12, Oct 2019 | CJP Team
The humanitarian crisis brewing in Assam is all set to spill over across India. With a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), an authoritarian regime threatens to split an already divided country one last time along the lines of citizenship. Recognising the ramifications of this impending catastrophe, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) and People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) have come together to organise a series of meetings to express solidarity with our fellow Indians from Assam. The first such meeting was held in Mumbai on Friday, October 11.
CJP has been working on the ground in Assam for two years. Our team of close to 1000 volunteers motivators and community volunteers has been helping Indian citizens navigate first the tortuous NRC process and the subsequent claims process for those excluded from the list.
At this solidarity meeting, people affected by the NRC and the citizenship crisis shared their stories. The family of Subrata Dey, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in the Goalpara detention camp in May 2018, shared their heart rending story. Subrata’s mother Anima said, “My daughter-in-law and I make and sell cloth bags. Our daily earning is Rs 48.” Subrata’s son Biki who was studying in class 12 at the time of his father’s death was also present at the meeting. He has been forced to give up his education and work as a tailor’s apprentice.
Hasan Ali had attempted suicide last year when his name was excluded from the draft NRC published in July 2018. “My friends saved me in the nick of time, but it was CJP that gave me hope. It was because of CJP’s relentless efforts that we discovered that the men at the Nagrik Seva Kendra had put my valid documents in a pile of D Voter’s documents!”
Gopal Das also thanked CJP for helping his entire family make it into the NRC after they were dropped from the draft last year. “My father’s name is the same as my wife’s grandfather’s name. The authorities thought we were using a fake legacy person’s documents. But CJP helped us throughout the hearings process, and now my entire family has made it into the final NRC.”
After the publication of the final NRC, CJP has a more focused plan to help Indians in Assam. Now, we are also helping people left out of the final NRC defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT), by training paralegals to assist people appearing before FTs.
Speaking about the situation in Assam, CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad said, “The crisis caused by the citizenship issue, NRC, ‘D’ Voter or ‘Suspected Foreigner’ has caused a humanitarian crisis of a vast magnitude and it is also unfortunately symptomatic of how both, the government and bureaucracy, have completely betrayed their own people. The power of the document is being used to establish a person’s existence as an Indian and the functioning of the adjudicating bodies, Foreigners Tribunals is unprofessional, flouting every notion of fair play and justice. Some of the worst affected people belong to historically oppressed and marginalised communities. Many are unlettered. Sixty nine per cent are women.”
PUCL is a highly respected human rights organisation that has been at the forefront of several civil rights initiatives. PUCL’s Maharashtra Unit convener, senior advocate Mihir Desai had also gone to Assam at CJP’s request to see first-hand the plight of people and to device creative and effective solutions. Advocate Desai had also played a key role in training over 100 paralegals as a part of CJP’s Empowering Assam initiative in July 2019.
Speaking about the citizenship issue, advocate Desai said, “Prior to independence residents of a nation or kingdom were treated as subjects having responsibilities and hardly any rights. The Constitution transformed the status of citizens into that of right bearing citizens not only having right to vote and fundamental rights, but also access to all the welfare schemes. Indian citizenship law which is primarily based on birth has since the 1980s branched off into separate law specifically for Assam where the date of entry into Assam determines citizenship.”
The solidarity meeting was supported by several human rights groups and civil society members including All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), All India Milli Council, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Forum Against Oppression of Women(FAOW), Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Indian Christian Women’s Movement(ICWM), Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD), Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, Jimmy Foundation, LABIA-A Queer Feminist LBT Collective, National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM), North East Collective, Police Reforms Watch, Revolutionary Workers’ Party of India (RWPI), Salokha and many others.