As the deadline for Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) draws closer, several groups, especially Muslims and Bengali-speaking minority in the state have raised concerns. The NRC updating exercise in Assam officially began in September 2015 under the orders of the central government and supervised by the Gogoi-led Congress government in the state, and was carried forward by the BJP state leadership after it came to power in the state in 2016.
As reported by the Hindu, when the NRC’s complete draft is slated to be declared on June 30, as many as 50,000 people will be rendered stateless. Although, several estimates show that the actual number of people rendered stateless could be in millions.
What is Assam NRC?
The first NRC for Assam was prepared after the 1951 census of Independent India. It recorded the particulars of those who belonged to the state. The register was compiled after collecting data from each village and indicating against each house, the names and number of people staying there.
Now, Assam is the only state to have its own register of citizens. Assam historically has seen an influx of immigrants. Before independence, the Britishers brought in plantation workers from present-day Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In 1904, Bengal was divided into East Bengal, West Bengal and Assam.
Post the 1971 war, a large number of people migrated from East Pakistan to Assam and West Bengal. The government then made several efforts to send back the illegal immigrants but failed.
In 1979, the leaders of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) started an agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. Finally, in 1985, the Assam Accord was signed after which the agitation culminated.
Following the Accord, an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1955 under section 6(A) gave Indian citizenship to all migrants who came to Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971. The date March 24, 1971, was decided because the Bangladesh Liberation war started on March 25, 1971.
Right now, the National Register of Citizens is being compiled for the first time after 1951 to ascertain the Indian citizenships. All the persons who were counted under the initial 1951 census and were included in electoral rolls up to 1971 or those having documental proof of migrating on or before March 24, 1971, will be extended citizenship.
What has happened till now?
Assam currently has a population of about 3.29 crore. The first draft of the NRC list was released on the night of December 31, 2017. As per the first draft, only 1.9 crore names were included in the list. All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) chief Badruddin Ajmal and his brother Sirajuddin Ajmal too were not included in the list. Not just him but 15 of the 126 MLA’s were missing from the list.
On the failure to include almost 40% of the people, the centre at that time said that they were examining the reason behind the exclusion of names. It was also assured that “no person who is a genuine case will be left out”. Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal had requested all the people of Assam to have patience while publishing the step by step draft list until the NRC complete result is out.
The complete draft will be released on June 30. Fear has gripped people in the North-Eastern state over the speculation that up to four million people, mostly Bengali Hindus and Muslims who have lived in the state for decades will be left stateless.
The final result will be declared on December 31, 2018.
Fear grips the state
Given that the first list itself did not have 40% of the state’s population, the fear among the people is quite evident.
NRC coordinator, Prateek Hajela called it misplaced fears. He said to the Hindu, “We cannot quantify at this moment, but the number of people who might get left out would be 50,000 at most. Even then, they will get an opportunity to prove their citizenship through claims and objections”.
So people who fail to feature on the list will be declared foreigners. They then will be kept in detention centres. In the past decade too, those deemed foreigners by the statutory Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam were kept in jail-like detention centers, which reportedly had appalling conditions. It is being speculated that same fate awaits those who will be declared foreigners after NCR data is compiled. Currently, there are six detention centers in the state, but it is not clear how long people will be detained in these centers.
This ailing old man is languishing in detention camp – which is a district jail – because he could not prove his…
In 2016, the Union government had proposed a law to treat Hindu aliens as people with natural rights to the Indian nation. This was met with agitation from across the state of Assam which opposed the idea that recognition as an Indian citizen is to be given on the basis of religion. However, in December 2017, Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, said, “The NRC is being done to identify illegal Bangladeshis residing in Assam”, adding that the Hindu Bangladeshis who faced persecution there would be given shelter in India, in line with federal policy, as reported by Reuters.
In a letter to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, four United Nations special rapporteurs said that the NRC updation exercise may be biased against the Bengali muslim minority. Dated June 11, 2018, the letter said, “concerns have been raised that local authorities in Assam, which are deemed to be particularly hostile towards Muslims and people of Bengali descent, may manipulate the verification system in an attempt to exclude many genuine Indian citizens from the update NRC”.
Protesting against the procedure being followed for the updation of NRC, Muslim organisations in Assam said that the process lacks “consistency and transparency”, as reported by Firstpost. The Coordination Committee of Minority Organisations, Assam, comprising 23 groups, had listed out 12 questions which “revealed the anomalies in the exercise undertaken by the NRC Secretariat”. They also alleged that the changing of rules every month is posing a great threat to error-free registration of citizens. Azizur Rahman, convener of the coordination committee, said, “We are cooperating with the updates of the NRC. But the NRC authority is acting arbitrarily, with new rules and regulations every month. There is a gap between what is on paper and what is being done by officials.”
Experts believe that several families stood the risk of being torn apart. Kishalay Bhattacharjee, author and expert on northeastern affairs, while speaking to Livemint said, “A staggering number of people will not be in the NRC. A large number of people are already in detention centres. Even if one member in a family does not get recognition, he or she will be thrown into a detention centre first, before being deported.”