NRC: Is it the Panacea to Assam’s influx problem?

NRC: Is it the Panacea to Assam’s influx problem?

Pranjal Baruah

​Biplab and Sandipan, living in Basugaon in Chirang district, now-a-days set their alarm in the morning a bit early. Though Biplab runs a small library cum stationery shop and Sandipan, a government employee, for both of them the day starts early currently because of a same reason- the NRC or the National Register of Citizens in details.

While Biplab rushes to his shop and works on the cartridge of his Xerox machine to keep it ready for the hundreds of photocopy prints that he has to do for those Xeroxing their IDs, land pattas, voter lists, phone bills and others; Sandipan packs his tiffin box and rides to the NRC Seva Kendra, located few miles from his home, to ​​register and accept the NRC forms submitted by his villagers.

"I am very happy. I don't know whether the government is truly committed to update the NRC, but the ongoing process has brought some cash to my business. I have even brought my personal laptop to my shop to print the legacy data sheets and even to submit NRC forms online in return for some rupees," Biplab smiles as he attends to a villager who showed up to get his legacy data.

However, for Sandipan, the entire process brought only trouble. He complains that he had no choice but to sweat in the non AC room of the Seva Kendra to compile the forms. "The Seva Kendras have less manpower. If electricity goes, then we have to wait for hours before resuming work. I don't think the deadline of July 31 can include every single person of Assam to file their NRC forms," he views.

Over 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras were set up in Assam where people can search for names of their ancestors in electoral rolls from 1952 to 1971 and download their legacy data. Seeing the rush in these centres and the limitation of time period, the online submission was also opened. However, everyone knows the pity state of our broadband and 3G services!

Assam government has fixed October 31, 2015, as the date for publishing the draft NRC, and January 31, 2016 as the deadline for the final NRC.

The story is random all across the state. If someone stands at a roadside tea stall or any other public place, he or she can easily find out how every alternate person in Assam is now talking about NRC.

"Did you submit your NRC? Did you get your legacy data? What will happen if I can't submit it on time?" –some common questions whispered across the state now-a-days.

But is NRC a real Panacea? Is it going to give us a foreigner (Bangladeshi to be precise) free Assam?

Already the issue of lakhs of Adivasi people who were brought to Assam by the British to work in the tea garden are facing the heat. The NRC which was believed to be instrumental in detecting the illegal settlers in Assam has become the major threat to the Adivasi people who are always a part and parcel of the typical Assamese society.

The Adivasis say names of many of their predecessors have neither been enlisted in the NRC of 1951 nor entered in the voters' lists till 1971, without which they cannot prove their relationship with their forefathers, who were settled in the state about 175 years ago. They fear that NRC will make them homeless.

However, the state home and political commissioner and secretary Prateek Hajela, who is the state coordinator for NRC, said, "We do not want a single Adivasi to be excluded because of lack of documents. We have written to the Registrar General of India (RGI) and Centre for a new mechanism to include all them."

Similarly, the whole process lands into controversy in Bodo dominated areas too. The All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) expressed its displeasure with the fact that the NRC forms don't have a Bodo language in it to ease out the process for the community people.

Presently, the forms are available in English, Assamese and Bengali. ABSU alleged that in spite of being a language under the recognition of the 8th Schedule of the Constitution of India, no forms were printed in Bodo language. The student body has submitted memorandum to the Director of Citizens Registration, Assam demanding to make the forms for citizen registration available in Bodo language in the entire state wherever Bodo people live.

Even joining the bandwagon, the Asam Sahitya Sabha, the largest literary body of Assam, has demanded inclusion of names of all indigenous people of the state into NRC without having to produce documents such as the legacy data. The Sabha views that communities belonging to Scheduled Tribes (ST), Scheduled Castes (ST), other backward classes, more other backward classes as well as tea tribes in Assam should be enlisted in the NRC without having to produce any documents.

According to the Sabha, the communities that should be included in the NRC directly are -those in the revised SC and ST list 2003, prepared as per the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act, 2002, those in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act, 1976 and also those mentioned in the office memorandum ABP 338 (83)/14 of the Assam government dated January 4, 1984.

The literary body suggested that people belonging to communities like Kalita, Kayashtha, Brahmin, Daibogya, Keot, indigenous Muslim, Sikh, Marwari and Buddhist of Assam should be included in the NRC directly. "A high-powered committee can identify the people from these communities without much difficulty," Sabha President Dhruba Jyoti Borah added. However applying for NRC is a must, he said.

But that's not all. Both the saffron camp of Narendra Modi and Tarun Gogoi's ruling Congress have also taken the NRC as the next political agenda for their political mileage. Eyeing for the state polls slating somewhere in April-May 2016, both the parties are now busy politicalizing the process.

The BJP when trying to lure the Hindu refugees from Bangladesh promising that they will be given Indian citizenship if BJP comes to power in Assam in next year's Assembly poll, Gogoi has already sought for inclusion of children born in Assam, but to illegal migrant parents, in the NRC. But Gogoi's plea has been turned down by the Registrar General of India (RGI) for the time being.

The RGI has allowed inclusion of only those persons (or their descendants) whose names appear in the NRC, 1951 or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (midnight), 1971 or any other admissible documents.

It said that the following categories of Indian citizens are to be excluded: (1) those who are Indian citizens by birth having been born in Assam but their parents may be foreigners or illegal migrants. (2) Indian citizens who migrated into Assam from other parts of the country after 24th March (midnight), 1971

The RGI is too yet to give any decision on the state government's second plea to include Indian citizens who migrated into Assam from other parts of the country after midnight of March 24, 1971.

Fumed over the constant politicalisation of the matter, the Assam Public Works (APW), a NGO, who initially prayed for the Supreme Court's intervention in updating the NRC in 2009 following which the apex court has ordered the government to do so, announced that it will take legal action against all the government officials and agencies if the NRC updation includes a single suspected migrant or excludes a genuine Indian citizen.

"Many people are confused as the present NRC modality is based on the cutoff date of March 25 of 1971. However, it's the cutoff date for identification of illegal infiltrators. Indigenous people of Assam, has nothing to do with this date. To compile a correct NRC, names of indigenous Indians must be compiled on the basis of the 1951 NRC and his or her descendants should be considered as Indian automatically," APW president Aabhijeet Sarma said.

However, in the midst of all these uproar to detect illegal migrants in Assam, many seemed to be overlooked both by the government nor the various organisations.

Among those whose cries are yet to attract the concern's attention are thousands of orphans in the state. Over 5,000 orphans living in various shelter homes and orphanages in the state are unsure about their inclusion in NRC, as they do not have proper documents to prove their parentage.

Most of them are victims of militancy-related violence and ethnic clashes.

Executive director of NRC Hitesh Dev Sarma said, "At present, the heads of the institutions where the orphans are living need to write applications to the respective NRC Seva Kendra. We will take a decision on the inclusion of the names after field verification of applicants." The guidelines of the NRC update do not say anything about enlisting orphans.

The tricky part of the whole politicialisation of the entire process lies in the state's vote bank politics. The known fact is that both the tea tribes and Muslim minorities are playing the deciding factor the state's political scenario.

Both ruling Congress and the opposition All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), do not believe that infiltration from Bangladesh is as rampant as student groups of All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and others claim. But the fact remains that since 1985, over 38,000 people, who were declared foreigners in Assam by various Foreigners' Tribunals, have gone missing. This is what came to light after the Assam police on Wednesday published advertisement seeking public support to trace most of those missing after the verdict of the foreigners' tribunal.

The question remains where these people have gone? Obviously there is no evidence of them going back to Bangladesh nor both India and Bangladesh has any mechanism (treaty) to give away or take back the detained illegal migrants.

What is shocking is that around five lakh cases are still pending before the Foreigners' tribunals in Assam, out of which a sizeable number are likely to be declared foreigners.

The irony is that though NRC was believed to be a vital process to detect migrant settlers (both from other states to Assam or from Bangladesh) in the state and lot of hue and cry has already been made over its updation, the speed of filing the NRC forms has been disappointing.

Till July 15, out of some 53 lakh households across the state, only 20 percent of them had filled up their NRC forms. Thanks to the typical government way of working and a set of people who still believe that NRC updation is nothing but a political agenda.

"Why should I apply to prove my identity? My forefathers have been in Assam since history and now I need to prove my identity, that's a shame," said Holiram Boro, a peasant in Assam's Baksa district.

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