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Nonchalance in a disturbed state
The char where NRC is a non-issue

- Greatest fear is erosion, say residents

If update of the NRC is a life and death issue for the
“minorities” in Kumulipara in Barpeta district, it is an altogether different story on Amguri char — the riverine area visited by The Telegraph recently — in the same district and inhabited by the same community. The
struggle to eke out an existence overrides everything else. The indifference stands out in bold relief against the death of four youths from their own community in police firing in Barpeta town during a All Assam Minorities Students’ Union rally against NRC update on July 21, 2010. This is the second of a three-part series on the mood in the district as Dispur again prepares to update the NRC, which was stalled after the 2010 violence. Amguri char, covered in this report, is just 44km from Barpeta town

Amguri char, Nov. 12: This is the actual char, one of the many sandbars that are believed to be the stronghold of Bangladeshis in Assam. But in the impoverished lives of people living on the char, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) ranks just about nowhere on their list of priorities.

“What do we have to fear? We are hardworking people and we need our land,” said Abdul Zabbar Ali, 75, relaxing at a tea stall here with a bidi between his lips.

“How can we let in Bangladeshis here when we ourselves are running out of space to cultivate, thanks to floods and erosion?”

Incidentally, this is an area where the writ of the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU) does not run. “How do they matter to us?” he asks.

“Have they ever come asking after us or our welfare?”

Every day, Ali gets up before sunrise, drinks tea and starts his day at the paddy field.

Around 10am, his wife, and sometimes one of his sons, brings panta bhat with salt, onion and chilli to the field.

He relishes the meal and gets back to work.

Panta means “soaked in water” and bhat is steamed rice. The dish, which is leftover rice soaked in water overnight to prevent it from getting spoilt, is popular among farmers like Ali in Amguri char or riverine areas.

“I am very happy living here with my family. But my greatest fear is the fast erosion of agricultural land by the annual floods. Will my four sons have enough land to cultivate and earn their livelihood?” Ali wonders.

Though Ali is quite aware of the NRC update issue, it does not bother him much. “My forefathers used to live on this char. I have been here for the past 75 years. We have adopted Assamese language as our mother tongue and have been casting votes since 1960. So I am not worried about my citizenship. There is no illegal migrant on our char and we will not allow them to enter as they will eat up our land.”

He is not alone.

The 300-odd families living here are ready to drive away any illegal migrant out of fear of losing their agricultural land.

“Political parties and student organisations like All Assam Minorities Students’ Union are playing politics with the issue of NRC update and illegal migrants. But no one is thinking about us, who work from sunrise to sunset to make agricultural produce available in different parts of the state. I am not bothered whether my name is included in the updated NRC or not. I just want to save my land. But, yes, names of illegal migrants must not enter the updated document,” Ali said.

If chars are seen as domains of illegal migrants, Amguri presents an entirely different picture. It is the largest and officially recognised char under Kalgachia revenue circle in Barpeta district that remains cut off from the mainland for six months a year.

Abu Taleb, 45, another farmer, expressed ignorance about the NRC. He, however, felt that there was no reason to worry if the NRC was updated since he had been voting for years now. “We do not see any AAMSU leader or politician visiting to enquire about our condition. It hardly matters to us. All people on our char are hardworking and they will survive under any circumstance. The NRC cannot sustain us but hard work can.”

Like Ali and Taleb, people here want to make a decent living by spending the entire day working under the scorching heat or even during floods and, of course, relish their panta bhat everyday.

They, however, have one plea to make to Dispur. They do not want to be harassed, whether in the name of NRC update or detection of illegal migrants.

As for Dispur, this is maybe one char that would be easy to deal with during the NRC update process.


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