As the date for the publication of the final draft of NRC is approaching nearer, the myriad responses and concerns regarding the process is creating newer faultlines. The second and final draft of the much coveted National Register of Citizens will be published by the end of July. NRC was perceived as a crucial means to put to rest some of the biggest political debates of the state – the insider-outsider dichotomy to start with.
A free and fair NRC is expected to include all those who entered the state of Assam before 24th March, 1971 and leave out those who entered the state after the cut off date. To ensure this, the names of the Declared Foreigners along with their family members are to be left out and the names of the D voters are to be kept on hold till they get clearance from respective Foreigners’ Tribunal. This is where the problem begins. Questions are being continuously raised about the procedural lapse in finding foreigners.
The media was cluttered with news of D voters’ notices being served to persons who served in the army, family members of eminent personalities etc. Many people raised serious questions about the way the entire procedure was being carried out, in fact some notices tell fantastic stories of people coming from Bangladesh and settling here while the signatories are not even conscious of such accounts. At times notices are not even received by the accused D voters. As such they are rendered incapable of submitting documents within the stipulated time and are often declared foreigners in ex-parte judgments. But does it mean that they are foreigners?
In many such cases the so called foreigners found respite only after approaching Supreme Court. We remember the case of Moinal Mollah who was detained and was to be deported. It is to be noted that his parents were declared Indians while he was declared a foreigner in an ex-parte judgment. It was only when his case reached the Supreme Court and was reverted back to the Tribunal, his documents were expected and he walked out as a free Indian citizen.
There are many who have faced similar situation and are languishing in the jails turned into detention camps. Such procedural inconsistencies abound across communities. A few days back, Annabala Rai of Chirang was detained in the detention camp. This led to much outrage as Rai belonged to the Koch Rajbongshi community, one of the indigenous communities of Assam. Thankfully Rai was freed. But a large number of women are in equally pathetic conditions.
The compassion shown towards Annabala Rai should have been a norm rather than an exception. An accused D voter should have been treated as a bonafide citizen until proven otherwise. But sadly a D voter is a potential foreigner until he could prove that he is not. The onus of proof is on the accused. The issue of the D voters is so politicised that it rarely leaves any room for compassion. Pregnant women have been kept in detention centres; women have been separated from infants. Families where all are Indians except one have come forward to recount their tragic experiences. All these anomalies have put forth questions of authenticity in the procedures of NRC.
The procedure of NRC is being updated under the supervision of hon’ble Supreme Court. But alongside international organisations have also been keeping a close watch on the developments. United Nations raised certain concerns regarding this with the central government. In a letter written to the Government of India, the international body raised concerns that the procedure should not be biased against any particular community. And the concerns of all stakeholders should be taken on board. Another website avaaz.org circulated a petition opposing the very updation of NRC citing that it might lead to the deleting of a large number of Muslims.
Alongside also the national media – both print and electronic- is giving space to the issue of NRC updation in Assam. While the broad concerns are aimed at checking human rights violation, some may even mislead. To be more specific, the UN letter raised concerns that the procedure should not end up leaving a large number of people stateless. It further stated that there should be a proper mechanism to work with those who are not included in the final NRC. It becomes crucial as that part continues to remain vague. On the other hand, the petition circulated by Avaaz tends to dismiss the very process of updation without taking into account the context in which this process was undertaken.
There is a need to remember that the proposal of updating NRC was welcomed by one and all in Assam. In it many saw an end to ages of negative stereotyping. The Muslims of East Bengal origin or the Miya Muslims who often bear the brunt of being accused of being illegal immigrants wholeheartedly welcomed the process of updation. But what is making many uneasy is the inconsistency in the procedures of finding foreigners.
While the concerns raised by outside platforms have not gone down well with many, they should not be dismissed outrightly. It is a positive development that questions of how to humanely address the issue of those left out of the final Register has become a part of the discourse. The authority as well as the people of the state should be ready to engage with these issues. Only then we can ensure that the historic updation has taken place without jeopardising the rights of any.