Only humanist approach can resolve Assam’s NRC controversy

 Jatin Desai 
Saturday, 4 August 2018

Names of more than 40 lakh people did not figure in the draft NRC released on July 30 2018

North-East India, especially Assam, is burning and situation is tense over the final draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Various political parties have taken different positions on the issue keeping in mind ‘political gains’. The issue was also raised in Parliament. It needs to be realised that those whose names are missing from the list cannot be called ‘ghuspethiya’ (infiltrators) or Bangladeshis as many BJP leaders claim. These people, still, have an opportunity to prove themselves. But, they stared at uncertainty. Some BJP leaders have also demanded NRC across India.

The issue is also one of humanity. The state of Assam is getting more and more polarised on the ethnic and religious lines. It has witnessed several communal riots. The Assamese fear change in demography will affect them financially and politically. The issue is also of the people who have been living in Assam for years. A just resolution is essential.

Names of more than 40 lakh people of Assam did not figure in the draft NRC released on July 30 2018. In 2015, 3.29 crore people filed applications for their names to be included in the NRC but only 2.89 crore found their names in the list. Shockingly, names of hundreds of known persons are missing. Former President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s nephew’s name is also not in the list. The people, whose names do not figure in the list, can file their claims between August 30 and September 28. The burden of proving citizenship in this case rested with the applicants. They have to prove they are descendants of Indian citizen by showing lineage. However, it is contrary to the international convention. The convention says that state has to prove that one is not a citizen of their country. The first draft released in December 2017 had 19 million names.

The issue of immigration and change in demography always remained in the forefront in Assam in Independent India. The first NRC was released in 1951. Late 70s and 80s witnessed massive protests by students and others under the leadership of All Assam Students Union (AASU) and their demand was detection and deportation of illegal immigrants. The AASU was led by Prafulla Mahanta, Bhrigu Phukan, etc. Subsequently, Mahanta became CM of Assam also.

The history of immigrant labourers entering Assam goes back to pre-independence days. The Britishers brought tribal labourers to Assam from Bihar to work in the plantation farms. Muslim migrants also came from Bengal. So, the fear of change in the demography because of influx is not new. After independence, immigration from East Pakistan and then Bangladesh continued. During Bangladesh’s war of Independence, refugees entered in huge numbers in Assam and West Bengal. The immigrants are Muslims and Hindus. According to Sanjoy Hazarika, an expert on North East, the forebears of some Assamese Muslims goes back 500-700 years.

Student movement in Assam led to Assam Accord in 1985 and in 1983, the Illegal Migrants (determination by tribunal) Act was made. It was weak and ineffective. In 2005, Supreme Court of India struck down the IMDT Act and directed that all tribunals functioning under the IMDT would seize functioning with immediate effect. It was a major setback to the Congress. The Assam Accord, signed on August 15, 1985, states that all illegal foreigners, who came to Assam after March 24, 1971 from Bangladesh, irrespective of religion, have to be deported. There is an attempt to term Hindu migrants from Bangladesh as refugees and Muslims as infiltrators.

But, with the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, again controversy erupted and North East became tense. Many groups of North East of India feel the citizenship bill will nullify some of the key provisions of the Assam Accord. The citizenship bill seeks to grant citizenship to people from minority communities - Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis - from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who migrated to India till December 31 2014. The fear among people of Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya is if citizenship is granted to Hindu, Buddhists (Chakma), then it will have an impact on the economy, politics and especially electoral politics of their states. Assam Accord does not differentiate between people on the basis of their religion.

Opposition parties of Assam alleged that Amit Shah has made a ‘false’ assertion in the Rajya Sabha by terming all 40 lakh people ‘ghuspethiya’.

The process of identification is not yet completely over. At the same time, Bangladesh has never acknowledged that its citizens live in India. In such a scenario, deportation or repatriation will never happen in the absence of any legal treaty between India and Bangladesh. Nobody can be repatriated till the other country accepts the nationality of such persons. Keeping this in mind, only an humanist approach can resolve the controversy.

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