|Nur Jahan Begum and Rahan Malla with their son and granddaughter at Khandakarpara. Picture by Sumir Karmakar
The bicycle mechanic in front of the 105-year-old Howly Town Jame Masjid, Rahon Malla, is known by most people here.
Not just because he has been running the shop for over 35 years. Malla became a familiar face since his son Maidul’s death in police firing during a rally of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU) in July 2010 to oppose the update of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
For Malla and family members of three other victims — Majam Ali, 55, Siraj Ali, 27, and Khandakar Motuleb, 20 — of Khandakarpara and Baniyarpara, about 5km away, life has been tough but the issue for which they had laid down their lives has remained the same even after four years.
The families had shifted their political allegiance from the Congress to the AIUDF following the incident, but nothing has changed even today.
“Those who led the protesters won elections and became MLAs but the problem has remained the same. They promised a job for my younger son and name our village road after those who died in the incident. We know the leaders will come again seeking votes as it is election time,” said Malla with moist eyes, sitting in his shop.
It is lunchtime and he hurriedly repaired a bicycle bell before downing shutters.
The scene at his home at Khandakarpara is no different. Maidul’s mother, Nur Jahan Begum, is busy drying paddy in her courtyard.
“Have they come for votes again?” she shouted at her husband.
“They gave us only Rs 11,000 to build my son’s cenotaph but we could not complete it for shortage of funds. We had already spent Rs 3 lakh which was given as ex gratia and we bought a car. What have our leaders done to solve the problem? If they cannot do anything, why did they kill my son? This time, when they come seeking votes, they will have to give the promise in writing,” said Nur Jahan, 48.
The clashes took place after AAMSU took out a rally on Barpeta Road, about 20km away, in protest against the pilot project that started in Barpeta district to update the NRC 1951.
The project was started to solve the decade-old problem of illegal migrants from Bangladesh in Assam. March 25, 1971 has been accepted as a cut-off date to register the citizens in the updated NRC, but the students’ union opposed it saying that the process had many loopholes.
Following the violent clash, AAMSU leaders, including Abdur Rahim Khan, contested the 2011 Assembly elections for Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF and had won five of the 10 Assembly seats under Barpeta Lok Sabha constituency.
Khan is an AIUDF MLA from Howly.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi had recently announced that NRC update process was under way and would be done initially in seven districts, The delay, however, has left many to believe that the Congress government had intentionally done so to avoid a Barpeta-like incident ahead of Lok Sabha polls.
Ismail Hussain of the Congress is the sitting MP from Barpeta, a constituency where minority vote is a deciding factor.
Maidul’s younger brother Nazrul said the delay in solving the issue would trigger similar violence in future too.
“We suspect everything was planned. Otherwise, why are not the leaders talking about the citizenship issue now? Many here will not be able to vote as they have been labelled D (doubtful) voters,” he said.
The D-voters have been barred from voting since 1997.
Nur Begum, Majam Ali’s wife, came rushing from her home about half-a-kilometre away.
“When will we get the Rs 10 lakh they talked about? My house is collapsing and I need to repair it before the monsoon,” Begum said.
“They just want votes. This time, I will tell them to fulfil their promises before we cast our votes,” Nur Begum said.
Bashep Molla, who had served as secretary of Kumilipara gaon panchayat between 1960 and 1998, said: “This time we are confused about who to vote for as no party seems to be serious about solving the citizenship issue,” Molla, 80, said.
l Howly, under Barpeta constituency, votes on April 24