From Bengaluru to Kolkata, and Mumbai to Hyderabad, mosques, Muslim groups, lawyers and activists are rushing to ensure that community members have their identity documents in place. (Source: File Photo)
The unusual advisory is issued just before Friday prayers begin: gather your ID papers, keep them ready. Then, there are tutorial videos on WhatsApp groups, and seminars and workshops, to ensure uniform spelling across these documents. A guide book in Urdu has gone into its third edition in less than a month.
From Bengaluru to Kolkata, and Mumbai to Hyderabad, mosques, Muslim groups, lawyers and activists are rushing to ensure that community members have their identity documents in place.
Their fear is that “shoddy record-keeping” may have “robbed thousands” of citizenship during the NRC in Assam this year — 19,06,657 people were excluded in the final list.
And there’s no time, they say, not after Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared in Parliament this week what was largely seen until then as election rhetoric: After the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the government will roll out the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the nation.
“For the last three months, we have asked people to rectify errors or mismatches in identity documents,” said Maulana Imran Maqsood, the imam of Bengaluru’s Jamia Masjid, which has opened a help centre.
Some of the most common issues are spelling errors, he says. “The name Mohammad can be spelt in many ways. Then there are elderly people, whose dates of birth vary from document to document, simply because they were born at home, and no one kept exact records,” said Maqsood.
“There are about 1,800 mosques in Karnataka. A message at the end of each Friday prayer will go a long way in spreading awareness,” he said.
In the city’s Frazer Town area, the Masjid Haji Ismail Sait has been circulating “self-assessment” forms to prepare for any enumeration exercise. The forms ask people to list various ID documents in their possession, from PAN to Aadhaar, birth certificates to property records.
“We check for any inconsistencies in names, addresses. For those who do not have PAN cards or voter cards, we try to put them in touch with the required agencies and start the process. We have distributed 6,000 forms, and invited everyone, irrespective of religion or caste, to fill them out,” said Suhail Ahmed, secretary of the Masjid.
The form also asks residents to keep service records, if employed by the government, list out court cases, and copies of IT returns. “All this is to be on the safe side, to prepare for unforeseen demands. With all this talk of NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, there is worry,” said Ahmed.
The BJP-ruled state’s Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai has already declared that his government is planning to implement the NRC in the state.
In Mumbai, All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member Maulana Sayyed Atharali said: “Nearly two months ago, we conducted seminars at several places in south Mumbai. These were steered by lawyers, ulemas and attended by around 200-300 people.”
Advocate Momin Musaddique, who practises in Bombay High Court and hails from the textile town of Malegaon, said one of the main objectives of the drive is to prevent the spread of misinformation.
“The Noori academy has shot two videos with me where I explain basic issues like the fact that 1971 deadline was for Assam on account of reasons specific to the state. Even if there is nationwide NRC, 1971 will not be the cut-off date,” he said.
Facing a high number of queries, Musaddique asked his friend Ata-Ur-Rehman Noori, a research scholar from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar University in Aurangabad who also runs the academy, to write a book on the issue.
“I wrote the book ‘NRC Andeshe, masle aur hal (NRC Anxieties, questions and solutions)’ and released it on November 17. Such has been the demand that two editions - 1,100 books each — have been sold out and a third edition is underway,” said Noori.
The 183-page book “is meant to clear misinformation so that people don’t end up wasting money doing unnecessary paperwork,” he said.
Zubair Azmi, director of Urdu Markaz, a Mumbai-based literary and cultural organisation, said his group studied the problems that cropped up during the NRC exercise in Assam. “We held a meeting this week and decided to start a programme called ‘Documents Perfect’ whereby we will be conducting workshops to ensure there is uniformity in spellings,” he said.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Jamiat-e-ulama, in coordination with other organisations, held a silent protest Friday, with participants sporting black arm bands and holding black flags, against CAB and NRC outside mosques after offering prayers.
Peer Khaleeq Ahmed Sabir, general secretary of the organisation in the two states, said preparations have been on for the last five months. “We have opened centres in all districts for document verification and clarification. We have organised 48 special programmes so far,” he said.
In Hyderabad, a group of NGOs have started awareness drive focused on the Friday congregation, and starting with 30 mosques in slum areas. “We read out information about CAB and NRC and what needs to be done on readying the documents. It is part of a larger campaign to sensitise the economically weaker sections,” said Mujtaba Hasan Askari of Helping Hand Foundation, which is steering the drive.
As The Indian Express reported on September 27, panic reached a fever pitch in West Bengal in the weeks after the final NRC list was released in neighbouring Assam on August 31, with hundreds queuing up outside government offices to get their documents in order.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly asserted that her government will not let the NRC be conducted in the state, but with the passage of CAB, concerns have risen again.
Bengal Muslim organisations and activists continue to distribute pamphlets, calling for people to get their ID papers in order. One of the pamphlets, in Bengali, says: “Be prepared for NRC... It is important to keep your documents intact. Ensure all your documents have correct spelling and other details. Even one or two documents will do, but to be on the safe side, it’s better if you have all documents with correct information.”
(Johnson T A in Bengaluru, Sreenivas Janyala in Hyderabad, Sweety Kumari in Kolkata)