Assam publishes additional draft NRC, strips 1 lakh more of Indian citizenship: What now?

Three months after Supreme Court refused to extend the deadline for completing National Register of Citizens beyond July 31, an additional 1 lakh citizens were dropped from the draft NRC on Wednesday.

According to the NRC authority, as per provisions contained in Clause 5 of the Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of citizens and issue of national identity cards) Rules, 2003, the additional list consisting names of 1,02,462 people were published.

Those named in the Additional Draft Exclusion List initially featured in the draft NRC published July 30 last year but were subsequently found ineligible due to various reasons.

An NRC official in Guwahati told India Today,  “They [recently excluded] will again apply for inclusion of their names by July 11. We will inform them today. They will collect a form and submit it with some documents.”

This has reignited the debate over the legitimacy of the process; a 14-year-old girl from Assam’s Darrang district has committed suicide after failing to qualify twice, while another woman with Bihar roots has been declared a foreigner following her appearance before a Foreigners’ Tribunal. 

A resident of Sonitpur district, Amila Shah was marked by the Border Police as a suspected foreigner who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, despite documents. She has now been sent off to the Tezpur detention centre until verification is complete.

This comes a few weeks after retired soldier Mohammed Sanaullah was also struck off the draft NRC and later ruled as foreigner by the tribunal in charge of re-verification.

Essentially a Central Jail, the Tezpur detention centre is one of six for declared foreigners in Assam. There are currently about 1,200 such ‘foreigners’ in it, and suffering from similar conditions as the concentration camp-like facilities detaining migrant children at the US-Mexico border.

Who all qualify for the additional exclusion list?

Updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal migration from Bangladesh, the first NRC draft published on July 30 left out 40,07,708 people and refused to justify the large-scale exemption.

Nearly 2.89 crore of the 3.29 crore applicants were included, while the 40 lakh excluded were given a chance to appeal in the ‘claims and objections’ round.

Of this, about 36 lakh persons filed their ‘claims’ while ‘objections’ were received against a little over two lakh among the 2.89 crore included in the final draft.

Now, the additional draft list of exclusion mentions those among the 2.89 crore who were found ineligible during any of the following steps: Persons who were found to be DF (Declared Foreigner) or DV (Doubtful Voter) or PFT (persons with cases Pending at Foreigners Tribunals) or their descendants.

It also includes those who were discovered as ineligible while appearing as witnesses in hearings held for disposal of Claims & Objections, or during the process of verification carried out by the Local Registrars of Citizens Registration (LRCRs) after the publication of draft NRC.

The list was made available online from 10 AM on Wednesday, while hard copies could be accessed at NRC Seva Kendras and DC/SDO/Circle Officer’s offices.

Those excluded will have the opportunity to file their claims by July 11, which will be disposed of through a hearing by a Disposing Officer. The date of the publication of the final NRC has been set by the Supreme Court as July 31.

Vote bank politics or concern about immigration?

In January, India deported five Rohingyas from Assam to Myanmar, violating international laws that prohibit governments from sending individuals back to their home country where their lives are under threat.

BJP president Amit Shah has even called Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh a national security threat on several occasions, comparing them to termites.

Calling it a gross violation of human rights, noted activists, political scientists and lawyers now believe that this recount is scapegoating illegal immigration to blatantly target Assam’s Muslim and Bengali population.

The register, which is probably one of the biggest exercises in disenfranchisement in the world, is replete with discrepancies. That only exacerbates mass confusion; meanwhile, the centre refuses to reveal the basis on which so many names were left off the list.

Why Assam could set the precedent for future NRC rollout

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is one of BJP’s promises to its supporters that has also made its way into the party’s 2019 manifesto. The NRC is a national list or register of “legal” residents or citizens of India, originating from the Assam Accord 1985, an agreement that states any Bangladeshi who entered India post 1971 will be considered “illegal”, regardless of religion. 

PM Narendra Modi claims that Rajiv Gandhi’s Assam Accord has made the NRC exercises inevitable and necessary. The Congress argues that the survey should not be influenced by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has not yet been linked to NRC.

The bill is a hotly contended, seeking to give citizenship to only Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, and Parsi refugees, not Muslim. If it passes in the Rajya Sabha, non-Muslims left off the NRC will qualify for citizenship by naturalisation. The same cannot be said for Muslims.

Moreover, there is no clarity on the impact of the NRC decided on the basis of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in border states other than Assam. Crores of families also stand to lose their right to legally reside in India if the NRC coordinators in their respective states decide their citizenship status on the basis of the 2016 Bill.

Critics react

Opposition parties such as CPI(M) and Congress-led AIUDF have criticised the BJP-led Assam government for targeting certain communities and putting them behind bars in the name of detecting foreigners.

The Congress have also accused Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela of “constantly changing the goalposts in the NRC update process.”

Following Amila Shah’s plight, even the president of All Assam Bhojpuri Parishad Kailash Gupta told The Hindu, “We are now beginning to doubt the motive of the government, both in the State and the Centre. How on earth can a Hindi-speaker, whether or not his or her name is in the NRC, be a foreigner? It now appears that there is an incentive scheme for the police and tribunals to turn as many Indians into foreigners [as possible], whatever the religion.”

Newly elected TMC MP Mohua Moitra, in her iconic parliamentary address pointed to the absurdity of the exercise. “In a country where ministers can’t produce degrees to show that they graduated from college, you expect disposed poor people to show papers as proof that they belong to this country,” she said in her maiden speech.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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