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Discourse of Doubt

Understanding the Crisis of Citizenship in Assam

Nazimuddin Siddique ( is an independent researcher, formerly with the Department of Sociology, Gauhati University, Guwahati.

The citizenship crisis in Assam is unfolding through two major mechanisms, namely the National Register of Citizens and the “Doubtful voter” (D-voter). While the NRC has attracted much of the public attention, the process of categorising D-voters is largely functioning in a silent manner and has caused unprecedented damage to the lives and livelihoods of millions of marginalised people of the state. The D-voter is a political tool solely based on baseless doubts and is used by the government to deprive lakhs of marginalised people of a series of constitutional, political and social rights, including the right to vote.

In the Goalpara district of western Assam, on 30 June 2017, some of the local people were leading a protest march. The protesters were able to march only a few hundred metres before they faced a blockade by a group of armed police and jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). While the protesters were peaceful, the police, without asking any questions, forcibly snatched the main banner from the protestors, held the collars of a few protesters, and then enquired whether they had any permission to hold the protest. In response to this, one of the protestors replied that they had informed the administration. On hearing this, the police started beating the people brutally. Following this, the mob of protestors got dispersed. However, a small group of people got back together and started pelting stones at the police. At that moment, the police opened fire promptly on the unarmed protestors, which resulted in the death of a young man. Herein, the police without adhering to the procedures of the rules of engagement to disperse the mob such as blank-fire, use of rubber bullets and tear gas, etc,1 directly shot a person dead.

The protest on 30 June 2017 was organised against the long-standing atrocities unleashed on the people of the state, especially on the minorities, through a state-constructed mechanism called “Doubtful voter” (D-voter). Under this phenomenon of categorically marking the people as D-voters, the identity of lakhs of people in Assam has been jeopardised, thereby acutely affecting their survival in the state. This has brought forth a crisis of the citizenship of the minorities in the state. Therefore, the article attempts to discuss the oppressive structure of the D-voter category and how this mechanism has impinged the lives and livelihood of a large number of people in Assam.

Deconstructing the ‘D-voter’

D-voter is a category that surfaced on the electoral rolls of Assam on 10 December 1997. Sanjib Baruah terms this category as “an indigenous way of handling the controversy on the enfranchisement” of the alleged foreigners (1999: 160). This category was contrived by the Election Commission of India (ECI) under the advice and collaboration of the then Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) government, to disenfranchise those citizens who are allegedly “doubtful immigrants” from Bangladesh. Initially, about 2.35 lakh names were labelled as D-voters. As per the latest official statistics, there are 1,25,155 D-voters,2 a majority of whom are Muslims and some are Hindu Bengalis and Koch–Rajbongshis. The people who are marked as D-voters have been deprived of a series of rights, including voting rights, which is a fundamental right in any democracy. A deprivation of this seriousness of a large number of citizens is institutionalised and sanctified by the state.

This marking in the electoral lists, which shakes the very existence of citizenship of an individual, is done in a completely arbitrary and anomalous manner. Allegedly, the border policemen of the state have been pressurised by their superiors to mark approximately 10–20 people as doubtful citizens3 in every village, especially in lower Assam. Individuals are arbitrarily marked as doubtful without any systematic enquiry; no notice is issued against people by the police officials before marking them as doubtful citizens.4 As a consequence, in many instances, one or two member(s) of the family would be marked with the letter “D,” while the rest of them remain undoubted Indians.5 For instance, in a family if one female is marked as a “doubtful” citizen, it is not necessary that all her family members such as her parents, children or her husband, if any, would be marked as D-voters. Or, in an other case, a son/daughter could be identified as the “doubtful” citizen, while their entire family, including their parents, could be undoubted citizens. Many serving and retired military and paramilitary personnel too have become the victims of this mechanism (Islam and Hussain 2017). Doubting the citizenship of these serving and retired military personnel, who are mostly Muslim, has spawned widespread controversy in the region. Hitherto, the Ministry of Defence has not taken any action to protect the dignity of these in this context, serving and retired soldiers. The D-voter categorisation can be removed from the voter list only after an order by the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) or by a court of law. The high court of the state in an order has made it clear that the civil courts of the state do not have jurisdiction over the cases regarding D-voters.6 Presently, Assam has 100 FTs to deal with the cases of the D-voters. The tribunals were set up in the state under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order of 1964.

The phenomenon of the D-voter cannot be understood in isolation without understanding the long-standing citizenship question of Assam, which came under the focus during the peak of the infamous Assam Movement. The flag-bearers of the movement argued about the presence of a massive number of suspected “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh in the state. The political elites with the help of bourgeois media developed a “fear psychosis” in the minds of the common Asamiya people. Following this, Asamiya people raised their voice against the alleged “illegal immigrants” of the state. The critics of the movement call it “chauvinist and undemocratic in content and proto-fascist in its methods” (Guha 1980: 1707). The movement inconclusively concluded with numerous deadly massacres of the minorities in places such as Nagabandha, Kampur, Chaparmukh and Chaulkhowa. The most infamous in this series of massacres was the Nellie massacre where more than 4,000 Muslims, mostly women and children, were butchered to death in a single day (Hussain 1993; Mander 2008; Siddique 2014). Though the movement ended, the harassment of the minorities continued unabated under the garb of targeting “illegal immigrants.”

In 1983, the Indira Gandhi government introduced the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) (IMDT) Act to safeguard this section of marginalised people from unnecessary harassments to some extent. One of the main features of the act was that it was the responsibility of the complainants to prove or substantiate their claim, if they complain claiming someone to be a foreigner. This act was valid only for Assam and, in 2005, the Supreme Court quashed it.7 After the quashing of the act, the crisis of citizenship of the minorities in the state deepened further.

Agonising Legal Battles

In the previous section, we have discussed how the method of marking individuals as D-voters is utterly arbitrary and unsystematic. To one’s surprise, the tag of D-voter thus imposed on an individual’s name can only be removed through an order by the FTs. In case any FT finds an individual to be doubtful, it immediately throws them into jail, officially termed as a “detention camp.” At present there are about 900 D-voters, and about 2,000 declared foreigners languishing in the jails. It would not be out of place to accentuate that the jails have been used as detention camps in Assam. The government at present is using six jails, namely, Kokrajhar, Goalpara, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, and Silchar for the imprisonment of D-voters.

The legal battles to prove one’s citizenship and to get rid of the “D-voter” tag is not easy and is fraught with unending hurdles, and the economic incapacity of the victims makes it all the more painful. The intricacies in fighting these cases are manifold and varied. Most of the names of the people in the voter lists spanning across various decades do not unerringly match with each other, due to minor spelling mistakes, typing errors, or because of the errors in the surnames. For instance, a person’s name is mentioned in the voter list of 1965 as Joylal Shaikh, while in the voter list of 1960 his name is mentioned as Joynal Abedin, and again in the voter list of 1993 the same person is mentioned as Joynal Ali.8 It must be underscored here that such name-related anomalies are rampant in the voter lists.

Another kind of abnormality that remains in the voter lists is related to the age of the individuals. In a large number of cases the fieldworkers/officials of the ECI, recorded the ages of the voters erroneously. For instance, the age of an individual in the voter list of 1965 is mentioned as 19, but the age of the person in the voter list of 1970 is mentioned as 35, when the same should have been 24. These government-created anomalies in most of the cases emerge as a huge impediment for the victims in proving their citizenship in the FTs. The most unfortunate victims in these cases are women. These women, by and large, belong to a socio-economically weaker section of the society and have been the victims of child marriage.9 After marriage, in most of the official documents including the voter lists, the names of their husbands are, by and large, used as the guardian’s name and, in the process, the official documents of these women become something which is devoid of their parents’ names. Moreover, these women, under the influence of social coercion, adopt the surnames of their husbands. A significant number of women also migrate to newer constituencies from their original constituency, owing to their marriage. These women in a new setting with new surnames, become more vulnerable and fall prey to the doubts of the election officials.

Most of these women are either illiterate or early school dropouts, and therefore, they could not appear in the board exams and so do not possess a board certificate or an admit card10 wherein their parents names are mentioned. Thus, most of these women do not have any official document where their names are linked to their parent’s names. However, the irony is, the FTs while scrutinising the D-voter cases of these women, seek only those documents that establish linkage to their parents, which is indeed difficult for the victims to produce. These women can produce the panchayat certificates where their names are linked to their parents respectively; however, the FTs are largely reluctant in accepting that kind of document. And, therefore, these women remain in deep risk of imprisonment.

A significant number of the East Bengal-origin Muslims11 of Assam live in the chars, and are subjected to repeated riverbank erosions, which force them to migrate from one place to another. Shifting of the living space brings variation in their present address contrary to that mentioned in their official documents, which ultimately becomes a cause of further complication in proving their citizenship in the FTs.

In recent times, a large number of people from the poorer sections of Assam have been working as migrant workers in many cities of south and north India. Many of them are marked as D-voters in the voter lists. As they do not reside in their permanent homes, many of them remain unaware of the notices issued by the FTs against them. This section of people in many instances fail to appear in the respective FTs, at the specific time as per the orders. However, whenever these migrant labourers visit their villages, or appear before the FTs after receiving the delayed notices, they are arbitrarily arrested and thrown into jails.

Most of the people are jailed because they fail to prove their linkage to their parents or with their grandparents. This legal battle to prove one’s own self is a sickening affair. Many poor people, even after trying their best to prove their citizenship, fail to satisfy the FTs, which inevitably results in detention. These people then languish in the jails, waiting for their families or, in some cases, villagers to gather money to appeal in the higher court. Many of them fail to get justice even in the high court. One such case is that of Moinal Mollah. His entire family was labelled as D-voters, but later all of them were declared as Indians by an FT, except for Mollah, who the same FT declared as a foreigner. He was not able to get justice even in the Gauhati High Court, and finally his family had to move to the Supreme Court for justice. Finally, the Court declared him an Indian, expunging the choreographed shadow of doubt off him.12 It must be emphasised that the family could move up to the Supreme Court only with the legal aid of some lawyers and civil society organisations. Not every family can afford such a long and unceasing battle and thus are forced to languish in jails.

The judges in FTs too are facing random interference from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled government in the state. The state government forwarded many cases, where the FTs had declared the D-voters as Indians, to the high court for reviewing. As many as 19 judges faced termination of their service, allegedly for not satisfying the government (Sarma 2017). The chief minister of Assam briefed the members of the FTs, and reminded them of nationalism while carrying out their duties. The government proposed to put CCTV-cameras in 91 out of the 100 FTs to strictly monitor the functioning of the FT members. Coercion by the state government in these forms have definitely hampered the non-partisan functioning of the FTs.

Perils of Official Stigmatisation

Most of the people marked as “D-voters” are mired in deep poverty, and their poverty incapacitates them to buy justice. This section of the victims of “doubt” cannot afford to hire lawyers, which results in their failure to appear timely in the FTs. The police in most of instances arrest such people and lock them up in jails for months and, in some cases, for years. Many of the legal battles to prove citizenship turn into a failure owing to the inexperienced handling of the lawyers, for good lawyers are a distant dream for most of them. There are instances where the victims of “doubt” are forced to sell even the small plots of lands or other properties they ever possessed while pursuing the state-imposed legal battles. This has resulted in landlessness and homelessness of thousands of families.

The official stigmatisation of the D-voter has multidimensional impacts not only on the victims, but also on their families. The impacts are not limited to the socio-economic arenas, but touch the psyche of the victims as well. The victims always suffer from fear and looming insecurity that intensely hampers their ability to lead a normal life. Saukat Ali, whose mother is a 67-year-old D-voter, narrates,

My mother has been living in a state of deep fear since her name has surfaced as a D-voter. Our home is in a village and if she hears the sound of any vehicle approaching our home, even in the mid-night she runs with all the strength she has at this age from the home in order to evade arrest.13

Persisting anxiety and apprehension of being jailed has been taking serious toll on the health of the victims. Spending sleepless nights, loss of appetite, and depression have been the new normal for these victims. Not all the people can endure these immense pains and miseries and, therefore, a few of them have committed suicides (Assam Times 2017). Suicides relating to the state-enforced D-voter crisis are numerous in the state, but unfortunately a significant number of them are going unreported. These suicides are not mere suicides, but need to be viewed as the systemic murder by the oppressive state structure.

A large number of people have been imprisoned in the D-voter cases. Not to mention that most of them definitely are not foreigners and many of them are undertrials. The victims include men who often are the breadwinners of their families, and women who are homemakers and many of them are breadwinners too. Sudden absence due to imprisonment of the breadwinners from their respective families brings immense misery to the family members, and in many cases ruptures the families. In most of the cases, the women who are imprisoned have children to look after. These children are separated from their parents during the period of the forced imprisonment of their parents. Many of these children in the absence of their parents suffer serious setbacks and psychological damage. Scientists in the United States have raised the alarm that these impacts could be deep-rooted and irreversible, and some even termed it “child abuse” (Lussenhop 2018). The sagas of these children in the absence of their parents and vice versa are deeply mournful and heart-wrenching. Motiur Rahman, a 35-year-old wage labourer, whose wife has been in jail for the last 11 months, says,

I have four children, out of which three were going to school and the fourth one is three years old. Since the arrest of my wife, all of them have stopped going to school to support the functioning of the family. I have gradually become clueless. What will I do? Whether to go to court or to go searching for work? If I do not go to work, my children will have to go to bed with no food. In last eleven months I have already spent about ₹ 40,000 in the endevour to release her from the jail, but to no avail. How will I get more money to take the case forward?14

Production of Doubt and Fear

In postcolonial Assam, especially since the last few decades, a discourse of doubt has been unleashed by the political elites with the sturdy and ceaseless collaboration of the Assam media. “Doubt has become a permanent feature of Assam’s public discourse” (Ahmed 2014). The discourse of doubt is about the presence of a huge number of alleged “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants” within the Assam. The media of the state has successfully put in extra efforts to build and strengthen the discourse, and has turned it into an extraordinarily powerful tool that justifies any form of subjugation and oppression of the minorities. In contemporary times, the discourse of doubt in Assam has metamorphosed into such a powerful tool that anyone can be humiliated, arrested, physically attacked, put into jail, or even killed because of sheer doubt. It is not only the frenzied mob that is involved in the business of doubt, but the entire state machinery. The phenomenon of the D-voter is one living example in this context, out of too many instances. Families can be forcefully evicted in Assam without any resettlement or rehabilitation in the name of such doubts. People can be put in jail for years under the shadow of doubt.

On 25 November 2017, a few villages were evicted by the government under the setting of doubt. And the media too did not pay much heed to the doubt-sponsored eviction administered by the state. In another instance, in the first week of December 2017, one more eviction drive was carried out of the tholuwa(local) people in Amchang forest, whom the government officials claimed to be forestland encroachers. This particular eviction, however, attracted massive condemnation across the state and received widespread media coverage. While both the evictions, discussed here, are equally inhumane, the response of a major section of people and media was deeply contrasting because the former eviction was of East Bengal-origin Muslims and was equipped and empowered with the discourse of doubt, while the latter was not.

The fear of a section of Asamiya people about the presence of a large number of alleged “illegal immigrants” in Assam, has been continuously gaining ground because of the higher growth rate of the Muslim population in the state (Table 1). During 1971–91, the population growth rate of Hindus and Muslims in Assam was 41.89% and 77.42% respectively.15 Many in the state have been deliberately attributing this high growth of the Muslim population to “illegal immigration” from Bangladesh. But, on delving deeper into the question of the Muslim population growth in Assam, we find that the growth of the Muslim population in the state is not out of proportion especially in comparison to many other states of central and western India, such as Maharashtra (80.15%), Madhya Pradesh (80.76%), Karnataka (68.05%), Rajasthan (98.29%), Odisha (70.97), etc.16 Mannan (2017) argues that if the growth of the Muslims of Assam is linked to the “illegal immigration” from Bangladesh, then how would one explain the growth of the Muslims in these states, where the rate of growth of Muslim population is much higher than Assam? Now let us look into the population growth of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Assam. Though the Hindu population growth rate in the state is 41.89%, the population growth rate of SCs and STs of the state is 81.84% and 78.91%, respectively, which is much higher than that of Muslims.17 Now, the question arises, what is the reason behind the high rate of population growth among the SC and ST populations in Assam? Is it a consequence of “illegal immigration” from another country? The answer remains, as Mannan (2017) explicates, that the growth of the Muslim population, together with the SCs and STs in the state is fundamentally because of the widespread poverty, illiteracy, and social backwardness of the people of these marginalised communities. Therefore, the growth of the Muslim population in Assam is not associated with the “illegal immigration” from Bangladesh (Borooah 2013; Hussain 1993; Mannan 2017).

The NRC Question

The citizenship crisis in Assam is not new and is further deepening with time. The National Register of Citizens (NRC), which was first introduced in the state in 1951, is in the process of being updated under the supervision of the Supreme Court following a long-standing discourse on citizenship in the sociopolitical setting of the state. The first part of the draft NRC was published at midnight on 31 December 2017. In this part of the draft, only 19 millions names surfaced out of the 32.9 million applicants. The second part of the draft was to be published in March 2018, but after going through multiple deferments, the same was published on 30 July 2018.18 In this second and final part of the draft NRC, out of 3,29,91,384 applicants, only 2,89,83,677 individuals’ names have figured. Thus, a staggering 40,07,707 names of applicants have been left out. This may be just a big number to the government, but, for the persons who are left out and their families, this has brought an unprecedented crisis.

The process of updating the NRC kicked off with the hope that this mechanism will help in identifying the de jure citizens of Assam and will also identify the individuals who entered the state “illegally” after midnight on 24 March 1971. While the work on updating the NRC was under process, the BJP government at the centre came up with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.19 Through this bill, the government’s intention was to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 and to award citizenship fundamentally to all the undocumented as well as documented Hindu immigrants, inter alia, from the neighbouring countries of India, including Bangladesh.20 This attempt of the BJP government, both at the centre and state, attracted sharp criticism from various quarters, for it aimed to fail the very essence of the much-awaited NRC. The bill is in contravention of the Assam Accord21 too and is an attempt by the government to malign the secular fabric of the country. Moreover, this bill has contributed in creating a deep fissure between the Assamiyas and Benagli Hindus, who are already a marginal social group in Assam. The BJP-led government in the state came to power promising an Assam that will be free from the “illegal foreigners,” but the push of the government to settle these very “illegal foreigners” in the state on the grounds of religion, created a huge uproar in the region. Millions of people in Assam commenced protesting against the bill under the leadership of noted scholar Hiren Gohain and Akhil Gogoi, the leader of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS). Subsequently, the All Assam Students Union (AASU)—the student organisation that was at the forefront in organising the Assam Movement—too joined the protests. The government, however, firmly persisted with their position to pass the bill in Parliament, which further generated a slew of protests in the state, in many forms, including bandhs, dharnas and processions. These protests were participated in and supported by people belonging to all the social groups of the state, across religious and ethnic divides.

In the face of immense protests, the government tried weighing alternative options for the disputed bill to sail through. Gohain (2018) speculated that the government may formulate a new strategy, and artificially increase the number of Muslim NRC dropouts manifold. This can satisfy the preconceived notion of many in the state about foreigners only being from the Muslim community. The saffron government in the state used this to engineer fear among the Assamese Hindus, and thereby gain their support in implementing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Furthermore, the BJP government in the state through its ministers and functionaries, especially through Himanta Biswa Sarma, left no stone unturned to spread anti-Muslim fear in the state, and argued that Assam can only be saved from the Muslims by settling the Hindus from Bangladesh in the state, and this can
be made possible by passing the bill in Parliament. Nonetheless, this communal agenda of the government did not gain much ground in the state. Amidst these protests, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 8 January 2019, but the same was not passed in the Rajya Sabha, and thus it lapsed (Wire 2019). But the ruling BJP, both at the centre and in the state, are continuing to maintain that they will end up passing this bill, if they come to the power again. If the bill is passed by the BJP then the NRC will virtually remain only as an instrument to selectively check the validity of citizenship of the Muslims in Assam.

Though the drafting of the NRC has taken place under the supervision of the Supreme Court, the ground reality is that it is the state government officials who are working to update the entire mechanism, and there is a high probability that the government has adversely influenced the process. Even the Supreme Court observed the fact that people cannot trust the Assam government on the NRC (Anand 2019). Four special Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHCR) rapporteurs issued a letter to the External Affairs Minister of India Sushma Swaraj, wherein they explicitly and categorically expressed their grave concern over the impending discrimination the East Bengal-origin Muslims may face during the updating of the NRC (Wire 2018).

Out of the 4 million deleted names in the final draft of the NRC, 1.15 lakh names are those which figured in the first part draft, but were not included in the final part draft (Talukdar 2018). The state coordinator of the NRC, Prateek Hajela has stated that out of these omitted names, 65,694 are of “family tree mismatch” and 48,456 names are of women who are married and have submitted panchayat certificates, as the link certificate to their parents.22 The question that arises here is, if the deleted cases were erroneous, why did their names surface in the first part draft? On the NRC updation process, Donthi (2018) asserts,

the system is plagued by inconsistencies and leaves much room for human error, or for other mitigating influences such as prejudice and societal structure.

During the process of updation of the NRC, though the people arbitrarily marked as D-voters too could apply for the NRC, their names have not been included in the final draft NRC. To one’s surprise, the names of their family members too have been excluded from the final draft. These names will only be included in the NRC after their acquittal from the FTs or courts. Thus, lakhs of names are arbitrarily excluded from the final draft. As all the names of the people of the state have undergone, as per official claims, a rigorous process of scrutiny, then why the D-voters—the category that fundamentally surfaced on the very premise of constructed doubt—need to go through special scrutiny by the FTs remains a question.

Where Is the Conclusion?

The above discussed crisis of citizenship of Assam has ushered in an unprecedented imbroglio for the minorities of the state. Depriving lakhs of people of a series of constitutional, political and social rights, including the right to vote, that too for decades, is a manifestation of the impaired state of democracy in the region. The mechanism of D-voter has arguably been used to bully and intimidate the minorities of the state, which indicates the structural injustice directed towards these marginal social groups. This political tool has been used by the state to harass, deprive and incarcerate hundreds of its own people illegally. Seeing the current political setting of the state, it would be extremely premature for one to believe that the government will ever prosecute the officials, who arbitrarily marked the citizens of this country as D-voters. These questionable impunities allowed to officials by the government further embolden and encourage some of the officials to perform their tasks in an utterly irresponsible and insensitive manner. Consequent to such a persistent irresponsible attitude of some of the government officials, over 4 million names have been excluded from the final draft NRC. Though a major section of people, including the minorities, were confident and hopeful about the NRC, the deletion of lakhs of names from the final part draft of the NRC has pushed them into a deep sense of fear and unprecedented insecurity. The insecurities of these people have heightened manifold, for the state has a history of multiple large-scale horrendous massacres (Siddique 2015).

Will the NRC bring a closure to the discourse of doubt in Assam? Given the recent developments, it seems highly unlikely. The official claim about the NRC was that it will embrace all the people of Assam who or whose forefathers migrated into the state on or before midnight of 24 March 1971, but the reflection of the claim could not be found in the newly published draft NRC. Critics have pointed out that the final draft is deeply erroneous. Lakhs of families belonging to the minority communities have found at least some members of their family excluded from it. How can some members of a particular family be the citizens, while the remaining others of the same family are not? What will happen to these people whose names are omitted from the final draft NRC? Will these four million people be subjected through the same agonies which lakhs of D-voters have been enduring for decades? Though the Supreme Court has assured that every individual would get a chance to prove their citizenship in the coming days, it is not yet certain how this assurance will play out on the ground. Many are speculating that the situation for these left-out people will even be worse. Things will be clearer with the publication of the final NRC, date for which will soon be declared by the Supreme Court.

Now that almost 47 years have already passed since March 1971, one more question that arises is what will happen to the people—with their children and grandchildren born and brought up in this country—who came to Assam after the cut-off date? Will they be pushed into statelessness forever? Will they be forcibly put into detention camps by the state? Or will the government solve this crisis in a humane way? The government does not have any clear position on this. Amidst all these lingering questions, it remains to be seen if the citizenship conundrum will ever get resolved in the state.


1 The video of the killing can be accessed here https: // v=YSUilIS6yb4.

2 One minister of the present Assam government informed this to the state assembly in September 2017. See “1, 25,155 D voters in State: Mahanta,” Sentinel, 5 September 2017.

3 State of Assam v Jeleka Begum, for details, see Sikdar (2016).

4 See the Fact Finding Report by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism,

5 The appropriate term here should be “Officially Undoubted” in lieu of “Undoubted,” for the fact remains that most of the East Bengal origin Muslims of Assam are doubted as Bangladeshi.

6 See the case of Bahaluddin Sheikh v Union of India 2013 (3) GLT 264.

7 See the case of Sarbananda Sonowal v Union of India.

8 See, Sikdar (2016).

9 By and large, the East Bengal origin Muslims of Assam are mired in deep poverty, the literacy rate is very low in the community and child marriage is rampant.

10 The admit card of the board exams are accepted as a valid document by the FTs up to some extent.

11 To understand more about this social group, see Guha (1977), Hussain (1993, 1995).

12 Such cases are numerous. For instance, Marzina Begum of Goalpara district was arrested on the premise of the structural doubt, in November 2016. The government forced her languishing in jail for eight months, and subsequently she was declared as Indian by the Gauhati High Court. For details on the Marzina case, see

13 Interviewed by the author in Daukhanagar village of Chirang district, on 22 August 2017 at 1,135 hours.

14 In conversation with the author, at the Howly market of Barpeta district, on 14 March 2017 at 1920 hrs.

15 This period is significant for the infamous Assam Movement started in this period.

16 See, Census of India 1991.

17 See, the Census of India; the data are used from the period of 1971–91.

18 The entire process of the NRC is monitored by the Supreme Court. The second draft was expected in March but that date was postponed to 31 May. The same was again postponed to
30 June and yet again the apex court extended the date and ordered that the complete NRC should publish on 30 July (Hindu 2018).

19 The bill was placed in the Lok Sabha on 15 July 2016, by Rajnath Singh, the Minister of Home Affairs, for details, see Thakur (2018).

20 The BJP government is proposing to provide citizenship to “illegal immigrants” from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs by
religion. Muslims are excluded from the bill.

21 For details on Assam Accord, see Hussain (1993).

22 As we have discussed earlier, most of these women are illiterate women, and do not possess any official documents that show their link with their parents, other than the panchayat certificates.


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Anand, Manoj (2019): “Top Court Raps Centre and Assam on Citizen Register,” Asian Age, 20 February,

Assam Times (2017): “D Voter Commits Suicide in Cachar,” 10 June,

Baruah, Sanjib (1999): India against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Borooah, Vani Kant (2013): “The Killing Fields of Assam: Myth and Reality of Its Muslim Immigration,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 48, No 4, pp 43–52, 26 January.

Donthi, Praveen (2018): “How Assam’s Supreme Court: Mandated NRC Project Is Targeting and Detaining Bengali Muslims, Breaking Families,” Caravan, 2 July,

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Updated On : 8th Mar, 2019


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