Understanding NRC in Assam written by Mohammad Shuja Uzair student of NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai
INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS THE NRC?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of genuine Indian citizens prepared by the Government of India. It was first prepared in the year 1951, after the 1951 census. No updation was done until recently. The first state where the updation of NRC is being done in the North-Eastern state of Assam under the observation of the Supreme Court. It is being taken up to incorporate the names of those people whose names were there in the 1951 NRC, still living and/or their descendants having a lasting occupancy within the state.
Over the years there have been statewide protests by genuine citizens against the loss of jobs and demographic changes caused by illegal migrants. Illegal immigration has snowballed over the years in the state of Assam which is further affecting the genuine citizens of the state. India’s permeable borders with Bangladesh which has made illegal migration possible from the states like West Bengal and Assam. Therefore illegal migration is not only a state problem but a major issue for the whole country. Hostile terrains make it really difficult for the security agencies to ensure zero infiltration. Owing to the common culture, language, and religion these immigrants share with the people of other states, it becomes easier for them to blend in with the locals. The genuine citizens end up losing their jobs, welfare scheme, land, etc. further leading to the election results in these states not showing the genuine will of the locals.
OBJECTIVE OF NRC
The basic objective of maintaining the National Register of Citizens of Assam is to throw out illegal immigrants coming from Bangladesh and other adjoining countries. As per the Supreme Court order in the year 2013, the process of NRC updation was taken up in the state of Assam. This was carried out under The Citizenship Act, 1955, and the rules framed in the Assam Accord.
THE ASSAM ACCORD
The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement underwritten by the Government of India and the representatives of the Assam Movement in New Delhi in the year 1985. This led to an end of the agitation and made way for a political party that will form a government in the northeastern state of Assam.
The demands that were laid down in this accord were as follows:
• All the migrants who had entered the state of Assam from 1951 to 1961 were to be given citizenship with all the rights that come along with it. These migrants/foreigners were given voting rights but were denied a vote for the next ten years.
• The government in the center was supposed to safeguard the heritage, language, and culture of the people of Assam.
• The economic development of the region was also to be looked into.
The following conditions must be fulfilled-
Names present in the 1951 NRC.
Names of the people that appear on any voter list in Assam up to midnight of 24th March 1971.
Descendants of the above-mentioned people.
All the migrants who came from Bangladesh between 1st January 1966 and 24th March 1971, registered with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office and were declared genuine Indian citizens by the Foreigner Tribunal.
Apart from the above-mentioned criteria if any person’s name is not mentioned in then he/she can furnish any of the documents from LIST A issued before midnight of March 24, 1971.
Some of the documents from LIST A are as follows:
• Any Assam voter list up to March 24, 1971
• Land and tenancy records
• Citizenship certificate
• Permanent residential certificate
• Refugee registration certificate
In case a person has no document from List A that carries his/her name, then the person can present any List A document which contains the name of an immediate predecessor, with a List B document to prove his/her lineage. Documents in List B are not time-barred.
Some of the documents from LIST B are as follows:
• Birth certificate
• Land document
• Board/university certificate
• Bank or post office records
• Ration card
• Voter list
WHO IS A CITIZEN IN INDIA?
Citizenship can be defined as the status of an individual under the law who is a rightful member of a state or a nation.
Part II (Articles 5-11) of the Constitution of India deals with citizenship.
Article 5 grants citizenship to anyone who was born in India, either of whose parents were born in India or to anyone who resided in India for a minimum of five years before the commencement of the Constitution of India.
Article 6 talks about that whoever relocated back to India before the 19th of July, 1948 after the partition will be granted citizenship if either of their precursors was born in India
Article 7 grants citizenship to those who were settled in Pakistan after the 1st of March, 1947, but came back to India on resettlement permits.
Article 8 talks about granting citizenship to a person of Indian origin residing outside India.
Apart from the Constitution of India gives certain rights also known as fundamental rights to non-citizens –
Article 14- Right to equality
Article 21- Protection of life and personal liberty
Article 25- Right to manage religious affairs
However, certain rights are only available to citizens. Some of these rights are as follows-
Article 15- Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or, place of birth
Article 16- Equal opportunity in matters of public employment
Article 19- Protection of certain rights w.r.t. speech, movement, residence, profession, forming unions, etc
The Indian Parliament ratified The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act in the year 1950 to safeguard the cultural and social interests of the people of Assam. Under The Immigrants Act, 1950 the central government can order the extradition of any person who had come into Assam from outside India. After the partition of India and the birth of Bangladesh, there was a huge influx of immigrants into Assam. This resulted in a huge disturbance in the state which further lead to the signing of the Assam Accord on 15th August 1985.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended in the year 1986 under which Section 6A was inserted. Under this section, any person who had entered Assam before 1st January 1966 and been its legal resident was to be considered as Indians. And all those who came after 1st January 1966 but before 25th March 1971 were to be granted citizenship only after registration.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST NRC?
• To prove whether a person has strong roots in a state or to prove one’s citizenship is not a simple task. This verification requires people rather than the gazetted officers to extract documents, therefore the government is accused of putting the burden of proof on people.
• It is very uncertain as to what will happen to those who are adjudged as non-Indians. Most of the political campaigns are in favor of the deportation of such people.
• Considering deportation as not an option, some officials are in favor of detention camps. By locking lacs of people in detention camps, India’s civilized democracy is under question.
• Some political parties have transformed this into a Hindu-Muslim debate instead of an insider-outsider debate.
• There is a growing fear in Bangladesh w.r.t. to those people who did make it to the final NRC list, to be deported to Bangladesh. Considering this as an option, Bangladesh is already struggling with resources to host Rohingya refugees.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF NRC?
• Many people of Eastern Pakistan and Eastern Bangladesh descent who came to India during the pre-1970s were labeled as foreigners but now will find a place in the National Register of Citizens.
• People who were left out of the final NRC list are assured by the central government that they can still file claims before 28th September 2019 and there are chances that this date could be extended in the future.
• Millions of migrants, both Muslims and Hindus will get the citizenship of India and therefore can live freely without any suspicion.
• The Supreme Court, central and the state government have assured that there won’t be any kind of pressing the action against anyone who is excluded from the final NRC list solely based on the list.
Assam’s NRC compilation was completed on 30th September 2019 with the rejection of at least 19 lac people out of 40 lac people who found no place in the draft National Register of Citizens published in the month of July last year.
Total applicants: 3.3 crore people from 68.4 lac families
Excluded in draft NRC (published on 30th July 2018)
Excluded in the additional list (26th June 2019) after re-evaluation: 1 lac(called for hearing without having to file claims)
Total claims filed: 36 lac
Did not file a claim: 4.4 lac
Total rejected: 19 lac
Almost 3.11 crore people have made it to the final list. The ones who did not file a claim, their whereabouts are under scrutiny. These 4 lac people make about 20% of those who failed to make it to the final NRC list. Some officials believe that this group of people would comprise of Indian citizens from other states who migrated to Assam for a living and intended to go back later someday. While the rest are believed to be illegal immigrants who failed to get citizenship in their first attempt.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has assured all the people excluded from the final NRC that they will continue to enjoy all of the rights like any other citizen of the country eg. Right to education, employment, property, etc. All those who did not find a place in the final list have a chance to appeal within 120 days from 31st August to the Foreign Tribunal. At least 200 new tribunals are being set up apart from the existing 100 to facilitate all the claimants. District Legal Services are under the direction of the Central Government to provide legal aid to the ones excluded from the list.
There is a possibility that the Central Government might push for NRC in other states of India as well. There are plans for a National Population Register (NPR) which will carry all the biometric and demographic details of all its citizens. A few years ago the UPA government started the National Population Register project but was left incomplete.
The National Register of Citizens turned out to be more complex and distressing than one could ever think of. It was based on the principle of detect, delete, and deport. Looking at the number of people who challenged the methodology of the whole exercise shows how much we as citizens are concerned for others. Rather a lot of people thought that this effort was bound to fail miserably and not come to any conclusive decision. As of now, the final NRC is out and a little more than 19 lac people have been rejected. Now the question that arises is what can be done with a large group of people. The first thing that can be done is to categorize those who did not any place in the final NRC. In the words of Hannah Arendt “as long as the world is organized around the category of state-system, a person has to belong to one in order to have her/his rights”. It simply means that those excluded from the final NRC need to be categorized else they won’t have any rights.