The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on 31st August 2019. This marks yet another stage in the process, which has been going on for some years (see Box on timeline of NRC), of identifying “bonafide” Indian citizens in Assam. The draft has created a lot of distress and a feeling of severe insecurity among the people of the state; there are lakhs who are not sure of their status. It is a cruel blow to the masses of working people of the state, that by one arbitrary decision, lakhs have been rendered stateless and families will be separated.
A statement released by the office of the NRC state coordinator in Guwahati confirmed that out of the 3.30 crore applicants, a total of 3.11 crore have been included in the citizenship registry, which leaves out over 19 lakh people from the final list. The 19 lakh excluded includes Bengalis, Nepali and people from other states who have no proof of citizenship, many are workers in tea plantations.
According to a notification of the Union Home Ministry, those excluded will get an opportunity to appeal within 120 days at the Foreigners Tribunals. The Chief Minister of Assam has “assured” the people that as long as an appeal is there, no one will be treated as a foreigner, as the authority to declare a person foreigner lies only with the Foreigners Tribunal.
However, this assurance means nothing; it is yet another lie in the face of the actual experience of the people. Even those who are on the NRC list, and hence deemed citizens, are not secure. Any Foreigners Tribunal in the State can any point of time declare any person a foreigner, leading to exclusion of such person from the NRC.
Many of those who have been denied or may be denied citizenship are people who have settled and worked in Assam for many decades, contributing to the wealth of the society. Many of the people who are being hounded as foreigners have been born in this country or have made it their home for nearly 50 years. In particular, the poor, working people who have been driven by harsh circumstances to come to India, are the target of the state. This reflects the extremely anti-people and criminal nature of the Indian state.
Timeline of the National Register of Citizens in Assam
The exercise of updating the NRC of Assam was to “implement” the Assam Accord of 1985. According to that accord, all those who entered Assam from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971 (when Bangladesh came into being as an independent country) would be declared illegal immigrants, deprived of citizenship rights including the right to vote and be deported to Bangladesh.
December 31, 2017: The government published the first draft of the NRC.
July 30, 2018: Assam government released second draft of NRC. Of the 3.29 crore who applied, 2.89 crore were declared genuine citizens. The draft NRC excluded over 40 lakh people.
December 31, 2018: This was the deadline for the government to release the final version of NRC. However, the deadline could not be met.
June 26, 2019: An additional draft on exclusion list was published. This list had 1,02,462 names, taking the total number of those left out to 41,10,169.
July 31, 2019: The government was supposed to release the final version of the NRC. It could not and the deadline was extended by month.
August 31, 2019: The government released the final version of the National Register of Citizens in Assam.
A terrible situation confronts those thus declared “illegal immigrants”. People declared to be “foreigners” are interned in detention centres till such time as they are deported. However, there is no country to deport them to as Bangladesh has refused to take them back; these people will end up in a state of permanent detention. The detention centres themselves are erstwhile prisons.
This whole exercise is an attack on the people of Assam, a gross violation of their human rights. The process of compilation of the NRC is thoroughly baseless and unjustifiable. Instead of the state proving that someone is an “illegal immigrant”, the onus has been put on the people of Assam, to prove to the Indian state that they are citizens by presenting twelve documents and a family tree! It has been carried out in a manner that criminalises the people, terrorizes them and smashes their unity.
Through the claims and corrections processes of the NRC compilation, the marginalised and illiterate sections of the population have been subjected to inhuman procedural hassles; they have been sent to the Seva Kendras, sometimes 200-400 kilometres away! They have had to gather their documents and proof of their ancestry against all odds, only to be rejected on some flimsy grounds. People are being driven to taking their own lives in desperation. Even official records admit several NRC-related deaths in Assam and within the detention centres between 2013 and now.
The central and state governments and some political parties have been justifying the NRC exercise by carrying out a constant vicious propaganda campaign accusing “illegal immigrants” and “foreigners” of “taking away jobs, land and other precious resources of our people”. The aim is to divide the people along lines of language and religion and to spread fear and insecurity among the people.
Although this was to be the final count, it appears that the process could be far from over. While the real victims are not being heard, it is sections of the ruling class in Assam, including those of the ruling party and its allies, who are complaining the loudest against the outcome of this round! The official claim is that more than 30 lakh people out of the total population of over 3 crores are foreigners. They have even talked of 40-50 lakhs to strengthen their propaganda that “foreigners” are allegedly “taking away the jobs” of Assamese people and are a “threat to National Security”. These are monstrous lies. The ruling party and its allies are filing petitions in the Supreme Court for a review of the NRC for increasing the number to be excluded! This means that the people of Assam will have to go through another traumatic round of submitting documents and running from pillar to post.
What matters to the ruling class is to manipulate the whole exercise to validate their propaganda. But the real issue is the injustice of denying citizenship and the victimization of the working people of all religions and language who have been living in the state for decades.
It must be noted that a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2016 to amend the Citizenship Act to grant citizenship to Hindu and Sikh “illegal immigrants” from neighbouring countries. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January 2019 but lapsed before it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill reveals the criminal purpose of the State to constantly find ways to provoke divisions among the people of India on one basis or another – religion, caste, language, etc.
In yet another sinister move to isolate and increase the insecurity of the people of this or that religious origin, the Ministry of Home Affairs brought in the Foreigners Tribunals Amendment Order 2019 on 30th May, which directs all states to constitute their own Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) to detect “foreigners”. As in Assam, any person can be accused by a FT to be a foreigner, and the accused has to prove his status.
These moves by the Indian state must be condemned and opposed by all concerned about the unity and solidarity of the people our country.