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NRC list: Anxiety, anticipation as Assam waits to know citizenship status

Final draft of the Supreme-Court mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be made public on Monday.

india Updated: Jul 29, 2018 19:19 IST
Utpal Parashar, Hindustan Times, Guwahati
NRC,Assam,NRC list
People wait outside a National Register of Citizens centre to get their documents verified by government officials, at Mayong Village in Morigaon district, in Assam, on July 8, 2018. (REUTERS)

A four-decades-old question in Assam on Indian citizenship and illegal Bangladeshi migrants will near resolution on Monday, when the final draft of the Supreme-Court mandated National Register of Citizens (NRC) is made public.

Almost everyone in Assam awaits its publication with bated breath.

Those among the state’s 32 million people who find their names in the list will be relieved. But for those who will get left out, it will usher a new struggle to prove their citizenship.

With no clear estimate of how many people might not make it to the list, there’s a threat of violence as well. Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place and large number of personnel deployed to prevent any untoward incidents.

The NRC was compiled only for Assam in 1951. The list is being updated to weed out illegal immigrants as per a provision of the Assam Accord signed in 1985 after a six-year agitation against Bangladeshis.

Actual work on updating the NRC started in 2015. As there was no previous precedent of an exercise being undertaken on such scale, there were many questions on the methodology adopted. The first draft of the updated NRC comprising names of 19 million people was released on December 31 last year.

It was decided that anyone residing illegally in the state from March 25, 1971 (as per the Assam Accord) would be kept out of the list. To be included in the list, residents of the state had to apply and submit proof that they or their ancestors were in the 1951 NRC or any subsequent voter list till the cut-off date.

Fear of the outsider

For Assam’s indigenous population, the fear of the outsider isn’t new. Between 1951 and 1961, Assam’s population jumped by 36% and by another 35% in the next decade—more than 10% of the national figure for those census years.

The growth of over 50% between 1970 and 1979 from 5.7 million to 8.5 million was the trigger for the Assam agitation. While 855 agitators died during the six-year period, thousands were killed in group clashes.

The most notable of them was the massacre at Nellie in February 1983, in which nearly 2,000 immigrant Muslims were killed in one night by tribals in central Assam, barely 70 km from the state capital.

The Assam Accord, which was expected to solve the issue by putting an end to infiltration from across the border and speed up detection and deportation of illegal immigrants, failed to deliver.

The state’s 267 km long boundary with Bangladesh is yet to be sealed and foreigners’ tribunals (there are 100 in Assam) have declared only 91,000 people as foreigners since 1985. Nearly 1,000 of them are now housed in six temporary detention centres.

Assam and Bangladesh don’t share an extradition treaty and even after someone is declared a foreigner. it is very difficult to send them back.

Indigenous Assamese people fear they will lose their land, language and identity if unabated influx continues.

As per the linguistic data of the 2011 census, the percentage of Assamese speaking population in the state decreased from 58% to 48% between 1991 and 2011. While during the same period, the figure for Bengali speakers increased from 22% to 30%.

Last year, an interim report of a six-member committee to protect land rights of indigenous people set up by the state’s first Bharatiya Janata Party-led government noted that illegal immigrants comprised a majority of the population in 15 of Assam’s 33 districts.

An uneasy journey

There is no clear indication on how many people will be left out of the NRC list. Some reports are claiming it could be anywhere between 2 million to 7 million. Officials connected with the process refuse to divulge anything till the list is out.

One thing is certain. Those residents who have been declared as D-voters (doubtful voters) and termed foreigners by the tribunals and their relatives will not be included in the list.

But discrepancies in the process of being declared D-Voters of being summoned by foreigners’ tribunals have surfaced recently.

The agitation to drive out foreigners was directed primarily at Bangladeshis. When successive Congress and Asom Gana Parishad governments failed to implement the Assam Accord, voters in Assam placed reins of the state in the hands of Bharatiya Janata Party, for the first time, in 2016.

The party’s aggressive stance on protecting rights of indigenous and assurances of stopping infiltration appealed to most indigenous Assamese. But that optimism dissipated when the same party sought to grant citizenship Bangladeshi Hindus by amending the Citizenship Act.

The NRC exercise could address the issue of foreigners by leaving non-Indians from the list. But there is no clarity on what will happen to those who don’t find their names in the list released on July 30.

Ministers both at the Centre and in the state have made it clear that no one would be declared a foreigner if their names don’t get included. Those applicants will get a chance to take legal recourse by submitting claims, objections and clarifications between August 1 and September 28.

The complete list would be published only after all these claims are settled. There is no deadline yet for that process.

People whose names don’t appear in the complete list could end up in detention centres, might get pushed back, become stateless, get long-term work permits without land and political rights.

For the moment, though, every applicant in Assam is hoping their name gets enlisted and they don’t have to bear the tag of a foreigner and undertake and battle to prove their citizenship.

First Published: Jul 29, 2018 17:36 IST