National Register for Citizens Update in Assam: Issues of Concern

Written by PC Behera and V.K. Tripathi | Published on: March 16, 2018
On February 3, 2018, Sadbhav Mission, in collaboration with Delhi School of Social Work, organized a one day seminar, “Migrant Workers: Rights and Concerns”. A special session was held on NRC update in Assam. Based on the presentations and discussions following consensus emerged.   

Image: Indian Express
  1. Assam is the only state in the country where National Register for Citizens (NRC) exists. It was created in 1951. Now the update of the NRC is underway under Supreme Court monitoring. Its basic premise is unfortunate. The constituents of the present regime in the state have carried out  vicious propaganda for long that the state was infested with large percentage of Bangladeshis. The voter list update in 1998 (that marked D against doubtful voters) and subsequent Tribunals’ findings indicate that less than one percent of the Muslim population in Assam are of Bangladeshi origin. Yet 99% citizens were treated with contempt. During the 2012 Bodoland violence, in which 100 people were killed and 4,00,000 rendered homeless, Indian citizens were not allowed by the BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) to accept even the meagre compensation announced by the Centre for several months simply on the pretext of revenue record verification.
  2. The Bangla speaking Muslims in Assam are overwhelmingly working class. Their forefathers have been living in India for millennia. During the colonial period, as village industries perished, many people were forced to migrate to other parts of the country for survival. Some travelled to the barren areas of Assam. According to the 1941 census, the Muslim population in Assam was 26%. The partition of India in 1947 was a calamity forced on the people. The working classes had no role, what so ever, in it. It only made them vulnerable to sectarian killers. Partition was a division of political power, some provinces were to come under Muslim League rule and remaining others under the Congress rule.  People could stay where ever they liked, in India or Pakistan. Another calamity fell on the working classes of our common origin in 1970-71 when military crackdown in East Pakistan forced millions to seek refuge in India and India fought a war with Pakistan, creating a sovereign Bangladesh. Many refugees returned to Bangladesh. but some overstayed. In India Accord of 1985, signed between the central government, state government and AASU, accords citizenship to those who arrived in India prior to March 24, 1971, the day Bangladesh was created. 
  3. The current update of NRC demands the following procedures: an applicant must find the name of his or her father or grandfather or great grandfather in either of the three places: the NRC of 1951 or voter list of 1966 or voter list of 1971. Then one has to submit the proof of his/ her link with this person, by producing documents, that have applicant's name and his/ her father's name, father's name and grandfather's name, grandfather's name and  great grandfather's name. For girls, who never went to school, this was extremely difficult to establish. For them, the Supreme Court (SC) has made certificate from Gram Panchayat admissible, subject to verification of its authenticity and contents. The state must maintain transparency in the process and must not let partisan officers sabotage the process
  4. The first draft of NRC released on December 31, 2017 carries only 1.9 crore names from a population of 3.4 crore. In the Kokrajhar area alone  where some of us visited the villages, only 70% of the Rajvanshis and 30% Muslims find their names in the draft. Yet the people are maintaining hope that their names will figure in the second draft of the NRC. 
  5. The second draft is expected in a few months. Many genuine names may still be missing from it. This will break peoples’ backs. They must be allowed a substantial period of time to file their responses. No harsh conditions must be imposed on them. No discrimination be made on the basis of religion, as was proposed by the state government some time ago. 
  6. One believes that the update will accommodate those who entered India prior to March 24, 1971 but acquired citizenship in later years. 
  7. One is not clear what would be the status of children and grand children born in India from those parents who entered India after March 24, 2071. These children have lived here for decades. Their ancestral roots are in India.  They must be treated on par with the laws that are applicable on people of Indian origin living in other countries. In the USA and 30 other countries of the world, for instance, the children of illegal aliens have right to citizenship in the country of their birth. These people are not a burden on economy. They are the victims of global modern economy that forces them to migrate for survival. A worker contributes more to nations’ wealth that what he gets. These people must not be thrown at the mercy of criminals and communalists. If they have to be deported, it should be done following the international norm
(These were the findings of a visit and report by the Sadhbhavna Mission, Delhi)