By Prarthana Mitra
40 lakh of the Assamese population risk losing citizenship as per the National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on Monday.
Out of 3,29,91,385 applicants, 2,89,83,677 have been found eligible for inclusion in the complete draft of NRC, announced in Guwahati on 30 July. Updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal migration from Bangladesh, the draft has left out 40,07,708 people, refusing to justify the large-scale exemption.
“No one will be treated as a foreigner if his or her name does not appear in the NRC draft,” assured Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal. In the face of potential riots, he is confident that the people of Assam will maintain peace and order, while the state government awaits final orders from the Supreme Court.
Central force has been deployed in thousands across the state to prevent any unrest over the new list.
Eligibility, identity and course of action
The NRC assessment was an exercise to maintain an official record of the names, addresses, and photographs of all Indian citizens residing in the Northeastern state before 25 March 1971. In August 2015, the people of Assam duly filled and submitted the last of the NRC forms.
With the declaration of the final draft, 40 lakh of them now face deportation if they cannot prove their citizenship before the final list is out.
State Coordinator Prateek Haleja said that the reasons for why the 40,07,708 names have been left out of the final draft will be disclosed individually to each applicant, not publicly. Amidst gross discrepancies, the mass confusion and anxiety is palpable.
For instance, Maharshi Chakravortee hails from a family of five living in Dibrugarh since the 50s, and yet, only his grandmother is on the list. Another long-time resident Illias Hussain’s mother hasn’t made it to the list when all her siblings have, despite having a foreigner’s tribunal court order declaring her as Indian Citizen in 2013.
Those found ineligible have the option to file an online application on the NRC website or at an NRC Seva Kendra, starting August 7. According to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, applicants missing from the final list can approach the FT, without any fear of coercive action.
The final NRC will be declared in December 2018.
Calling it a “game plan” and another manifestation of BJP’s “divide and rule” policy, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, There were people who have Aadhaar cards and passports but still their names are not in the draft list. Names of people were removed on the basis of surnames also. Is the Government trying to do forceful eviction?
Trinamool Congress leader SS Roy told ANI, Central Government has intentionally eliminated more than 40 lakh religious and linguistic minorities from NRC(National Register of Citizens), which will have serious ramifications on the demography of different states adjoining Assam.”
Other opposition parties including the Congress and Samajwadi Party too voiced their outrage, leading to adjournment of the Monsoon Session, twice within two hours.
Rajnath Singh’s rejoinder came right after, “I want to ask the Opposition, what is the Centres role in this? It is happening under the supervision of the Supreme Court. Such sensitive issues should not be politicised.” Stressing on the fact that it is only a draft, not the final list, he further said, Some people are unnecessarily trying to create an atmosphere of fear. This is a completely impartial report. No misinformation should be spread.
The first draft of the ongoing NRC process, released on 31 December 2017, comprised 1.9 crore names. The Registrar General of India reiterated Singh’s point, saying, “Till the final list is published later this year status quo remains. They will not be looked at Indian citizens nor as foreigners- they will merely be looked at as applicants, he said.
He also added, Every person whose name was in the first draft but is missing from final draft, will be given an individual letter to file claim for her or his non-inclusion, during the claims and objections process.
According to noted critics, political scientists and lawyers, however, this recount is scapegoating the issue of illegal immigration to blatantly target Assam’s Muslim and Bengali population.
“Yes, we know there won’t be any deportations in the near future. But, what really is the obverse of deportation? Long-term detention? Or integration into the state’s labour force? No one knows yet,” Angshuman Choudhury, research coordinator at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, observes. Voicing the plight of millions like his mother, left anxious, confused and scared of failing to make the final list, Choudhury says in a Facebook post,
“But, she has the means to challenge this denial of ‘Indianship’, which she will when the claim process begins next week. This includes full awareness of the process and sound legal advice. She’s privileged in that sense.”
“What of those who don’t have these means? Will the Indian state and Supreme Court now ensure that all claims are treated fairly, equitably, and transparently? Will those who haven’t featured in the list be intimated of the reason behind the omission?”, he asks.
According to Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Assam’s law minister and a member of the BJP, there is no doubt about the fate of those who have been rejected.
“Everyone will be given a right to prove their citizenship,” he told the BBC. “But if they fail to do so, well the legal system will take its own course,” he said, implying expulsion from India.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius