For the last few weeks, the office of the Chief Qazi of Qazat Shariat Panah Balda in Hyderabad’s Shah Ali Banda area has been packed. Scores of people from all walks of life – from burqa-clad women to senior citizens – have been lining up outside the office every day.
With people in a hurry for their turn, Chief Qazi Mir Qadar Ali Khan and his team members are doing their best inside, to deal with the large number of requests that have come in.
Ever since the Centre passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed a National Register of Citizens (NRC), a large number of people have gathered outside the office of the Chief Qazi, whose jurisdiction covers large parts of Hyderabad’s Old City.
The hustle and bustle is largely for requests to make necessary corrections in the ‘sianama’ (marriage contract form) issued by qazis during the time of marriage.
Since the announcement about the NRC, many have gathered at the qazi’s office trying to extract and correct records and certificates of the marriages of their parents and forefathers, which were solemnised several decades ago. This, they say, would help them get a fresh copy of the marriage certificate from the Telangana State Waqf Board.
All this, according to those gathered, is so that they can prove their citizenship in case the NRC comes into effect across India.
Speaking to TNM, Qazi Mir Qadar Ali Khan says that the normal functioning of his office has been disrupted due to the ambiguity over NRC.
“There is a fear that is pervading the Muslim community. It is a fear of the unknown, people feel insecure as they have not faced this type of a catch-22 situation before,” he says.
Mir Qadar Ali Khan
The Chief Qazi at Shah Ali Banda has 250-year-old records of marriages that took place in Hyderabad, including those during the rule of the Nizams of the erstwhile Hyderabad State.
The qazi says that around 500 to 600 people are currently approaching his office daily.
“On normal days, the staff deals with around 100 to 150 people. Many of those who are visiting the office now want records of marriages that took place 70 or 80 years ago,” he says.
“Many of the people approaching us have lost their sianamas and don’t know the exact date and place of their forefather’s marriage, which is making it difficult for us to go through old records and make corrections. A large number of people are concerned about the NRC,” he points out.
The qazi also says that several record books are in a decaying state, which makes his team’s task even more difficult.
“Searching for old certificates and other particulars from 200-odd years ago is not easy. We need to exercise a lot of care in handling some of the records. We are facing difficulties in coping with the situation, as the burden has greatly increased nowadays,” the qazi says.
“The situation is unusual and tough. The ghost of NRC is chasing them and they are forced to approach my office,” he adds.
One of the staff members at the office says, “The concern among people is high. That’s the reason a large number of people are lining up outside even before the office opens. All of us are forced to work extra to manage the rush. People are searching for old records and coming up with different requests for corrections in the sianamas.”
Taher Khan*, one of the people standing in line at the office, says, “We are disturbed and confused with all types of videos, photos and news items appearing on social media and WhatsApp nowadays about NRC, CAA and NPR. That’s why we feel that old records of marriages would be useful and enough proof for us to establish citizenship.”
“One of my neighbours gave me this idea and advised me to set the records right, so I have come here with my wife,” he adds.
Many of those who were waiting for their turn said that they were forced to take time off from their scheduled office hours to visit the qazi’s office.
Nizam Ali* says that he is distressed, adding, “I am sparing time from my scheduled office hours for this purpose as I feel that this documentation would be useful if NRC is implemented.”
“There is uncertainty among the people about NRC as they are not well-versed with the CAA and what it means for us,” he adds.
When asked why there was a sudden rush to get the documentation in place, Zakir* says, “There is a general opinion in the community that if we keep the documents ready now itself we can heave a sigh of relief, as we will be prepared if something were to happen.”
It is not only the office of the Chief Qazi that is witnessing a rush. Many citizens are also visiting the Telangana State Waqf Board in Nampally.
Speaking to TNM, Telangana State Waqf Board chairman Mohammad Saleem admitted that a large number of people were visiting the office daily, mainly to get the marriage certificates of their parents and forefathers issued.
“We are handling this situation with the utmost care and on a priority basis as it is a delicate issue. We are ensuring that we issue the marriage certificates to each person who has applied for it,” he says.
Wajeed Ullah Khan is a Hyderabad-based freelance journalist who writes predominantly on the issues surrounding Old City. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org