ON THE EDGE
THE largest democracy in the world is now all set to create a huge pool of “stateless” citizens on her eastern part, even as the rest of the nation, in an obnoxious oblivion, was busy celebrating the 69th Independence Day with fun and festivity.
This is because Assam is now passing through a “foreigners” expulsion drive.
The six-year-long violent “anti-foreigners movement” spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) culminated in the inking of Assam Accord, a tripartite memorandum of settlement between the Centre, the Assam government and the AASU leadership, in the midnight of 14-15 August 1985.
The xenophobic anti-Bengali agitation left hundreds of Bengalis dead and a few thousands traumatised. The Nellie pogrom of 18 February 1983, in which, in a span of six hours, more than 2,000 Bengali speaking people, including women and children, were butchered with the police and security forces standing as mute spectators, sent a chill down the spine of the religious and linguistic minorities of Assam.
That gory incident, the biggest and cruelest of its kind in the history of independent India, has never been able to hog the media spotlight. The government did pretty little to bring the killers to justice.
On the contrary, the infamous Assam Accord, the subsequent birth of the Assamese nationalistic regional political party, Asom Gana Parishad, and its eventual victory in the Assembly elections, practically legitimised the racial killings and violence.
Thirty years on, the Bengali speaking citizens in Assam are again facing a new kind of terror. And this time it is from the Indian Government.
According to a notification by the Registrar General of India vide Section 4(a) of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, and under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court, Assam government is now active in the preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
This process of NRC update, due to be completed on the first day of 2016, is again a discriminatory action meant to declare lakhs of Bengali speaking citizens of Assam as illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators.
The relevant rules and provisions in the statute book including the Citizenship Act, 1955, the Foreigners Expulsion Act, 1946, the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950, the Foreigners Tribunals Order, 1964 and the Citizenship Rules, 2003 (as amended in 2009 and 2010) have all been very carefully crafted over the years since Independence to evict from Assam the Partition victims of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
In a seemingly surprising strategy, the Indian Government has decided to upgrade the NRC only for the state of Assam even though, ideally, the exercise should have been initiated for the entire country. The purpose of the official action is now above board.
The stringent set of conditions attached to the process requires the Bengalis of Assam to prove Indian citizenship of their ancestors prior to 25 March 1971, failing which they would be thrown out of the updated NRC.
But their Assamese and tribal counterparts in the state would find easy inclusion in the Register, because they are by law “original inhabitants of Assam beyond reasonable doubt”.
Now the biggest question dangling before us is: what would happen to these hapless NRC-rejected Bengalis? In the absence of any bilateral arrangement between India and Bangladesh, the latter is not ready to take back whom they call ‘Indian beggars’.
This effectively implies that lakhs of such Indian citizens, who have their names on the Electoral Rolls for the past four decades, and who are in possession of EPIC issued by the Election Commission of India, would be simply rendered stateless.
Going by the existing deportation norm, they will just be “pushed back” to the no man’s land on the Indo-Bangla border. What a record it would be for India, a proud signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!
(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam.)
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