30, Jul 2018 | CJP Team
The final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released in Assam on July 30, 2018 and a whopping 40 lakh people have been left out! But there is still hope as Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has reiterated that the list of names published on July 30 is only a draft and assured that adequate opportunity will be given to people to file claims and objections.
The government has also assured that final NRC will only be published after all claims and objections have been disposed off. Moreover, nobody will be automatically treated as a ‘foreigner’ just because their name is not in the NRC.
Over 4 million people have been left out of the NRC final draft! Most of them belong to socio-economically backward communities and live in rural areas. Many of them are women and children! Now CJP, drawing from its previous experience in providing legal aid in Gujarat, will step in with a multi-faceted team of lawyers and volunteers to ensure that these people receive a fair chance while filing claims across 15 of the worst affected districts. Your contribution can help cover the costs of a legal team, travel, documentation and technological expenses. Donate Now!
However, the Registrar General of Citizen Registration issued a notification that put December 31, 2018 as the date to complete updation of the NRC.
How to file Claims and Objections
Claims and objections forms can be downloaded from the NRC website www.nrcassam.nic.in from August 7 onwards. The forms can also be obtained from Nagrik Seva Kendras (NSK). There are a total of 2500 NSKs across Assam. However, one can only obtain and submit the Claims and Objections forms at the original NSK where one had registered for NRC. Claims and Objections will be received till September 28. This gives those whose names have not appeared in the NRC one last opportunity to prove their Indian Citizenship. However, given the December 31, 2018 deadline, one wonders if this process will be rushed and therefore unreliable?
Large number of exclusions
They say the devil lies in the details and if the numbers are anything to go by, then the Devils’ Arithmetic is rather ominous in Assam. 40 lakh people have been excluded from the draft and this number is higher than any speculation made by any social worker or human rights group so far. Earlier this year Advocate Aman Wadud, who has been representing people whose names have been referred to Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT), had estimated the number to be close to 20 lakh people. However, later he retracted the figure saying he may have made a mistake in mathematically calculating the number. Journalist and activist Zamser Ali however stood by this figure and now as it turns out, the number of people who have been actually excluded is double this estimate!
The order about siblings and family members of DFs
Many people feel that the large number of exclusions is due to names of siblings and family members of Declared Foreigners (DF) being kept pending from the NRC following NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela’s order passed on May 2. While he later clarified that a proper reference will have to be made to the FT first, confusion and fear still prevailed. Meanwhile, the order was challenged in the Gauhati High Court but was upheld.
However, when we met Mr Hajela in June this year, he said that only 4,300 out of 73,000 total DFs could be traced. Assuming one DF affects the citizenship of 4 others, it placed the number of the people who could be possibly affected by this order at a little over 20,000. This falls way short of the 40 lakh people actually excluded from the NRC!
Concerns raised by the UN
On June 11, 2018 four United Nations Special Rapporteurs had written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj raising concerns about the potential statelessness and subsequent humanitarian crisis in Assam.
The letter was written by Fernand de Varennes (Special Rapporteur on minority issues), E. Tendayi Achiume (Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance), David Kaye (Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression) and Ahmed Shaheed (Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief).
They raised several important questions about implications for those who would be excluded from the list as well as how a disproportionately large number of Bengali Muslims were being adversely affected. The UN Special Rapporteurs also brought up that there has been a sudden spike in the number of people being declared foreigners. They have also expressed concerns about the functioning of Foreigners’ Tribunals. The letter said,
Concerns about the implementation of the NRC update have also been heightened by the increasing number of persons declared to be foreigners by Foreigners’ Tribunals. Out of a total of 468,934 referals to the Tribunals between 1985 and 2016, 80,194 people were declared foreigners. This figure increased drastically in 2017, reaching 13,434 in just eleven months. In this context, it is reported that members of Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam experience increasing pressure from State authorities to declare more persons as foreigners. On 21st June 2017, 19 members of the Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam were dismissed on ground of their under-performance over the last two years. More than 15 additional Tribunal members were issued with a strict warning to increase their efficiency. Considering that tribunal members serve on a contractual basis for two years, which may be extended on a needs and performance basis, these actions were perceived to be a thinly veiled threat to other Tribunal members.”
Key points to ponder
40 lakhs is 12.1 per cent of the total number of NRC applicants (3.29 crores)
During our visit to Assam in June 2018 and even after our return we found a number of complaints about the state Election Commission led ‘D Voter’ process, the Border police led referral processand the Foreigner Tribunal process and the way ‘declared foreigners’ were treated in detention camps.
There was a lot of fear due to an order passed by the NRC State Coordinator on May 1, 2018 that declared an important link document to be ‘weak’ and hence inadmissible as proof. The NRC May 1 2018 order on Weak Documents was found to be shifting goalposts. Sources say, that out of these 40 lakh people excluded from the NRC, 55% are women.
We also found a great amount of apprehension about the May 2, 2018 order by the NRC that sought to keep pending the names of siblings and family members of ‘Declared Foreigners’.
Some important questions
If the NRC was supposed to be an independent, free and fair process then why was it conflated with other state level ‘foreigner’ detection processes that were widely seen to be unfair? Shouldn’t authorities have been more careful with the NRC, given its enormous importance and which enjoyed a wide support from the population of Assam? Coupled with Mr Prateek Hajela’s eagerness to browbeat any questioning of his decisions or any attempt to demand more accountability – the NRC process in its final few months had come under a cloud of suspicion. Whose fault is that?