The partition resulted in one of the largest mass migrations in history, with millions of people moving across the newly created borders. Needless to say the communal violence, with Hindus and Sikhs migrating to India and Muslims moving to Pakistan. This period of violence and displacement is remembered for its tragic consequences, with estimates of hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives. To craft a story around this mishap, extensive research is needed. Refugee by Nikhil Khasnabish throw light into the lives of the refugees who are struggling to prove their citizenship and complications as well as bureaucratic delays in Assam NRC.
Refugee by Nikhil Khasnabish
Gunen Sarkar, a riot victim, comes to Assam in 1964 as a refugee from East Pakistan. He is separated from his wife, son, and one-year-old daughter in a forest. He settles in a small village. Despite his poverty and adverse situations, he never stops searching for his family. The NRC, which is compulsory for all citizens of Assam, creates new problems for him those who are unable to produce valid documents and get their names registered in the NRC will be put in detention camps and deported. But he has no legacy data, the most important document. What will happen to him? Will he ever find his family?
The plot begins with the happy go lucky life of Gunen Sarkar when he leads an innocent life in his village. His life changes irreversibly after he sets out in search for him cow. He approaches a Gypsy who entrusts some money and an amulet with him and assures that he will get his cow back once he delivers the package to the right person on time.
On the way back he witnesses riots breaking out in the vicinity and later realises that he has been separated from his family and is forced to flee from the land he has been inhabiting since birth. Further the readers witness the struggles that he faces on his way back to India through East Pakistan. On reaching Indian he is stamped the refugee status. Since he left for India without any time for prior preparation, he didn’t have any valid documents. Once again his existence is questioned.
The Assam NRC process has been a complex and controversial one, with various cutoff dates and legal challenges. We read about it in newspapers and chose to forget about it. There were scores of people who have been struggling to find a foot ground where they can live without the fear of deportation. It is to this precarious situation that the author throws light on.
The style of narration is simple which enables novice readers to pick up the book. Through the book, the YA readers get an idea about what has happened during partition and afterwards. Though the book is categorized under adult/contemporary fiction, it is invariably appropriate for kids as well. It also falls under historical fiction though the historical details are not cited. The pace of the plot is moderate and the incidents could have been maneuvered seamlessly.
The characters of the book lacked variation. For instance, the Gunen’s family is adressed on the periphery. To establish his pain to the readers, it is imperative that the readers connect with the characters in his family. The author has tried to provide definition with the idiosyncrasies and looks. But the depth of the characters are lacking, especially since it is an emotionally laden scenario. One tight round of developmental edit could have compensated for this. However, the readers would be connected to Gunen and his dilemma. When he sets out in search of cow, when he gets the package from Gypsy, when he had to flee and when he struggles to prove his citizenship with Assam NRC, the readers would feel for him because his innocence is palpable.
The author has left a sliver of hope through the climax, which proclaims that the intention of the author is to let the world know how the refugees have lost sleep, peace of mind and existence during Assam NRC issues were rife. For a layman who takes the fellow beings for granted, the book is an eyeopener.