by the Biswas family of Assam is horrifying, twelve years ago, Dilip Biswas had an argument with the village headman, who retaliated by falsely telling the police that the Biswas family was Bangladeshi.

Three years later, the Biswas family was forcibly separated and incarcerated in separate facilities 300 kilometers away from their home. Kalpana, 6 years old, the elder daughter of Dilip and younger daughter Archana, who was only 2, were marched off to a foreigner detention camp inside a jail in Assam's Kokrajhar district along with their mother Romoni (Dilip's wife). Dilip was sent to another camp in Goalpara district.

Biswas family was released on bail on March 2019, after a social worker familiar with their case referred it to Human Rights Law Network's Guwahati branch and they moved to court on behalf of him. When the Biswas family returned to Mayang, their children and the village they once called home had changed beyond recognition.

In the nine intervening years, Archana, now 12 years old had grown into a quiet, self-possessed girl. Kalpana now 15 years old had run out of family memories of all four of them together, missed several years of school and can barely read or write. The sleepy village market where Dilip once sold snacks was changed, while Romini found the roof of their home had given way in parts.

Kalpana's friends had left the village, a some got married and others moved to towns to study. But, most heart-wrenching was her 11-year-old sister Archana refused to speak to their father or share a room with him. And they had but one tiny room in the bamboo and mud hut atop a muddy hillock in Mayang, a village of roughly 700 people in Morigaon district of Assam.

19 lakh left out of final NRC: What next

Both the kids were often asked in school now, "What is jail like?" And Archana replies it's good.

The Foreigner Tribunal process and its victims like Biswas family perhaps offer a petrified sight of what most likely awaits those left out of the NRC.

Last week, the government announced those people left out of the National Register for Citizens will not be immediately declared foreigners and will have 120 days to appeal their case. Others have warned against conflating the NRC process (which claims to be a register of Indian citizens in Assam) with the Foreigners Tribunal process (which aims to identify and eventually deport undocumented foreigners from Indian soil) arguing that these are essentially two separate processes.

Events on the ground suggest that thousands of Assam's linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities who fail the appeals process will find themselves before a Foreigners Tribunal.

The plight of the Biswas family is emblematic to the circumstances in which the NRC process is being conducted.

According to a report by, The HuffPost, the Biswas family is ethnic Bengali, but Dilip Biswas's ancestors moved to Assam before Independence and even owned land in Morigaon district. However, the land was engulfed by the Brahmaputra during a flood, a persistent problem with many residents of riverside villages in Assam.

Biswas' family moved homes twice after both times the piece of land on which their hut stood washed away in the floods - and settled in Mayang, three years before he was arrested. His mother and his elder's brother's family was not summoned to prove their citizenship strengthening Biswas' belief that the case against him was a vendetta.

NRC Updates: Himanta Sarma demands re-verification of final list

The fact that the land Biswas' family-owned 40 years ago does not exist anymore though the papers proving they had land do combine with his failure to turn up at hearings the first time around, went against him.

As per reported by HuffPost, Lawyer Debasmita Ghosh, who heads HRLN's Guwahati operations pointed out that the Assam Land and Revenue Regulation gives headmen the power to report 'suspicious' people occupying land in their respective villages.

    Things you need to know about NRC

    "Since these laws were never updated, they concentrated power in the hands of a few people and made many people like Biswas vulnerable,'' she said to the HuffPost.Ghosh, who has handled hundreds of foreigner tribunal cases, saw a clear pattern in the process of targeting people to prove their citizenship in tribunals. "The people pulled up by the police and then summoned by the tribunals are all poor, uneducated people like Biswas. People who work as maids, as laborers, carpenters," she said.

    Dilip's ailing mother who saw her son barely two-three times in nine years, died a few weeks after his release. He also has to turn up at the local police station every day and sign a logbook. Ghosh had written to the concerned circle officer repeatedly to vet Biswas' documents in the past few months but his office claims that they are swamped with 'NRC work' and can only look into this later after the final list is published.

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