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Fear in Assam over NRC update

  • Published at 02:00 am July 28th, 2018
People stand in line to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Indian state of Assam on January 1AFP
RFile Photo: People stand in line to check their names on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Indian state of Assam on January 1 AFP

The first draft list, released at midnight on December 31, 2017, included 19 million of the 32.9 million applicants. As per a Supreme Court order, the final draft is expected by July 30

The Indian state of Assam is lying on a knife edge over the pending release of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), with one former chief minister describing the list as “the only safeguard” for the indigenous people of Assam.

AASU General Secretary Lurinjyothi Gogoi said the NRC, first prepared in 1951, had not been updated by successive governments due to their “vote-bank politics.”

“A series of protests in Assam has (now) made the central government update the NRC, which is the only safeguard for the indigenous people in the state,” he said.

Last month, former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi expressed his apprehensions on Twitter over the exclusion of “genuine Indian citizens” from the NRC, while demanding that foreigners – including the sizeable population of resident Bangladeshis – be declared “stateless.”

The first draft list, released at midnight on December 31, 2017, included 19 million of the 32.9 million applicants. As per a Supreme Court order, the final draft is expected by July 30.

This would be one month later than planned, as the original release was postponed amid widespread flooding in the three districts of Barak Valley – Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi.

Fearing that the publication of the final updated NRC will be met with unrest, the state administration has asked the central government to deploy paramilitary troops.

Identity threat

To protect the positions of the indigenous population in the NRC, the Indian government has been urged to implement the Assam Accord, which was signed in 1985 and prevents illegal immigrants from acquiring citizenship, irrespective of their religion.

The call came from the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which has spearheaded the anti-foreigner movement in the state and is the student front of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), a coalition partner of the ruling BJP in Assam.

AASU has been motivated to take action due to the publication of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill by the BJP-led central government in 2016.

The controversial bill seeks to grant citizenship to religious minorities – barring Muslims – who are facing persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

“(The bill) is a threat to Assam’s identity,” AASU Chief Adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya told the media in Delhi on July 3.

“It violates the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution as it aims to provide citizenship on the basis of religion. It is not about Hindus or Muslims – but illegal immigrants.”

Bhattacharya claimed that “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” had infiltrated the state and changed Assam’s demography.

“Subsequently, we have been relegated to minority status in our own motherland and encumbered by this burden since 1971,” he said.

Tinderbox

By and large, Assam has become a tinderbox.

Assam residents who voice their opposition to the NRC update run the risk of being branded “anti-Assamese” or “pro-Bangladeshi.”

Disquiet among the Assamese has increased, however, after NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela told reporters on July 4 that the names of about 150,000 people included in the first NRC draft would be dropped from the final list.

The names of 65,694 people in the first draft were found to be inadmissible during the family tree verification stage, while 48,456 married women who submitted panchayat certificates as linkages were also struck from the list.

Hajela said a further 19,783 people had been removed from the list during quality control checks.

“More inadmissible names may come up during the final quality control checks, but those likely to be excluded would get an opportunity to file claims and objections after the publication of the final draft,” Hajela said.

Against the backdrop of Hajela’s statement, BJP legislator of Hojai, Assam Shiladitya Dev said: “Exclusion of scores of people has been made possible owing to errors in data entry and guidelines.”

“Bangladeshi Muslims are hired as Data Entry operators in various places. Most of the Field Verification officers are Bangladeshi Muslims as well. And that’s why the exclusion of a number of (indigenous) people from the NRC list has been made possible,” added the BJP legislator of Hojai while speaking to reporters on July 6, 2018.

“In those areas of Assam where Bangladeshi Muslims constitute a majority, the Data Entry operators belong to the same brethren. The ‘foreigners’ are verifying the NRC list of their own community. As a result, the names of lakhs of Bangladeshi Muslims are included in the NRC update list,” the legislator further added.

“Those who expressed sympathy for the religious minority community of Assam are keeping mum now because they know that names of Bangladeshi Muslims will surely be included in the NRC list,” alleged the legislator.

Meanwhile, Congress legislator from Karimganj (North) Assam, Kamalakha De Purakayastha recently said: “The NRC update list would never mete out justice to the Bengalis of Assam. The linguistic and religious minorities of Assam should therefore register their protest on the streets.

“We’ve learnt from various sources that 19-20% of people from Cachar, 12% from Karimganj, and 10% from Hailakandi would be excluded from the final NRC list. Thus, it can be deduced Bengalis are targeted to be excluded from the NRC list at a fixed number,” added the Congress legislator from Karimganj (North).

Sources said the real migrants will likely turn out to be a sore point for the central and state governments. Numbering approximately around five million, they have mostly not applied for inclusion in the NRC update list. 

The sources, who asked for their names to be withheld, said those migrants with bona fide documentary evidence do not “nurture fears of deportation,” suggesting they are inclined to hold their ground.

Antarashtriya Hindu Parishad (AHP) President Pravin Togadia seemingly added fuel to fire by stating that the Indian Army should capture a portion of land in Bangladesh and settle 50 lakh illegal immigrants there if the neighbouring country refuses to take them back.

Togadia was speaking to reporters at Guwahati on July 18, 2018.

He also reprimanded the BJP-led government in Assam as well as the central government for failing to deport illegal Bangladeshis from Assam.

Simultaneously, he stated that no work permit should be issued to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

He also accused the BJP of emulating the ‘Congress policy’ of Muslim appeasement.

“The BJP government came to power both in Assam and the Centre by promising to deport 50 lakh illegal immigrants from Assam. However, over the past two years only 17 foreigners faced deportation. Around 7,000 bigha of land of Sattras (Vaishnavite monastery) has been encroached by illegal immigrants,” remarked Togadia.

Speaking on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which is facing strident opposition in Assam, Togadia said, “Hindus coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan must be settled in different states across the country. A single state cannot shoulder the burden alone. In this case, we are ready to work with the government, form a committee, and assist in settling these people.”