Around 3 Million Face Non–Inclusion in Assam

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SUBIR BHAUMIK |

A long exercise over determining citizenship in India’s northeastern state of Assam may end up rendering around three million people stateless.

Four million people, mostly Bengali Hindus and Muslims, were not included in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft that was published in July this year.

 

■ Activists of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) take part in a torch light procession in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 proposal to provide citizenship or stay rights to minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India, in Guwahati on May 14, 2018 | Getty Images

 

Those excluded were asked to file claims for inclusion in NRC by Dec 31st 2018.

With the deadline approaching, just over half a million of these excluded people have been able to file claims.

The remaining more than three million have not filed claims, perhaps because they have no fresh documentary evidence to submit in addition to those already deposited with the authorities.

 

More than twenty Bengali Hindus and Muslims have committed suicide so far after exclusion from NRC, unable to cope with an uncertain future. Thousands of families are facing ruin, possible detention and separation from near and dear ones as there are so many cases where some family members have got into NRC and others have not

 

More than twenty Bengali Hindus and Muslims have committed suicide so far after exclusion from NRC, unable to cope with an uncertain future.

Thousands of families are facing ruin, possible detention and separation from near and dear ones as there are so many cases where some family members have got into NRC and others have not.

■ Mamata Banerjee holding press conference around NRC | PTI

The NRC is unique to Assam where it was first done up in 1950 immediately after India’s independence.

Assamese groups agitating for detection and deportation of illegal migrants from what is now Bangladesh pushed the Indian government to update the NRC again to weed out illegals.

One of them, Assam Public Works (APW), moved the Supreme Court which ordered the updating of the NRC without any delay.

The first draft was published in Dec last year and second in July this year. 4.08 million out of the 32.9 million who had applied for inclusion in NRC were left out and given the Dec 31st deadline to file claims with additional documents to prove citizenship.

The government has now set up a committee to examine what to do with those who will be finally excluded from the NRC.

 

Supreme Court has asked the federal government to decide whether the NRC exercise can be extended to Assam’s neighbouring state Tripura. The scion of Tripura’s former ruling royal family, Pradyot Kishore Manikya, has moved the Supreme Court for ordering an NRC compilation for Tripura where Bengali migrants now outnumber indigenous tribespeople

 

“That’s a huge population running the risk of becoming stateless and losing citizenship. They have lived in Assam for decades, most of them own property and they have integrated into Assamese society. To now deny them citizenship now will create a huge humanitarian crisis,” said Ranabir Samaddar, a migration expert heading the Calcutta Research Group (CRG).

■ Pradyot Kishore Manikya was 28 when he ascended the throne soon after his father’s death | Archive

The CRG recently organised a five day conference on forced migration jointly with Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, in which many participants warned of a serious fallout of the NRC updating in Assam.

“This is looking like the crisis faced by Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province,” said CRG’s director Anita Sengupta.” If it affects the whole of India’s northeast, things could get worse.”

India’s Supreme Court has asked the federal government to decide whether the NRC exercise can be extended to Assam’s neighbouring state Tripura.

The scion of Tripura’s former ruling royal family, Pradyot Kishore Manikya, has moved the Supreme Court for ordering an NRC compilation for Tripura where Bengali migrants now outnumber indigenous tribespeople.

India’s ruling BJP has called for NRC compilation in West Bengal and other states affected by migration from what is now Bangladesh with party chief Amit Shah saying the illegal migrants were “like termites.”

The BJP government has however assured an apprehensive Bangladesh government that the NRC updating was “an internal exercise” and no one will be forcibly pushed back into the neighbouring country.

 

BJP government has however assured an apprehensive Bangladesh government that the NRC updating was “an internal exercise” and no one will be forcibly pushed back into the neighbouring country. But the BJP has complicated the issue by insisting that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh should be protected and only Muslims found to be illegal should be identified and expelled

 

But the BJP has complicated the issue by insisting that Hindu migrants from Bangladesh should be protected and only Muslims found to be illegal should be identified and expelled.

The Indian government has tabled the Citizenship amendment bill to provide citizenship to Hindus and other non–Muslim minorities who migrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh much after the agreed cut–off date of 1971 now in vogue to ascertain citizenship.

The bill, now before a joint Parliamentary committee, has provoked huge backlash in Assam, where local groups want to expel all illegal migrants from Bangladesh, regardless of their religious affiliations.

70 local groups joined a state–wide march to protest the amendment bill, finally converging on the state secretariat on Nov 16, where a huge police posse just about managed to keep them away from the seat of the power.

Police and intelligence officials say dozens of young Assamese are joining the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in anger, upset with the constitutional amendment.

So this is snowballing into a huge crisis with multiple dimensions. ■

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