Violation of civil rights or solution to immigration problem? The Assam NRC debate rages.

By Prarthana Mitra

After the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) announced it would potentially strip 40 lakh of their citizenship, the opposition and the centre has engaged in a fiery debate over its objectives and motives.


BJP President Amit Shah on Tuesday said that those excluded from the list are “intruders” who have failed to prove their Indian citizenship. While Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured the displaced citizens that it was only a draft, not the final list, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was quick to accuse the BJP government of “divide and rule.”

There will be bloodbath and civil war in the country,” she was quoted as saying by news agency PTI, but soon came under fire for offering refuge to the displaced.


Course of action hereon

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 Singh, applicants missing from the final list can approach the FT, without any fear of coercive action.

The Supreme Court has asked the Centre to formulate Standard Operating Procedures, including timelines for deciding the claims and objections to the citizens’ list. The modalities and SoPs are due for submission on August 16. On Wednesday, the Centre told the top court that it is considering biometric verification for the 40 lakh people, to prevent them from migrating to neighbouring states on false identity.

According to the Indian Express, the Government has left it to the Election Commission to take the final call on the fate of those found ineligible, once the NRC process is over. The final NRC will be declared in December 2018.

However, there are glaring discrepancies in the count.

While the centre keeps harping on the fact that only “those who could not prove their citizenship, their names have been removed from the list,” it does not explain the innumerable accounts of gross inconsistencies that have come to light. Non-disclosure of the reasons further adds to the mass confusion and disbelief.

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.

Calling it a gross violation of human rights, noted activists, political scientists and lawyers believe that this recount is scapegoating illegal immigration to blatantly target Assam’s Muslim and Bengali population. A nefarious theory of dismantling Bengal’s unyielding status quo and border security, in the runup to the 2019 polls, in being floated.

Angshuman Choudhury, research coordinator at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, observes, “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.” 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.

Divided we stand

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.

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.

In a state that has geographically and historically struggled with the identity of an Assamese, the NRC has picked on the legacy of doubt, opened up a can of worms, and divided the state on grounds of ethnicity, language, religion.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius