Gorkhas up in arms against omissions from Assam NRC list
According to a Government of India gazette notification dated 1988 intended to reiterate the status of Gorkhas, those members of the community resident in India since at least 1950 are citizens, providing they hold no other nationality.Updated: Sep 24, 2019, 17:33 IST
When the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31, more than 1.9 million applicants whose names were missing, were told they would have to file appeals at the more than 200 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) established for the purpose across Assam. But 60,0000-100,000 of those left out of the NRC are angry and refusing to do so. These are the Gorkha, a community from an ancient kingdom in western Nepal, who were first brought to the northeastern state as workers and soldiers by British colonizers, when the latter annexed Assam in the early 19th century.
“Assam’s Gorkhas won’t go to the Foreigners’ Tribunals to prove their citizenship. Being tried thus is an insult for an Indian,” Sukhman Moktan, president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangha (BGP) said.
So far, the state government’s indication that a decision on exempting the Gorkhas is yet to be made, has fallen on deaf ears. Since weeks, Gorkha groups have kept up protests for guaranteed inclusion in the NRC.
According to a Government of India gazette notification dated 1988 intended to reiterate the status of Gorkhas, those members of the community resident in India since at least 1950 are citizens, providing they hold no other nationality.
However, Prem Tamang, president of the All-Assam Gorkha Students Union (AAGSU) that has been holding protests across Assam since September 19, claims that the Gorkhas were left out of the NRC, despite providing documents of citizenship.
“It’s not their fault, but that of the authorities who failed to verify their documents,” Tamang said.
Assam’s Gorkhas first got caught in the citizenship tangle in the late 1990s, when Election Commission of India (ECI) officials launched a survey to trace illegal immigrants and marked more than 20,000 Gorkhas as ‘Doubtful Voters’ (D Voters, or, those whose claimed antecedents are doubtful). “It was done arbitrarily and we were tagged as Bangladeshi,” student union leader Tamang said.
By 2018, various Gorkha bodies had upped the ante. After meetings including with then home minister Rajnath Singh, an exchange of letters ensued.
A communiqué from the home ministry to the Assam government reiterated that Gorkhas who were citizens in 1950 when the Indian Constitution came into force, or Indians by birth or registration or naturalization according to the Citizenship Act 1955, were not “foreigners’ and could not be referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunals.
It also cited the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950, according to which even Gorkhas holding Nepalese nationality with documents, cannot be referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunals. However, it pointed out that Gorkhas in Assam who do not fall into any of the admissible categories could be directed to the tribunals.
As far as Tamang and other Assam-Gorkha groups are concerned, most Gorkhas in the state fall under the first category cited in the MHA letter, while the remaining from Nepal, fall under the second and thus all qualify for the NRC. They should implement the contents of the MHA letter,” said BGP national secretary, Nanda Kirati Diwan.
After receipt of the letter, the Assam government asked the Gauhati High Court for permission to withdraw cases of Gorkhas pending with the Foreigners’ Tribunals, but given that the court is hearing several petitions relating to the Gorkhas, the appeal by the government is still pending.
“The MHA letter doesn’t mention the NRC,” argued an official on condition of anonymity. “We have dealt with Gorkhas like with all other communities. People who could prove they were here before the cut-off date are included in the NRC, those who could not, have been left out. This isn’t about one community being favoured over the other,” he said.
Despite their anger at members of their community being left out of the NRC, Gorkha leaders concede that some of the Gorkha applicants may not have had any documents to show at all, but suggest that district officials could easily deal with that conundrum.
Dewan said it could be easily done by involving district officials from various departments concerned. “It isn’t difficult to identify a Gorkha. Many have Other Backward Caste (OBC) certificates which specify that they are Gorkha while others can be identified for they speak Nepali,” he said.
Even as government officials attempt to fire-fight and come up with a solution, anger over the omission of Gorkhas is growing even among the Bharatiya Janata Party’s own state cadre.
“The NRC authorities have ranked members of the Gorkha community even below the Bangladeshis,” said Kishore Upadhayay, Gorkha leader and secretary of the BJP’s Assam unit, which is sharply critical of the controversial exercise aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants.