On July 30, the second draft of the National Register for Citizens (NRC) for Assam is expected to be released by the Indian State. An extremely tense situation prevails in Assam as people wait anxiously to find out whether their names will be on the list or not. It is reported that the first draft of the NRC which was released on January 1, 2018 had the names of 1.9 crore people in it, of the 3.29 crore applicants. The fate of the remaining 1.39 crore people, or over 42% of the applicants, was kept hanging after the first list was declared. There is widespread fear amongst these people, that their names might be excluded in the second list as well.
People worried about their citizenship line up at the NRC
The Indian state is updating the NRC of Assam 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.
The entire exercise of creating a National Register for Citizens for Assam is being carried out in a manner that criminalises the people, terrorizes them and smashes their unity. It is laying the grounds for intensification of communal and sectarian divisions of the people of Assam.
Instead of the state having to prove that someone is an “illegal immigrant”, the people are supposed to prove that they are citizens. In other words, the people of Assam are being considered “illegal” in their own homeland, who have to prove to the Indian State through numerous documentations that they are indeed citizens!
A fact finding team of the campaign United Against Hate, led by former Inspector General of the UP Police, SR Darapuri, met over 2,000 people during their visit to Assam in the last week of June. Their report, released in New Delhi on July 13, reveals that the entire exercise of creating the NRC has been accompanied by gross violation of human rights.
The fact finding team has pointed out that people have to supply 16 valid documents to prove their Indian identity before the Foreigners’ Tribunals set up by the Indian State. In addition to these documents, these Tribunals are asking for a family tree history, wherein people have to prove that their forefathers were citizens and voters of Assam.
The team pointed out that “People are not being given a fair chance to defend and prove themselves as Indian citizens before the Foreigners’ Tribunals. They are not being served notices properly just because they are being sent to their temporary addresses or the places that have been washed away or relocated because of the massive erosion caused by the Brahmaputra river every year, but only exists on official records.”
The fact finding team has pointed out that the Indian State’s entire exercise of creating a NRC is targeted against Bangla speaking people. They are treated as “criminals” and “foreigners” and forced to prove their citizenship. The Foreigners’ Tribunals arbitrarily declare people to be “doubtful voters”, on the basis of alleged discrepancies in their documents. A “D” is marked next to their name in the voters’ list. According to some estimates, already 1.25 lakh people have been declared D voters. Many of them are put into one of the six detention centers that have been set up in Assam. These detention centres are worse than prisons. The detainees have no rights at all. They have been condemned as “foreigners” even though the state has not proved it. It is expected that when the Second List is announced on July 30, the list of D voters might swell to 35 lakhs.
Those declared D voters have the formal right to appeal to the High Court located hundreds of miles away in Guwahati. The Fact Finding Team has pointed out that a one-judge bench in the High Court constituted to hear such cases has rejected the majority of appeals.
Assam consists of numerous nationalities and tribes. The Assamese people have been fighting against their exploitation and discrimination at the hands of the Central State and the plunder of their rich natural resources by the big capitalists controlling the Indian State. The Indian State deliberately imposed communal and sectarian divisions on the Assamese people’s movement for their national rights, to divert and disrupt this struggle. It has carried out incessant propaganda that the source of the problem facing Assamese people is illegal migration from Bangladesh. It has tried its level best to set the people of Assam against each other on the basis of language and religion. The exercise to create a National Register of Citizens of Assam is aimed at further exacerbating these divisions.