New Delhi: Six months after 3.29 crore people applied for inclusion of their names in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam and 1.90 crore were included in the first draft which was published on December 31, a few more crores of people in Assam will be eagerly looking forward to the publication of the second part of the draft NRC on July 30.
The final draft of NRC, which was supposed to be announced on June 30 was postponed. The release was put off due to heavy rains in parts of the state. The new date for release of the data was finalised after a Supreme Court hearing. Now, the draft will be published on Monday at 9:45 am.
News18 answers a few key questions around NRC in order to understand what is it about.
So, what is NRC and why is it much talked about?
The NRC is a record of all the legal citizens of a state. The first NRC was created in 1951 following the Census of the same year. It was basically a serialised list of houses and property holdings in every Indian village, with the number of people residing in them along with their names. The government then instructed the records to be stored and archived in the offices of the Deputy Commissioners and Sub-Divisional Officers. In the 1960s, the NRC data was handed over the police. However, by the 1980s, there had been demands in Assam to update the list.
Close on the heels of the anti-illegal foreigners' movement in Assam in 1980, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Parishad in 1980 submitted a memorandum to the Centre, seeking the ‘updation’ of the list. The move was aimed at protecting the indigenous culture of Assam from illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The idea was to update all the names on the electoral rolls up till 1971, or their descendants, and also those names that had been included in the initial NRC of 1951 so that the updated NRC for Assam would reflect its true population.
What makes it relevant now?
After a series of litigations, the Supreme Court, in a judgment dated December 17, 2014, fixed a timeline to update and publish the NRC and stated that it will monitor the process. This process is coming to a culmination now. The Supreme Court had fixed June 30 as the date to publish the final draft of the NRC. However, the state wants an extension because of the floods.
What is the problem with this judgment?
The first draft of the NRC, which was released in January 2018, listed only 1.9 crore people as citizens out of the 3.9 crore people who had filed the NRC application. The updated NRC will count only those as Assam citizens who can prove their residency on or before March 21, 1971. This means that all those not included in the list run the risk of being rendered, illegal immigrants.
The government has not yet announced any concrete plans about what it wishes to do with those who are not identified as indigenous citizens. The NRC updation collides with the proposed Citizenship Amendment 2016 Bill by the BJP-AGP alliance in Assam, which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus living in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
What makes the minority so apprehensive of the NRC?
The 1951, NRC had led to fears expressed by Assamese national leaders who suspected that the NRC was a post-partition conspiracy by Pakistan to effect a demographic change in Assam. Assam is not new to the influx of migrants.
From 1826 to 1947, there was a continuous inflow of migrant workers to Assam fuelled by the British who preferred cheap labour to work in tea plantations. They were from present day Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, parts of Bihar, Odisha, Telangana, and others.
Then after the 1971 the Bangladesh Liberation movement, Muslims from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in a bid to escape atrocities fled here along with Muslim families.
Will the people whose names do not figure in the final NRC be automatically regarded as illegal migrants or foreigners? What will be their fate?
All those whose names are not there in the draft NRC will get another chance at appealing to the NRC authorities. But those who do not have their names in the final NRC either, will be deemed as not a citizen of the country. They will have to fight the battle in the foreigners tribunals to prove themselves as Indians.
However, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has clarified that one need not be scared as it is only a draft NRC. Singh had stated that even after the NRC was finalised, there was no question of putting anyone in detention centers as they could appeal before the Foreigner’s Tribunal.
Adding heft to this, even Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has said, “If someone's name does not appear in the complete draft, he or she is not to be considered a foreigner. Public should be clearly explained the process of claims and objections after publication of the NRC.”
How is citizenship in India ascertained?
Eligibility of Indian citizenship is being ascertained on the basis of the NRC compilation of 1951 and electoral rolls up to 1971. In the absence of electoral rolls, other documents up to March 24, 1971, can also be submitted. These usually include documents such as the land tenancy records, citizenship certificate, permanent residential certificate, and passports
In case of an applicant born after 1971, documents pertaining to their family members can be submitted with additional documents proving the relationship such as birth certificate.
What clarification has the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sought from India?
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has sought clarification from New Delhi about the fate of the individuals whose names will be excluded from the updated NRC.
In an eight-page letter to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on June 11, the UN agency sought detailed information on the steps taken by the Centre to ensure that the substance and implementation of the NRC update complies with India’s obligations under international human rights laws and standards. “In particular, please provide details on steps taken to ensure that the NRC update does not result in statelessness or human rights violations,” the letter called out.
So, will this mean that Assam is now staring at a logistical nightmare with the need for more new jails, new courts, etc?
The issue with the NRC process is that each and every individual who do not appear in the final list will have a chance to appeal against the decision. Close to 33 million residents of Assam applied for inclusion in the registry, of which about 12.8 million applicants are not yet on the list.
But for that, there needs to be more courts. Looking at Assam’s population, they are indeed looking at a logistical nightmare.
Complexity of the problem doesn’t cease to complicate as Muslims and Hindus of Bengali origin make up nearly 45 per cent of Assam’s population, more than ethnic Assamese, which triggered tensions about losing their cultural and linguistic identity to a ‘migrant population’. The other issue is also that most of the tribal population here register themselves with tribal identity and not as Assamese.
When an appeal goes the other way, then the case can be taken up to the Supreme Court but even then Assam also stares at an increasing number of detention centers too to accommodate the people who would stand a chance to lose their cases.