WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
A trend that has managed to strike deep roots on Indian soil is our abiding concern with the printed or written word. This would have been cause for rejoicing if the fetish of the printed word had a lot to do with books. What is both saddening and mystifying is that the obsession with the printed or written word is confined mainly to documents and certificates in an age when the bulk of literate people in our society have turned their backs on good books. The general obsession with the printed word is mostly confined to our insistence on documentary proof for everything. The obsession with documents and certificates stems mainly from our unwillingness to trust the spoken word. At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that the insistence on documentary proof for everything stems from the millions of instances through the ages when people have had to rue their trust in the spoken work after being badly duped by broken promises. This has given rise to an amusing irony: On the one hand, there is a rejection of good books and on the other there is firm insistence on a written document for all promises made by people even on rather trivial issues. It is perfectly in order for people to insist on a proper document when lending money, taking a house on rent or in employing someone for important jobs. But the insistence on written documents for every minor agreement between two entities in both astonishing and ludicrous. What deepens the irony is that the ‘cherished’ documents are often quite unreliable.
The irony relating to our obsession with documents and certificates can be viewed from yet another angle. Since it is mandatory for all appointing authorities to satisfy themselves about the veracity of statements made by applicants for jobs, they naturally insist on documentary proof. They ask for documentary proof of age, examinations passed and earlier appointments (if any) apart from other information that might be relevant for particular jobs. This insistence on documents and certificates has led some people to embark on a very lucrative but diabolic occupation. They are people who thrive on printing and supplying fake certificates for those who need jobs but lack the qualifications for the jobs they aspire to. So the very helpful purveyor of fake or forged certificates is much in demand. Until some years ago, these fake certificates related to examinations at a lower level—such as school-leaving examinations and higher secondary examinations. But of late, there have been instances of people getting teaching jobs in colleges and universities with fake certificates of Ph.D. degrees as well.
It is idle to imagine that those who are in selection committees are incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff. With a little more care in examining certificates and documents submitted by applicants for jobs and candidates for higher studies, it would be possible for them to distinguish between genuine documents and fake ones. But at times they are so interested in recruiting their blue-eyed candidates that they prefer not to look too closely at documents furnished by them lest such scrutiny lead to the rejection of their candidature. The kind of printing and the quality of paper used often make fake documents detectable even though those engaged in the business have become smarter than they used to be. There are instances now of the paper used for printing fake documents being of a better quality than what is used for genuine documents. Therefore one should also be alert about fake documents that are printed on better quality of paper than the genuine documents. What emerges from the overall scenario is what is true of the entire business of recruiting people for jobs in our country. The guiding principle in India is distrust of statements made, whereas in most civilized countries the guiding principle is trust. In other words, it is normal for Indian selection committees not to believe in what a candidate has to say about himself or herself unless the statements can be backed up by documents. This attitude differs from what is the norm in most advanced countries: that of fully trusting what candidates have to say about themselves unless evidence to the contrary can be found. It also takes away the last shred of trust that ought to be the guiding principle of healthy human relationships. When such attitudes determine human relationships, they also stoke unlawful urges of producing and presenting fake documents to evade prosecution.
The updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951 has revealed major aberrations in the business of issuing documents. Even a cursory examination of the entire system of issuing important certificates in Assam has proved that the system itself is badly flawed and that certificates have been issued without any proper verification over the years. This has enabled doubtful citizens to obtain such certificates through fraudulent means. This alarming fact came to light during the process of verification of family trees of persons who had applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC as well as the certificates issued by secretaries of panchayats. Something else that came to light during the process of verification of family trees was that a substantial number of persons who had applied for the inclusion of their names in the updated NRC were people who had furnished fake documents. It was discovered that even foreign nationals had managed to secure voters’ identity cards because of the faulty system. However, the verification of the linkages and the family trees of the applicants was the game changer, and a large number of cases of persons using such fraudulent means to get their names included in the updated NRC came to light. Fortunately, the process of updating the NRC was not carried out solely on the basis of documents produced by the applicants, and the family linkages were checked. That is how a large number of irregularities could be detected. We have no idea of how many such fake or forged documents were detected, because this is a bit of information that has not been divulged so far. The process of compilation is still on, and this information may become available only after the publication of the final draft of the NRC.
As the NRC of 1951 and the voters’ lists up to 1971 were made available to the public, unscrupulous persons tried to use certain names that appeared in these documents claiming those persons to be their parents. A large number of such incidents came to light during the family tree verifications. The persons whose names were so used and their progeny were unaware of the misuse of their names. There is the interesting case of a person who used the name of a certain person as his father and claimed that he was no longer alive. But during the hearings on the family tree verification, the ‘deceased’ person appeared before the verifying officer and the entire nefarious game was exposed. There is also the case of a woman from Morigaon who had been declared a foreigner. She had managed to get her name included in the voters’ list by pretending to be someone else, and had even submitted a voter’s identity card as proof of citizenship for inclusion of her name in the updated NRC. The fraud was eventually detected and her name excluded from the updated NRC.
It is now evident that one of the major factors influencing the inclusion of the names of some foreigners in the NRC is the laxity in the preparation of the voters’ list. The entire process of verification of the NRC has been necessitated by the fact that there has been a great deal of unquestioning dependence on the electoral roll to determine who is an Indian citizen and who is not. This unqualified dependence on the electoral roll has been a major source of error in coming out with a totally dependable NRC because it is now abundantly clear that the NRC does contain the names of a large number of names of foreign nationals. The two most vital actions that demand very prompt attention are the deletion of the names of foreign nationals from the electoral roll of Assam and an order from the appropriate authorities that the electoral roll of Assam shall not be used until it is totally free of the names of foreigners.