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ASSAM UNDER NRC CLOUD

Cover Story by: ABDURRAHMAN AMAN Whether National Registration of Citizens (NRC) 1951 will be updated in Assam on the basis of Voters List 1971 or earlier Voters Lists of 1961 and 1971 is an issue of concern for minorities in the State. The minority bodies urged the state Government not to update NRC 1951, but to prepare a fresh NRC on the basis of Voter List 1971. On the other hand, All Assam Students Union (AASU) is adamant in its demand for updating of NRC 1951 with the cut-off date Voters List 1971. Rejecting outright the demand for preparing a fresh NRC, AASU has said that the NRC 1951 should be updated on the basis of linkage found in the Voters List 1971 with NRC 1951. Being one of the signatories of Assam Accord, AASU already accepted March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for detecting Bangladeshis. At midnight of 15th August, 1985 the Assam Accord was signed in New Delhi between AASU and the State Government in the presence of the Central Government representatives, bringing to an end the so-called Assam Movement then run by AASU against illegal foreigners. According to the Assam Accord, those who had entered Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971 should be given Indian citizenship. So the question automatically rises, what are the reasons of their opposing preparation of a fresh NRC based on Voters List 1971? The answer is simple. Being getting the NRC updated, their next move would be to declare the people included in NRC 1951 and their descendents as original people of the state and then to demand for 100 per cent reservation in Assembly and parliamentary seats for them. They would also demand for 100 per cent job reservation for the original people as they have defined. In this case, they already raised their voices. Minority bodies argued that as the NRC 1951 was not prepared under any Rule in contrast to the present NRC which is going to be prepared on the basis of Citizenship (Registration of Citizenship and issue of National Identity Cards) Rule 2003, it has no valid status and now it is also not available in several districts of the state. Hence, updating of NRC 1951 could not be correct and complete. According to the data provided by Barpeta District Administration, Barpeta revenue circle alone has 23 villages, out of which nine villages do not find mention in NRC 1951 and Electoral Roll (ER) 1966. According to the Census 1951, the names of 6 lakh Muslims were not included in NRC 1951 as they were compelled to take refuge in erstwhile East Pakistan due to the riots that had occurred in Assam. After the signing of the NehruLiaquat Agreement they returned and hence they could not get their names entered in NRC 1951. Moreover, the names of many people of the remote villages, especially in the riverine areas, were left out as infra-structure of the state was very poor at that time. As per existing guidelines, the people who are original inhabitants of Assam including their children, who are citizens of India, will be included in the updated NRC. But surprisingly, the relevant rule/guideline does not specify the criterion for determination of Original inhabitants. On November 22, 2010 the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Revenue Minister Dr. Bhumidhar Barman assured 23 minority organisations including Abdul Aziz fraction of All Assam Minority Student Union (AAMSU), All India Milli Council (AIMC), All Assam Bengali Yuba Chatra Federation (AABYCF) and Citizens Right Preservation Committee (CRPC) of preparing a correct NRC wherein the name of each and every genuine citizen would be included. The other members of GoM are Health Minister, Dr. Himanta Bishay Sarma, Food and Supply Minister, Dr. Nazrul Islam, Excise Minister, Mr. Gautam Roy and Forest Minister, Mr. Rackibul Hussain. To find out a modality of preparing NRC acceptable for all, GoM took stock of the views of the representatives of this minority bodies at Dispur. The minority representatives urged the Government to remove the defects of existing application form of NRC preparation and to make it simpler. They also urged the Government to repeal section 4-A of the amended Citizenship Act and said that all India norm of preparing NRC by conducting a house-tohouse enumeration should be followed and D-voters (Doubtful voters) having valid documents of citizenship should be included in the NRC. As per rule 4-A, which has been amended only for Assam, all the residents, most of whom are illiterate, would have to apply to the District Registrar enclosing a large number of supporting documents, appear for hearing and prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of the officers concerned for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. This procedure is only stipulated exclusively for the state of Assam and not for any other states of India. As such it is extremely discriminatory. Raising question against NRC updating modality, the senior advocate of Guwahati High

Court and AIUDF Working President, Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Chowdhary, said that the all India norm for NRC update by conducting a house-to-house enumeration should be followed. On November 23, 2010 Chief Minister Tarun Gagoi said to the journalists that the modality of house-to-house enumeration should be adopted. He also said the Government wants to update the NRC, but the people dont come forward with NRC forms duly filled up. So, many of them will be left out, leading to more agitation and more trouble. Therefore, there is an urgent need to make an arrangement for sending officials on a door-to-door enumeration. Some of the intellectuals of the state also support this view. Opposing the idea of house-to-house distribution of NRC forms, AASU Adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said, this proposal could not be accepted as there is no mechanism to distinguish Bangladeshis who entered after the cut-off date of March 25, 1971 from the ones who had entered Assam prior to that date. But there is no base of this argument as the name of those applicants would only be included in the new NRC who could furnish valid documents. Moreover, minority bodies demanded repeal of Sub-section 3 of Section 4-A of the Citizenship Act. They rejected the proposal of updating NRC 1951 and demanded to prepare the NRC on the basis of Voter List 1971. In the meantime, the GoM issued written proposal of accepting 13 documents to the minority representatives for their consent. These documents are: (1) extract of NRC, 1971, (2) extract/certified copy of Electoral Rolls (ER) up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971, (3) land records including tenancy records of relevant periods (up to 24th March, 1971), (4) citizenship certificate issued by competent authority, (5) citizenship certificate issued from outside the State (which all should be got verified from the issuing authority by the Registering authority), (6) refugee registration certificate issued up to 24th March, 1971, (7) passport issued by the Government of India, (8) Insurance policy (LICI) of relevant period (up to 24th March, 1971), (9) any licence/certificate issued by any Government authority of relevant period (up to 24th March, 1971), (10) document showing service/employment under Government/Public sector undertaking, (11) bank/post office accounts of relevant period (Up to 24th March, 1971), (12) birth certificates issued by the competent authority, and (13) certificate issued by the secretary of the Village Panchayat countersigned by the local Revenue Office in respect of females who have migrated to other village after marriage. However, this would be a supporting document only. Minority bodies are also demanding to correct the existing application form of NRC updating. In the provision laid down in Column No. 4 of the Application Form, certain information has been sought from the applicants. It is extremely difficult to fulfil those requirements particularly by an old woman who was married 40 or more years ago. It is almost impossible to collect the details sought for by an old lady from her parental address who might have died long back. Similar will be the dilemma of those persons who have been displaced from their original places due to flood-erosion, unavoidable change of residence, communal riots, ethnic cleansing or in search of livelihood. In the re-printed Electoral Rolls of 1966 and 1971 for upgradation of NRC 1951 a large number of anomalies and discrepancies have also erupted as in the case of the re-printed NRC 1951. For example, some people who have obtained certified copies of ERs of 1966 and1971 from the competent authority earlier have found their names missing in the presently re-printed ERs of 1966 and 1971. To remove confusion created in the minds of people due to the query about details of birthplace, which was a clause in the existing NRC form, the GoM deleted this clause from the new NRC form drafted by them. The number 12 clause of the existing form is corrected replacing descendent by forefather that was wrongly inserted. In Column No. 12 of the Application Form, the applicants are required to mention the details of their descendants to link them with the pre-1951 records which are absurd. To link with pre-1951 records, one should really mention the details of his predecessor instead of descendants. In the prescribed Application Form in Anubandha 2 (A), there is provision for only four family members (SL No. 1-4), but for families having more than 4 members, no provision has been made in the Application Form. Of course, in draft NRC form, provision for more than 4 family-members has been made. Moreover, draft NRC form is simplified. But in the new proposal the State Government did not give written assurance of door-to-door enumeration, it is only said that government officials would be deputed to assist the people. The Government has also said nothing about preparation of NRC based on Voter List 1971 and hence it is sure that the tasks of NRC, 1951 updating would be continued. AASU, BJP and their ally already rejected the draft NRC forms along with new proposal. The draft NRC form would only help Bangladeshis, said Samujjal. The state BJP president Ranjit Datta said that exclusion of birthplace clause was dangerous to the state and the original people. But muting their fear the state Health Minister Himanta Bishwa

said that as per Assam Accord, NRC would be updated by including only those who were residing in the state since before or on midnight of 24th March, 1971, then where would lie the necessity of mentioning their places of birth? Rather what would be required is where their parents resided on or before 24th March, 1971. Here it is mentionable that the decision to update the NRC and to give identity cards to Indian Citizens on the basis of the same was taken in a tripartite meeting involving the Central and State Governments and AASU on May 5, 2005. Afterward the Home Ministry prepared updating modality discussing with AASU but completely ignored the opinion of the minority community, the members of whom are the worst sufferers in the name of Bangladeshis. Now it is a known fact that the members of the minority community of Assam are becoming soft targets and victims in the name of Bangladeshis only because of their ethnic similarities with people on the other side of the international border. The Government launched a pilot project for updating the NRC in two revenue circles, Barpeta and Chaygaon early last year, but the process was compelled to stop after the death of four people belonging to the Muslim community in an unprovoked police firing on a protest rally against the defected NRC modality organised by AAMSU. After this the State Government constituted five members Group of Minister under Revenue Minister Dr. Bhumidhar Barman. On the other hand, the AASU and 25 other organisations allying with it on the issue are strongly opposing any change in existing modality and format of NRC form. On November 23, 2010 they met GoM and asked the State Government to start updating the NRC simultaneously in all the parts of the state. They also strongly opposed the proposal for house-to-house enumeration for updating NRC. The proposal was tabled for discussion by the state Government at the meeting of the organisation with States GoM. AASU Adviser Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya said, the NRC form is free from any anomalies and as such the Government should make the people know that NRC form is free from any anomaly. But it is a fact as we had mentioned above that there are many defects in existing NRC form. The State government has also accepted that there is some complexity in existing modality and it needs to be simpler. Still AASU is adamant in their stand and Samujjal Bhattacharya has said that the form in its existing format is very simple and fault-free. He has also said that simplifying the form further would serve the interests of the foreigners illegally staying in Assam. This fear of his is totally baseless. It is found that, thousands and thousands of genuine voters of the religious and linguistic minority communities are deprived of their citizenship through writing D (Doubtful Voter) against their name in the Voter List. According to the latest information, there are 1.5 lakh people on the list of D voters. In case of creating D-Voter, the Election Commission did not follow any rule, but the voters covered under D were randomly selected and in this matter the Government also could not give any satisfactory answer. The reports of mental and physical harassment are not rare. In the meantime, AAMSU along with other minority bodies accused AASU of playing politics in the name of NRC. They are unnecessarily complicating the issue by standing on unrealistic terms and conditions. On the other hand, the BJP is communalising the matter by openly advocating offering Indian citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis who have arrived even today. They are lobbing for treating Hindu Bangladeshis as refugees which is against the secular character of our Constitution. But unfortunately AASU along with their allies did not show strong protest against BJPs and its Hindutwadi allies open anti- national and anti-Assamese stand on the foreigner issue except simply saying foreigners are foreigners, whether they Hindus or Muslim, they must have to go. Even the so-called liberal and secular intellectuals of the state have not objected to this communal line. Meanwhile, Asamar Pragjotishpuria Khilinjia Muslim Unnayan Parishad (an association of the indigenous Muslims of Assam who are the descendents of inhabitants of ancient Pragjotishpur State which was in existence from Koliabar of Assam to Maimansing District of Bangladesh) claimed themselves to be the sons of the soil. The president of the Parishad, Mr. Esahak Dewan has said that the so-called immigrant Muslims of Assam are actually the sons of this soil. They inhabited the valley of Brahmaputra from more than 5 thousand years ago. Moreover, they are residing in Assam from pre-independence. Today the planner is conspiring against them to deprive them of their political rights and to make them landless citizens. He has also warned to take the issue to the international forum if the government ignores them.