25, Feb 2019 | CJP Team
Assam is at the precipice of a large scale humanitarian crisis with the citizenship of over four million people under the scanner. CJP, that has been monitoring the situation since 2017, has been working actively to alleviate the fear and anxiety among people of Assam who have been left out of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30, 2018.
We have discovered that 55 percent of those excluded are women, many Bengali Hindus, one lakh from the Gorkha Tribe and a vast number are working class Muslims.
CJP had risen to the occasion in 2002 following the genocidal carnage in Gujarat. We have now resolved to do so again, ensuring Volunteer Motivators and a State Helpline Center with a Toll Free Number to ensure that no legitimate person is denied citizenship.
Our helpline is available in four languages; Assamese, Bengali, Hindi and English. In the first few days itself we had received over 850 calls! Since we started less than ten days ago, our Helpline Centre has received and answered 1172 calls!
If you need any help with the NRC Claims and Objections process, please call us on our TOLL FREE HELPLINE 1800 1020 138 today!
Anxiety and Insecurity among People
Even as Assam starts finalising the National Register of Citizens (NRC) the first draft of which was released on July 30, 2018, many people, whose cases are still pending before Foreigners’ Tribunals or the Gauhati High Court, will have to wait to have their names cleared before they can be added in the NRC. This has escalated a feeling of insecurity and fear.
The degree of bungling, be it bureaucratic or otherwise, is something we have monitored closely and continue to do so. Saken Ali was forced to spend five years in a detention camp because of a minor discrepancy in how his name was spelt in two different documents. A pregnant Rashminara Begum was dragged away to a detention camp because of another such discrepancy in her date of birth. Even the family of the first Deputy Speaker of Assam’s Legislative Assembly was not spared… they were dubbed ‘foreigners’!
The CJP team, drawing from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, has stepped in with a multi-faceted team of volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 18 of the worst affected districts. We want to help people reclaim their rights as citizens. We aim to scale up our campaign and for that we need your support. Your contribution can help cover the costs of travel, documentation and technological expenses and eventually legal expenses. Please donate generously here.
CJP’s multi-pronged efforts: A look at our campaign in Assam
We have not only set up a Toll-free Helpline Number for people to call in case they need any help or clarification, we have also put boots on the ground. About three dozen (already in place and the number is growing) CJP Volunteer Motivators and Volunteers are working across some of the worst affected districts, creating awareness, helping people file applications and submit documents as a part of the Claims and Objections process to have their names included in the NRC.
How the CJP Team Works in Assam
A) Team of Volunteer Motivators (VM)
- We already have about 30 VMs (initially) working across 18-20 districts.
- The VMs will travel to different parts of the district to motivate the populations on ground volunteers who will actually help people file claims when the process actually begins.
B) Audio Reports
- VMs are sending audio reports of updates and challenges in their areas.
- These are Assamese, Bangla, Hindi or English. These audio reports will be uploaded on cjp.org.in regularly.
- This will generate greater involvement from Indians and others in the crisis unfolding within Assam and the solutions being offered there.
- CJP will have one toll free number to answer distress calls and a Team of Volunteers to Man the Phones from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
D) On-ground cameraman
- CJP will have an on ground photographer/videographer, and local video reports to update the ground situation.
E) Peoples/Citizens Tribunal on Assam
Just like at other times of man-made crises, in collaboration with Citizens Groups in Bengal and Assam, we are likely to participate in this effort. It is scheduled for December 2018 or thereabouts in Kolkata.
F) Legal Interventions in Courts: After this initial spade work of filling in Claims before the NRC (hopefully minimising the need for legal cases), will begin series of CJP’s Legal Actions in Foreigners Tribunals, in the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court of India, in both, class action suits as also individual petitions.
CJP has been keeping watch
CJP had been monitoring the situation in Assam closely since late 2017. We followed the first draft of the NRC that was released on December 31, 2017 and contained names of 1.9 crore people. Though we discovered that lakhs of people had been left out, most of them belonging to economically and socially backward, marginalised and vulnerable communities, we were hopeful that they would be included in the final draft.
However, later in 2018 we have discovered that situation in Assam was becoming especially tense after the NRC State Coordinator passed two consecutive controversial orders, one declaring some documents ‘weak’(date May 1, 2018) and another directing NRC officials to keep names of siblings and family members of Declared Foreigners pending from the NRC till such time that they got a clean chit from the Foreigners’ Tribunal. We suspected that these two moves had the combined capacity to keep lakhs of people off the list.
CJP’s Fact Finding Team
We started by sending a fact finding team to Assam in June. We met over a hundred people across Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Nagaon, Barpeta, Hojai, Kamrup, Kamrup Metro, Bongaigaon and Morigaon. We met people who had been listed as D-Voters by the Election Commission. We met both, suspected and Declared Foreigners against whom cases were ongoing in the either Foreigners’ Tribunals or the Gauhati High Court. We met people who had been released from Detention Camps, families of those who were still lodged in such camps or had died in them under mysterious circumstances. Stories ranged from the heart rending to the plain absurd!
We met the family of Subhrata De, a Bengali Hindu man, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the Goalpara Detention Camp. We met Rashminara Begum, a mother of four who was dragged away to the Kokrajhar Detention camp even when she was three months pregnant and only released on bail after the birth of her child. We met Saken Ali, who spent over 5 years in a Detention Camp because some of his documents showed his name spelled with an extra ‘H’ or as Sakhen Ali. We met the family of Maulavi Muhammad Amiruddin who was the first Deputy Speaker of the Assam Assembly and discovered that as many as 14 of them had been asked to prove their citizenship. We met Shamshul Haq, a man who was forced to prove his Indian citizenship four times!
We met people who were anxious, confused, helpless and angry. We met people who wanted the NRC and supported it fully and yet feared they would be discriminated against due to their ethnicity or religious background and terrified that they may not make it on the list.
Our suspicions about the May 1 and May 2 orders passed by the NRC State Coordinator proved right when the final draft of the NRC published on July 30, 2018, left out a whopping 4, 007, 707 people. Nearly half of them were married women who could not rely of Gaon Budho or Panchayat Secretary Certificates any more. Siblings and family members of declared foreigners were also excluded from the NRC in large numbers. Their only recourse… one last chance lay in the NRC Claims and Objections process.
CJP’s Volunteer Motivators
We immediately put together a dedicated team of volunteers who work across 18 of the worst affected districts. Today our Volunteer Motivators hold awareness camps across Assam, empowering people with correct knowledge about how to go about the Claims and Objections process. Our Volunteer Motivators also train local volunteers in how to fill up forms and handle documentation for the Claims and Objections process. Volunteers in turn go door to door to help people file their claims and follow up with the local Nagrik Seva Kendras. The volunteers and Volunteer Motivators share a single goal, to ensure maximum number of people file claims and that too in the correct format with all necessary documentation, so that they maximise their chances of making it to the final NRC list.
CJP’s NRC Helpline
We have also set up a toll free helpline number for the people of Assam. This helpline is available in four languages; Assamese, Bengali, Hindi and English. Our helpline operators can help you with queries regarding documentation, procedure and other details of the Claims and Objections process.
We aim to scale up our campaign and for that we need your support. Your contribution can help cover the costs of travel, documentation and technological expenses and eventually legal expenses. Please donate generously here.
(*This piece was originally published on October 25, 2018. It has been updated since then.)