Citizens for Justice and Peace

Disasters, Displacement and Political Dis-enfranchisement in a warming world Exclusive Blog: How flood displacement leads to uneducated and destitute women becoming D Voters in Assam

23, Sep 2019 | Ritumbra Manuvie

Hannah Ardent in her work on The Origins of Totalitarianism, interrogated the contradiction in the modern conception of rights. Based on her experience of statelessness, she pointed that despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was membership of a nation-state that gave humans the right to have rights. This ‘right to have a right’ is most recently invoked in case of India which recently annihilated 1.9 million people from its Citizenship Register.


The disenfranchisement from political and civil membership of the state has raised questions about the necessity, futility, and the un-constitutionality of the process. It has also raised pertinent questions about the sub-states treatment of those living with flood vulnerability. In a state where survival migrations due to floods is an annual affair, and paper trails are rather limited, how did the state with its own limited documentality decided the fate of those excluded from the NRC.

Now that the final NRC has been published, and 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final list, CJP’s campaign has become even more focused. Our objective now, is to help these excluded people defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. For this we have already started conducting a series of workshops to train paralegals to assist people at FTs. We will also be publishing a multi-media training manual containing simplified aspects of legal procedure, evidentiary rules, and judicial precedents that will ensure the appeals filed against the NRC exclusions in the FTs are comprehensive and sound, both in fact and in law. This will assist our paralegals, lawyers and the wider community in Assam to negotiate this tortuous process. For this we need your continued support. Please donate now to help us help Assam.

It was estimated through 2011 census data that 54% of people have migrated internally within the State of Assam since their birth. Although up till 2001 the Government of India maintained a data on ‘environmentally motivated migrations’ as the reason for population movement. This category was not published in 2011 migration data. Many academics working in the region consider flood disasters, livelihood insecurity, and erosion to be the primary reason for internal migrations. These findings are occasionally agreed upon in the Governmental studies, especially the studies on river-bank erosion (which put the total land erosion to be 8% since 1951) and livelihood security studies carried out by the Disaster Management Authority.

Yet the ominous political narrative risk everyone migrating for survival to be an ‘illegal immigrant’ and seek to dis-enfranchise at-risk communities from the social-safety net. Once politically dis-enfranchised the people displaced due to flood and flood erosion no longer have a right to assert a right for either compensation or rehabilitation. We analyse the political dis-enfranchisement of the communities considering the geographical vulnerability using 2016 Doubtful voter list.

The list of 2016 had a total of 138328 unique entries out of these women constitute 62% of the total population. The average age span of those listed as D-voters is 37 years, which by 2016 calculation implies that these women were born in 1979 much after the 1971 cut-off date. A visual assembly constituency mapping of the concentration of D-voters, further reveals that majority of the D-voters reside in constituencies neighbouring places most severely affected by the flood-erosion.

When comparing this map with the current climate vulnerability map (Ravindranath and the Eroded area map of Laharighat circle, adjoining Barachala constituency (extracted from Google Maps), one can see a pattern of dis-enfranchisement – in areas most vulnerable to hydro-metrological disaster – of people displaced due to flood and flood and flood erosion.

Flood erosion in Laharighat circle(decadal progression)

It is understood through group-discussions held in Laharighat and Barchala revenue circles that erosion of 67 river-bank villages led to waves of displacement across the Morigaon and Sonitpur districts. None of those displaced due to erosion has received land-rehabilitation from the government. Thus, most people have used their social-capital to relocate in community and barren lands to which they have no ‘patta-rights’. The communities also expressed fear of moving too far away from the eroded areas as than they may not be able to prove their ties to the land and will risk becoming non-citizens.

To an extent the administration in Assam is aware of the dynamic between flood-related displacement and lack of ability to prove once status as a legitimate voter. Senior state bureaucrats interviewed during the study reflected upon the documentational poverty, especially that of the women in the state. At the same time, they also believed that the ongoing process of NRC, creation of Integrated Land Record Management System (followed by a future plan of implementing UID) will provide an initial basis to solve the problem of disenfranchisement. However, the state did not bother about the impact of documentational poverty of those excluded. In doing so state by a systematic act created what Agamben would describe as homo sacare.  Removed from the Zoe (political beingness), Homo Scare is the Bare being who cannot be killed but can be systematically sacrificed by the state.

It thus become a pertinent question which the administration, polity and intellectual society of Assam and elsewhere must ask, in a warming world who how are we to remove the political and constitutional marginalisation of those most in need? How are we to help communities at the margins of politics, state and geography adapt to disasters? Who after all has the right to have a right?


The author of this exclusive blog for is an Independent Indian Scholar studying issues of citizenship contestations. During her doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh she used the 2016 D-voter list to visualize the concentration of D-voters. The map shared with this blog, she hopes might be useful in a constructive dialogue. Ms Ritumbra Manuvie is today an Independent Researcher at Groningen, Netherlands


Author’s Note: The scholar interviewed and surveyed D-voters in Barchala area and found a lot of them were displaced due to char erosion in Laharighat circle. At the time of her stay and field work in Assam, she discussed these issues with the Assam secretariat (deputy commissioners, Secretary and the previous CM). She did tell them that 69% of the people in D-voter list were women a lot of them even deserted women who lost their husbands and fathers to flood. However, her concerns were dismissed by most because of my non-Assamese background.


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