By Aatreyee Dhar:
With the continuing fear of an economic and cultural takeover by ‘Bharat’ mounting in the country, the NRC (National Register of Citizens) of Assam has triggered a turmoil by targeting the weakest members of religious and linguistic minorities in the name of a ”justice-delivering mechanism”.
On January 18, 1983 over 3,000 Bengali Muslims were murdered within a period of six hours in the Nelli village in Assam. The latest and a similar attack that took place in the state was at a village near Manas National Park in May 2014, when 38 people (including children) were shot dead. No action was taken against the perpetrators after the gruesome attack, whereas the victims were branded as “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”.
With the External Affairs Ministry vested in conducting “Operation Insaniyaat” for Rohingyas in Bangladesh, there seem to be unavailing hopes for “insaniyaat” to the vulnerable Bengali Muslims, called “Miyas”, in the state.
NRC is a list that maintains the record of all legal citizens of a state. As per NRC, citizens have to submit a list of about 14 documents such as land tenancy records, certificates of permanent residence and passports to prove that they came to Assam on or before 24 March 1971, a day before Bangladesh became an independent country. Those born after 1971 must submit additional documents including a birth certificate ascertaining their relationship to the rest of their family members. However, the list has been updated for the first time since 1951 when there were vast exchanges of population across the Indo-Bangladesh border during Partition. The handiwork of NRC was first laid down by Rajiv Gandhi through the Assam Accord of 1985, which demanded for the identification and deportation of illegal migrants in the state.
The frequent outbreaks of violence that the state has been witnessing over the last four decades (Nelli Massacre of 1983 and Kokhrajar killings of 2012) have turned into mere tools in local politics here. The ethnic nationalists in Assam have been justifying their armed insurgencies by suggesting reasons defined by fears of “demographic change” and indigenous homelands being taken away by outsiders.
With the politicians using fear to change electoral polls as they unite the natives against the “illegal Bangladeshi immigrants”, there were demands to update the NRC. The Supreme Court decided to monitor the exercise that has been updated by Hajela and his team of government officials by outlining the timeline within which Assam should publish its final list.
Ever since the BJP came to power, there have been reforms in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (Amendment) Bill to make it easier for the Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to live in the country. However, this move seems to undermine the terms of the NRC which states that religion will not come into play while deciding a person’s citizenship.
Kamala Begum, a woman in her late 50s, is the only woman to be declared a foreigner among nine of her siblings. She has been detained after she was declared a foreigner under the provisions of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order of 1964.
Kamala Begum had been a daily-wage laborer before she was arrested without any notice to her family members who were in the dark about her whereabouts for two months. Before she was arrested, the tribunal had asked her to furnish documents about her paternal lineage. After Begum submitted her voter card from 1965 and 1997, which mentioned her father Dhania Mia, the officials found a discrepancy in the name of her father listed as “Abdul” in the 1965 voter’s list and “Latif” in the other.
Although Begam had filed an affidavit stating that the names “Abdul” and ‘Latif” were of the the same person, the tribunal member didn’t make any effort to correcting her father’s name in the voter’s list. The fact that Kamala was poor and illiterate to correct her father’s name in the voter list seems to have slipped the minds of the authorities.
Like Kamala, there are many other women listed as “D-voters” or doubtful voters who married young and moved to other villages and fail to provide records with details of their place of birth and other family members. Further, many Bengali origin Muslims live on fertile sandbars of the Brahmaputra which get submerged during the frequent floods that create a havoc in the state. When they move out of their dismantled homes built out of corrugated tin sheets, they are considered illegal just because they were forced out of their old shelters and found homeless.
The NRC State Coordinator has made it clear that people who couldn’t find their names in the NRC list can reach out to their respective Nagrik Seva Kendras (NSKs) between August 30 and September 28 to file their claims.
We are yet to see whether Bangladesh, which is already providing refuge to the massive influx of Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar, will accept the request to take back people who have been declared stateless in their country.
Much like the promotional song posted on Facebook by the NRC itself, the witch-hunt to defeat the alien enemy does little to calm the nerves of people like Kamala who have limited means to understand the verification process and submit the right documents while being separated from their family members in the state.