Understanding of the NRC in Assam, written by Mohammad Shuja Uzair, student at NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law, Mumbai
INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS THE NRC?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of real Indian citizens created by the Government of India. It was first prepared in 1951 after the 1951 census. Until recently, no update was made. The first state to have the NRC update in the northeastern state of Assam under the supervision of the Supreme Court. It is picked up to include the names of those whose names were still alive in the 1951 NRC and / or whose descendants have permanent occupation within the state.
Over the years there have been nationwide protests by real citizens against job loss and demographic change caused by illegal migrants. Illegal immigration to the state of Assam has increased over the years, further affecting real citizens. India’s porous borders with Bangladesh, which have enabled illegal migration from states like West Bengal and Assam. Therefore, illegal migration is not just a national problem, it is a major problem for the whole country. Hostile terrain makes it really difficult for security agencies not to guarantee infiltration. Because of the common culture, language and religion that these immigrants share with the people of other states, it becomes easier for them to blend in with the locals. The real citizens end up losing their jobs, their welfare system, their country etc., which leads to the election results in these states which do not show the real will of the locals.
OBJECTIVE OF THE NRC
The main goal of maintaining the Assam National Citizens Register is to exclude illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and other neighboring countries. According to the 2013 Supreme Court order, the NRC update process began in the state of Assam. This was done under the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the rules set out in the Assam Agreement.
THE ASSAM CHORD
The Assam Agreement (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement signed by the Government of India and representatives of the Assam Movement in New Delhi in 1985. This ended the agitation and gave way to a political party that will form a government in the northeastern state of Assam.
The requirements set out in this agreement were as follows:
• All migrants who entered the state of Assam between 1951 and 1961 should be granted citizenship with all associated rights. These migrants / foreigners were given voting rights but were not given a vote for the next ten years.
• The government at the center should protect the heritage, language and culture of the people of Assam.
• The economic development of the region should also be examined.
The following conditions must be met:
Names present in the 1951 NRC.
Names of persons on an Assam electoral roll until midnight on March 24, 1971.
Descendants of the above people.
All migrants who came from Bangladesh between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971, registered with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office and were declared real Indian citizens by the Foreigner Tribunal.
Apart from the above criteria, if a person’s name is not mentioned, a person may produce any of the documents in LIST A, which were issued before midnight of March 24, 1971.
Some of the documents from LIST A are as follows:
• Any Assam electoral roll by March 24, 1971
• Basic and rental documents
• Citizenship Certificate
• Permanent certificate of residence
• Refugee Registration Certificate
If an individual does not have a list A document bearing their name, the individual can submit any List A document that contains the name of an immediate ancestor with a List B document to prove their parentage. Documents in list B are not time barred.
Some of the documents from LIST B are as follows:
• birth certificate
• Land document
• Board of Directors / University Certificate
• Bank or postal documents
• Subscription slip
• Electoral roll
WHO IS A CITIZEN IN INDIA?
Citizenship can be defined as the status of a person under law who is a legal member of a state or nation.
Part II (Articles 5-11) of the Constitution of India deals with citizenship.
Article 5 grants citizenship to anyone born in India, whose parents were born in India, or to anyone who lived in India for at least five years prior to the start of India’s constitution.
Article 6 talks about that anyone who returned to India after the partition before July 19, 1948 will be granted citizenship if one of its forerunners was born in India
Article 7 grants citizenship to those who settled in Pakistan after March 1, 1947 but returned to India with a resettlement permit.
Article 8 deals with the granting of citizenship to a person of Indian origin residing outside India.
Apart from the Constitution of India, it gives non-citizens certain rights also known as fundamental rights –
Article 14 – Right to equality
Article 21 – Protection of life and personal freedom
Article 25 – Right to administer religious affairs
However, certain rights are only available to citizens. Some of these rights are as follows:
Article 15 – Prohibition of discrimination based on religion, race, caste, gender or place of birth
Article 16 – Equal opportunities in matters of public employment
Article 19 – Protection of certain rights relating to language, movement, residence, occupation, trade union formation, etc.
The Indian Parliament ratified the Assam Immigration Emigration Act in 1950 in order to protect the cultural and social interests of the people of Assam. Under the Immigrants Act of 1950, the central government can order the extradition of any person who has come to Assam from outside India. After the partition of India and the birth of Bangladesh, there was an enormous influx of immigrants to Assam. This led to a major disruption in the state that led to the signature of the Assam Agreement on August 15, 1985.
The 1955 Citizenship Act was amended in 1986 to include Section 6A. According to this section, anyone who entered Assam before January 1, 1966 and was legally resident there should be considered an Indian. And anyone who came after January 1, 1966 but before March 25, 1971, should not be granted citizenship until after registration.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST NRC?
• Proving whether a person has strong roots in a state or proving citizenship is not an easy task. This verification requires that individuals, not the gazetted officials, extract documents. Therefore, the government is accused of placing the burden of proof on the people.
• It is very uncertain what will happen to those classified as non-Indians. Most political campaigns advocate deportation of such people.
• Since deportation is not an option, some officials are in favor of detention camps. India’s civilized democracy is being challenged by imprisoning people in detention camps.
• Some political parties have turned this into a Hindu-Muslim debate rather than an insider-outsider debate.
• There is growing fear in Bangladesh that those who make it onto the final NRC list will be deported to Bangladesh. With this as an option, Bangladesh is already struggling with resources to host Rohingya refugees.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR NRC?
• Many people of East Pakistani and East Bangladeshi descent who came to India before the 1970s were classified as foreigners but are now being placed on the National Citizens Register.
• Individuals excluded from the final NRC list will receive assurances from central government that they will be able to file claims before September 28, 2019, and there is a possibility that this date may be extended in the future.
• Millions of migrants, both Muslims and Hindus, are granted Indian citizenship and can therefore live freely without suspicion.
• The Supreme Court, the central government and the state government have given assurances that there will be no pressure whatsoever against anyone excluded from the final NRC list, which is based solely on the list.
PRESENT THE SCENARIO
The Assam NRC compilation concluded on September 30, 2019 with the rejection of at least 19 out of 40 Lac people who did not find a place in the draft National Citizens Register published last July.
Total applicants: 3.3 million people from 68.4 Lac families
Excluded from the NRC draft (published July 30, 2018)
Excepted in the additional list (June 26, 2019) after reassessment: 1 Lac (called for a hearing without having to assert claims)
Total Claims Filed: 36 lac
Has not made a claim: 4.4 lac
Total rejected: 19 lac
Almost 3.11 million people made it onto the final list. Those who have not made a claim whose whereabouts are being verified. These 4 Lac people account for roughly 20% of those who didn’t make it to the final NRC list. Some officials believe this group of people would consist of Indian citizens from other states who migrated to Assam for a living and intended to return one day later. While the rest are believed to be illegal immigrants who failed to obtain citizenship on their first attempt.
The Home Office has assured all those banned from the final NRC that they will continue to enjoy all the rights just like any other citizen in the country, e.g. Right to education, employment, property, etc. Anyone who does not find a place in the final list has the opportunity to appeal to the Foreign Tribunal within 120 days from August 31st. In addition to the existing 100, at least 200 new tribunals will be set up to support all applicants. The District Legal Services are under the direction of the central government to provide legal assistance to those excluded from the list.
There is a possibility that the central government will push for NRC in other states of India as well. There are plans for a National Population Register (NPR) that will contain all of the biometric and demographic details of all of its citizens. A few years ago the UPA government started the National Population Register project, but it remained incomplete.
The national register of citizens turned out to be more complex and burdensome than anyone could ever imagine. It was based on the principle of recognition, deletion and deportation. A look at the number of people who have questioned the methodology of the entire exercise shows how concerned we as citizens are for others. Rather, many people thought that these efforts would fail miserably and no final decision would be reached. As of now, the final NRC is over and just over 19 Lac people have been turned down. The question now arises, what can be done with a large group of people? The first thing that can be done is to categorize those that did not have a place in the final NRC. In the words of Hannah Arendt, “As long as the world is organized according to the category of the state system, a person must belong to a person to have their rights.” It simply means that those excluded from the final NRC are categorized otherwise they have no rights.