The National Register Citizens (NRC) update process is “biased” against Bangla-speaking Muslims and Hindus in Assam, claims a civil society fact finding team. Nearly 1,25,000 people have been presumed as ‘D-Voters’.
Today Assam deals with two major issues – one is centred around the National Register Citizens (NRC) and the other is on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The NRC update is among the most discussed and contentious issues.
United Against Hate (UAH), an activist group working on the ongoing crisis in Assam regarding the NRC update believes that the registration process is “directly having an impact on specifically religious and linguistic minorities in the state.” They added that the discrimination is mainly with Bengali speaking people in the state.
The fact finding team also accused ruling BJP party of “bias” after it came to power in 2016. “Up till March 2016, the verification process was deemed to be fair and objective, according to widespread perception, including within the civil society. Its rules and guidelines were apparently being followed. Post April 2016 elections, with the BJP coming to power, difficulties, problems and accusations of bias began to stalk Assam,” the team said in its report at a press conference in Kolkata on July 18.
“It is a gigantic, complex, sensitive and difficult exercise. Unofficial and unconfirmed estimates claim that as many as 35 lakh people might be directly or indirectly involved. According to official estimates, 1,25,000 voters already have been presumed ‘Doubtful Voters’. Thousands are under the scanner of the Foreigners Tribunal (FT) and the Assam Border Police,” says the report. The final draft of the NRC in Assam is to be published on July 30.
Difficulties in the process
The biggest difficulty for the people is that they have to submit 16 valid documents to prove their identity. Since Assam is a flood prone area, most of the poor people have lost their identity proofs in the floods, the 12 member UAH team informed the media. If people wish to appeal, they have to approach the one-judge divisional bench of the Gauhati High Court, led by Justice Ujjal Bhuiya. The report particularly named Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, as “partisan”, who was removed from the division bench on July 3.
If the appeals made by ‘doubtful citizens’ are rejected in the final assistance, they will be termed as ‘Doubtful Voters’ (D-Voter) with a ‘D’ marked next to their names in the electoral list. Also, they are branded as a ‘foreigner’ and packed off to jail, which serve as detention centres. The concept of D-voter is found to be present only in Assam. There are also allegations that the officials randomly pick up names which are declared doubtful without any investigation or verification.
The team said that the major problem is that people are not getting notices. When the team questioned NRC’s additional co-ordinator Kalita, he said that “the notices are sent to people on their addresses. It is also updated online. Those who are not getting it can access it from the internet.”
Amit Sen Gupta, a senior journalist who is a part of the 12 member team said that the situation is “insensitive at its extreme.” The houses of most of the people have been washed in the floods, hence they don’t have a permanent address. Also, majority of them are poor with no internet access. Hence the question of getting the notices via internet does not make sense.
Another problem is that according to the people, officials are forcing them to give false details about their year of birth. Bakkar Ali, a government school teacher from Assam (north eastern state in India) who had voted in several elections, was tagged as a ‘foreigner’ and has now turned into a fugitive. Ali, his brother and mother have all been declared as foreigners and are in hiding. The family lives underground, fighting an uphill battle for justice to prove that they are Indian citizens. According to Ali, he was forced to tell that his year of birth is 1970, even though he was born in India in 1985.
This is not just the case for Ali, but there are several others like him who have been tagged as foreigners even after they have managed to prove themselves as Indian nationals.
According to the tripartite accords signed in 1985 between All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), and Assam and central governments, those who registered themselves as Indian citizens in the state on or before August 24, 1971, will be considered as Indian nationals.
The Detention centres
The fact finding team in its report has mentioned that there are six detention camps which are not separate camps but a part of district jail. There are approximately 1,000 people in detention camps in Tezpur, Silchar, Jorhat, Goalpara, Dibrugarh and Kokrajhar (only for women). The inmates in the cells have no prison rights and are treated as undertrials. Local sources say that in the Goalpara district jail there are 239 ‘foreign nationals’ in the detention camp, of which 195 are D-voters. According to lawyers, declaring D-Voter as foreign, whose case is still being verified, is ‘illegal’. Therefore, the detention camps are constitutional violation.
Women mostly affected
The activist group claimed that women are mostly affected in the process as they don’t have valid certifications. “Many women don’t have birth, school or electoral evidence/certificates, especially when they move to other villages after marriage.” These women rely on panchayat certificates, which have been considered as a valid document by the Supreme Court. However, there have been cases in which the panchayat certificates have been rejected and people think it is a “gross miscarriage of justice, whereby a certain official bias, prejudice and partisanship is in full display.”
Rashminara Begum was served notice in 2016, and even though she had submitted all the necessary documents, she was ruled by the tribunal as a foreigner. Her grandfather was a freedom fighter and a Congress leader but she had lost her family’s documents in the 2004 flood. She was moved to Kokrajhar detention camp in north Assam in 2016 when she was three months pregnant. She has appealed against the FT’s ruling in the Gauhati High Court.
The final draft is scheduled to be out by July 30. Once the final listing is out, it has been estimated that millions will be rendered stateless. “Those who will not find their names in the final NRC draft, would get three month’s time to appeal. The three month time period is too less. But we will ask them to extend the time to an year so that people have time to get the correct documents; even if they want to just rectify documents, they can do it properly. Once the draft is out, we will decide what steps we have to take next. For now, we are keeping the procedural lapses in front of the people,” Nadeem Khan an activist of UAH told MIG.