Barpeta (Assam): Idris Ali, a 73-year-old from Kismat Moinbori village in Baghbar assembly constituency in Assam's Barpeta district, is not interested in the ongoing political campaigns in the state.
Although many people in his village are excited about voting day on April 11 in the second phase of the assembly elections, Ali remains untouched by the subject.
This is because Ali is a 'D' voter -- or a voter with "doubtful citizenship status" and is hence barred from voting.
"I have not been voting for the last many years. But I still remember that I voted when I was young. After 1997, the Election Commission during the revision of electoral rolls branded me as a 'D' voter and I have not been allowed to vote since then," Ali told IANS.
Ali is one of the about 1.5 lakh 'D' voters in Assam.
The problem started in 1997 during a revision of the electoral rolls, when people who could not provide evidence of their Indian nationality were marked with 'D' in the electoral rolls, to indicate "doubtful" or "disputed" status of their nationality.
People marked as 'D' are barred from contesting the polls as well as voting.
However, it is alleged that many genuine Indian citizens -- who were absent during the revision of rolls or missed the process in some way or the other -- were also marked as 'D' voters, thereby depriving them of voting rights.
"Our ancestors migrated to Assam from East Bengal between 1905 and 1915. My father had records of land patta issued by the then British administration in 1944. I have been voting since I was 18 years old. However, I was declared a 'D' voter in 1997 and have not been allowed to vote since then," Ali said.
Rana Kalita, an advocate in Barpeta, told IANS: "I was told Ali's grandfather lived in Radha Char area in Barpeta district. He used to own huge plots of land and were cultivators. However, erosion ate up their land and they lost everything there.
"Later, they migrated here and started living. In those days, people were not educated in these areas and were not bothered about documents and other things. Besides, most of the people have to shift from their houses overnight when a village gets eroded and no one gets time to care for land documents or valuables," the lawyer said.
Another couple, Abu Taleb Mia (47) and his wife Sahara Khatun (41) of Bor Agdia village under Chenga constituency in Barpeta district, is suffering the same fate.
"We had voted at the polling centre at a local school in 1996. However, when we went to vote for the Lok Sabha polls in 1999, the officer said we were 'D' voters and hence could not vote," Mia told IANS.
"Some of these people, who were termed 'D' voters are genuine Indians. But the problem is that they are not literate enough to fight for their rights. Their rights are often crushed by the red tape in government departments and by the careless attitude of a section of government employees," said Kalita.
According to statistics, Assam has 1,36,448 'D' voters as of now -- most of them in Sonitpur, Barpeta, Nagaon and Dhubri districts.
Soon after being declared as 'D' voter, a person has to approach the Foreigners Tribunal set up by the government and prove his or her Indian citizenship.
However, for people like Mia and Ali, going to the Barpeta district headquarters and hiring legal counsel is not an easy job.
And even if one takes the trouble and does that, there is no guarantee that the case will be settled immediately as thousands of such files are pending in the tribunal due to lack of adequate staff and their lackadaisical attitude towards the illiterate villagers.