09, Sep 2019 | CJP Team
A two day tribunal titled Contested Citizenship in Assam: People’s Tribunal on Constitutional Processes and Human Cost was held in New Delhi on September 7 and 8, 2019 to examine the scope and scale of the citizenship crisis in Assam in wake of over 19 lakh people being left out of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC). After presiding over the tribunal hearing the jury members have come up with an interim report showcasing their preliminary findings.
Jury members of the tribunal represented the creme de la creme of India’s legal fraternity, civil society and academicians such as Justice (Rt) Madan Lokur, Justice (Rt) Kurien Joseph, Justice (Rt) AP Shah, Ambassador Deb Mukharji, Ms. Githa Hariharan, Dr. Syeda Hameed, Prof. Monirul Hussain and Dr. Faizan Mustafa.
In their observations, the jury members say, “We all agree that the NRC has spawned a humanitarian crisis. We worry because there are no signs of this crisis abating.”
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.
The jury members also noted the following key aspects of the plight of hapless people forced to defend their citizenship in Assam:
• the burden of proof was shifted to the residents to prove that they were citizens,
• documents related to birth, schooling and landownership, which impoverished and unlettered rural residents anywhere would find hard to muster, were insisted upon.
• Even when documents were produced, they were often refused for discrepancies, in the English-language spelling of Bengali names, or in age.
Some pictures from the proceedings may be viewed here:
The jury focused on finding answers to four key questions:
- Has the NRC process been in conformity with the constitution?
- What has been the role of the judiciary in upholding constitutional processes and morality?
- What was the humanitarian crisis?
- The implications of extending NRC to the rest of the country.
- The complete interim report may be read here:
Speakers at the tribunal included a veritable who’s who from the world of social activism, law and journalism such as senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad and social activist Harsh Mander. Senior advocates Mihir Desai and Vrinda Grover, who were a part of CJP’s Citizens for Assam delegation to Assam in June 2019, also spoke at the tribunal. Other speakers included Mrinal Sharma from Amnesty International, Saajad Hassan from Citizens Against Hate, Gauhati High Court advocate Mustafa Khaddam Hussain, senior journalist Sanjoy Hazarika and Assamese writer Mitra Phuken.
The tribunal was co-organised by some of the most respected civil society groups and human rights organisations in the country. These are: Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms – Aman Biradari – Common Cause – National Dalit Movement for Justice – Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan – National Alliance of People’s Movements – Satark Nagrik Sangathan – Citizens for Justice and Peace – Delhi Solidarity Group – Swaraj Abhiyaan – Citizens Against Hate – Human Rights Law Network.
According to the organisers it is important to conduct such a people’s tribunal in wake of exclusion of over 19 lakh people from the final NRC because the people worst affected, “… are overwhelmingly from minority ethnic, religious and linguistic groups – consisting Muslims and Hindus of Bengali descent and Nepali-speaking populations – with high percentages of women, children and daily wage workers, all among the most marginalized and excluded communities.”