Question of statelessness will arise in case of those left out of final NRC list.
India must avert Rohingya-like situation in Assam
When the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was rele-ased on July 30, nearly four million people found their names missing, and the perception is that minorities have been targeted. I have friends from Assam, whose names do not figure on the list, expressing deep concern. There have been articles run by media houses labelling the four million people stateless.
The fact is that NRC authorities have stated time and again, that there will be a period for ‘claims and objections’ and the Assam police has ensured that there will be no detention or harassment. Forms to reapply will be available starting August 7 and cases heard between Aug-ust 30 and September 28. Prateek Hajela, the Supreme Court-mandated coordinator of the NRC, stated that none of those left out could be termed infiltrators. “These people will get another chance to prove their credentials. Then we’ll come out with a final NRC.”
That said, this kind of labelling as ‘stateless’ has created stress and fear. My concern is that it may result in a situation of us v-ersus them. Whether a harmonious multi-ethnic atmosphere continues is something that law enforcement and civil society leaders will have to work overtime, with heart and empathy, to sustain.
Citizenship is a sensitive issue and the situation has been exacerbated by cases of some members in a family being included while a member or two is left out from the final draft, despite submitting the same documents. Th-is discrepancy could have been avoided. Assam is the first state to conduct an update to the NRC, with the cut off date being March 24, 1971, to ensure that ‘genuine citizens’ live in Assam, and foreigners are identified.
There is a growing perception in Assam that the state is fast losing its indigenous cultures and its ancestral lands to illegal migration from Bangladesh. Porous borders have only aggravated the situation.
Matters worsened when it was discovered by the then-DIG of Assam Border Police, Hiranya Kumar Bhattacharyya, that 47,658 illegal migrant names were included in the 1978 voters list in Mangaldoi assembly constituency. This sparked the Assa-m agitation led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) from 1979 to 1985, which resulted in the Assam Accord of 1985. The accord stated that, “It will be ensured that the relevant law restricting acquisition of imm-ovable property by foreigners in Assam is strictly enforced.” It further stated that “Foreigners who came to Assam after 1.1.1966 (inclusive) and up to March 24, 1971, shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964”. Given the lack of reliable data on the number of illegal migrants entering Assam, it was anyone’s guess how many there were. Anger and violence aga-inst this has continued.
In 2012, the Bodo areas of Assam erupted in violence aga-inst migrants, as they feared their ancestral lands would get illegally occupied. Assam has continued to suffer from armed conflict as a result. The 1983 Nellie massacre is one of its wor-st moments. Assuming we do it right, the NRC update will addr-ess several of these deep-seated societal fears.
It is not the mandate of the NRC authorities to decide what happens to those left out of the final list. For that, separate legal frameworks would be required. India does not have a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh reg-arding illegal migration. Bangladesh does not recognise there is a migration problem and refuses to accept any in Assam as its nationals. It is then that the question of ‘statelessness’ will arise, resulting in people without rights.
The critical question to ponder is: what happens to those left stateless and homeless? There must be an approach established well in advance in the policy planning and implementation stages to avert a human tragedy, which draws the attention and condemnation of the world, as we have witnessed in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.
The writer is a senior analyst and author hailing from Assam.