NEW DELHI: Kamal Hossain Mondal, a 36 year old brick kiln worker in Basirhat, West Bengal, was found hanging from a tree in the local mango orchard on Sunday. His family say he was illiterate, and panicked when he couldn’t locate his birth or land records – a prerequisite for inclusion in the National Register of Citizens. Mondal’s wife says he “ended his life over NRC fears.”

Within days, two more suicides were reported from West Bengal. Police officials said a 25-year-old and a 50-year-old died from suicide in the region of Dhupguri and Jalpaiguri in north Bengal.

“Family members and neighbours of both men have claimed that they were depressed over not being able to gather proper documents needed to prove their citizenship. We have started an investigation into both cases,” a senior West Bengal police official said according to reports.

These three suicides in less than a week take the NRC-related death toll in West Bengal to eight.

Images and videos from the state show thousands of people queuing outside government and municipal offices, trying to procure the necessary documents to prove to the government that they are Indian citizens, if the NRC is implemented in the state. This despite claims from the Trinamool Congress government that the register will not be permitted in West Bengal.

Political tit for tat has accompanied the panic, with the BJP and TMC pinning the blame on each other. “Shame on the BJP for creating panic over NRC in Bengal,” Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said earlier. “It has led to six deaths. Have faith in me, I will never allow the exercise in Bengal.”

Meanwhile the BJP’s West Bengal unit said on Tuesday that deaths caused by the decitizenship panic could not be blamed on the party. “We did not create any panic over the NRC. It is unfair to blame us,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told reporters.

Ghosh said the TMC had a role to play, stating that “dengue deaths are being labelled as death over NRC panic. The family members of the deceased have also accepted it as they have been promised Rs.2 lakhs by the state government and the TMC.”

However, he added that if the BJP came to power in the state, the NRC would be implemented. “We stick to our stand that we would weed out Bangladeshi Muslim infiltrators by conducting NRC in West Bengal if voted to power.”

Ghosh clarified that Hindus in the state would have nothing to fear, as they would be “given citizenship” under the soon to be amended Citizenship Act. “So, the panic is only among the illegal infiltrators,” he said.

“People who died did not die due to NRC. They died due to their family reasons,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha. “The panic related to NRC was spread by Mamata Banerjee. She took out rallies against it. She should take responsibility for any deaths due to fear of NRC in Bengal as she and her party have created an atmosphere of fear related to NRC.”

The evident panic stems from locals’ fear that they will not be included in a Register of Citizens unless they can prove their citizenship by supplying a very specific list of government records.

In Assam, where the NRC was implemented, more than 19 lakh people have been excluded from the recently published final register – rendering them stateless for now. They will have to appeal their cases in extrajudicial “Foreigners’ Tribunals” failing which they will be confined to detention centres.

Seven such centres are currently being built in Assam for this now disenfranchised community.

The amendements to the Citizenship Bill, pending in Parliament since 2016, offer Indian citizenship to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Muslims struck off the NRC will not be able to become citizens under this route.

As the NRC process culminated in Assam, at least 60 people lost their lives in deaths connected with citizenship issues, with several taking their own lives over fears of incarceration in detention camps. A detailed list of these deaths - up to July 18, 2019 - is available here.

Chaos and confusion over procuring documents also took a toll. The Citizen covered this in an article published in August highlighting this incident: “Around three hundred people, many daily wage labourers, from two Lower Assam districts of Barpeta and Kamrup received ‘sudden’ notices for hearings in Upper Assam districts that are around 300-400 km away from their villages. As reported by The Indian Express, almost every single house in one particular village received these notices.

What followed was a human tragedy of devastating proportions – reeling under extreme panic, people hired all kinds of vehicles from buses to pick-up trucks to reach the hearing venues, often jam packed like cattle inside trailers. As if that wasn’t enough, three of the vehicles met with road accidents, thanks to sleep-deprived drivers rushing at high speeds to ensure that the applicants reach their hearing venues on time. Photographs from one of the accident sites showed bloodied and partially-charred victims covered with hot peat on which their bus had toppled.”