Fearing NRC, people are queuing outside cemeteries in Lucknow and paying a hefty amount to get documents related to the burial of their parents … and their grandparents. Just in case …
Ranvijay Singh & Mohammad Fahad
“My mother had passed away 38 years ago. After 38 years, I am now running around to get her death certificate. It is better that I keep the paperwork in order. What if this government decides to implement NRC (National Register of Citizens) and throws us out of the country,” said Mohammad Mujib, 52.
Mujib lives in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. One can find many like Mujib, who queue up at Lucknow’s Anjuman Islahul Musilmeen – an organization that looks after the documentation pertaining to five cemeteries in Lucknow — to procure documents of their ancestors’ cremation. They share a common fear regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizen (NRC) — the fear of being sent to detention camps in case the government seeks paperwork regarding their ancestors and they fail to furnish them. This air of dispirit pervades over a large section of the society.
The government is planning a pan-India implementation of the contentious National Register of Citizens. The Union Home Minister has said the exercise will weed out “all illegal infiltrators from India”.
In Assam, the Supreme Court-mandated exercise caused widespread disruption. In the state, one first had to produce documentary proof issued before March 24, 1971 – like the 1951 NRC or electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971 – to prove that one’s ancestors were residing in India before that date. The next step was producing documents for oneself to establish a relationship with those ancestors. It could be taxing in a country with poor documentation.
Hence the panic.
When contacted, Intekhad Jilani, the joint secretary of Anjuman Islahul Musilmeen, said: “Our institution looks after documentation pertaining to five cemeteries in Lucknow and we maintain documents for up to a hundred years. So, from time to time, we had people come to us for their ancestral records. But ever since talks of CAA and NRC have begun, the footfall has tremendously increased. The number of people seeking our assistance today is five times the usual. You may well understand our increased workload as two of our personnel have left due to it.”
Jilani’s claim of increased workload is supported by data. The CAA and NRC talks had begun by October 2019. The organization issues 198 cemetery documents in October, 139 documents in November and 147 documents in December. By January 13, 77 documents had been issued. “Before CAA and NRC, this used to average between 10 to 30, but the speculations have instilled fear in people and so they busy themselves in putting the paperwork in order. Also, whereas previously people used to come to us seeking records that were one or two years old, the crowd we face now seeks much older records,” said Jilani.
When we talked to people who had come to get these documents were scared and misinformed. Addressing this very fear, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clarified the government’s stand at a BJP rally that was organized in New Delhi on December 29, 2019. “Ever since my government came to power in 2014, there has been absolutely no talk of NRC. It was only after the Supreme Court order that we had to implement it in Assam. False rumours have been spread within the country regarding NRC.”
While the prime minister has clearly assured that NRC is nowhere on the government’s agenda, the home minister, Amit Shah, had stated in the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha that NRC would surely be implemented in the country. On December 9, 2019, he had stated in the Parliament, “Owaisi saheb says that we are preparing the background for NRC. There is no such need as we are clear on the issue that NRC will be implemented in the country. Our mandate is the background for it.”
He was referring to the Lok Sabha Election’s mandate of BJP, Page 13 of which mentions: “The infiltration has brought about tremendous change in certain areas’ unique cultural as well as linguistic identity besides adversely affecting the livelihood and employment opportunity of the local residents. In such areas, NRC shall be implemented on a priority basis. In the country, the same shall be implemented under phased markings.”
All these discussions and protests have instilled fear in the public and prompted them to put their documents in order paying hefty charges. In Anjuman Islahul Musilmeen, Lucknow, the fee for issuing a document is Rs 100 per year, so if one needs a document that is 10 years old, one will have to pay Rs 1,000. However, those people who are currently getting these issued are mostly poor and so have to spend a large chunk of their lean incomes in order to do so.
Mujib’s mother had passed away 38 years ago — in 1982 — so he has to pay Rs 3,800 for his mother’s papers from the cemetery. Mujib works in a private firm and earns Rs 12,000 monthly. His salary supports a family of six. “Even if I save the entire year, I wouldn’t be able to raise Rs 3,800. So, I have drawn the money from my employer and it shall be deducted from my salary over a period of time,” he said.
Like Mujib, 45-year-old Aslam, who resides in Old Lucknow, had come for his father Abdul Hamid’s papers. Aslam’s father had passed away 31 years ago, so he paid Rs 3,100 for his documents. Aslam, who is a scrap dealer, said: “I earn Rs 250-300 a day but since this document is important, I managed to get it by arranging for the necessary amount. Should the government ask us tomorrow, we are to have something to show or else who’d know what would happen.”
While many people are engaged in the process of documentation driven by fear, many others have decided to wait and watch. Mohammad Ibrahim, who was standing outside this organization, said: “I have not been able to do so due to lack of time. Since everybody in my locality is doing so or talking about it, I’d also have to go for the documents as soon as possible. Though I fail to see any reason for it. I was born and brought up here. Everyone in my family was born and brought up here but now our documents shall be sought. Isn’t this wrong?”