Sunday , 21 April 2019

Citizens Missing From Assam’s National Register

Even the second draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam contains a number of absurd omissions. The second draft was expected to be more precise; however, it is as sloppy and full of discrepancies as was the first draft. The NRC has caused agony to people instead of making them feel relieved. Over 40 lakh people do not find their names in the list. Among those missing are 2.48 lakh persons marked ‘doubtful’ voters by the Election Commission as voting rights of some persons and their descendants stand suspended or their cases have been referred to Foreigners’ Tribunals. There are about 1.5 lakh people whose names were part of the draft published in December but have been excluded from the final draft. Those whose names have been dropped hail from across the social spectrum and religions – from daily-wage earners and marginal farmers to soldiers and legislators. Prominent among those who have been left out of the list are Ziauddin Ali Ahmed, a nephew of former President of India the late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. The exclusion of Ziauddin Ali Ahmed’s name proves that being related to former topmost leaders of the country was no guarantee that one’s name would automatically make it to the list of citizens. The list of excluded people also includes the wife of the deputy speaker of Assam Dilipkumar Paul.

The list has been criticized by almost all political parties for major flaws. Ethnic, linguistic and religious minority organisations have claimed that there were scores of people whose ancestors figured in the 1951 NRC but their names too were missing from the updated register 67 years later. The names of these applicants could have been excluded for one of three reasons: either their names had been erroneously included in the first draft, or they were found to have submitted false claims, or panchayat certificates submitted by them were found to be invalid. How could there be such bizarre omissions as of the names of several serving and former legislators and serving government officials? It is apparent that flaws have crept into the digitised mapping of family trees. The other reasons for the absurdities could be lack of human interface, subjective bias and the inherent flaws in the NRC of 1951 and the electoral rolls of 1961 and 1971 that make up the core of the ‘legacy data’.

The Registrar General of India has said that personal details and reasons for exclusion of names from the complete draft will not be put in public domain. These people will, however, be informed about the reason for their exclusion through a letter of information (LOI) and get an opportunity to file a claim for inclusion in the NRC. With the authorities now having to deal with 40 lakh people, the exercise would be exhaustive; but each case must be handled properly and settled. The Centre is working out the modalities of a standard operating procedure for claims and objections which will be placed before the Supreme Court by mid-August. The window for contestation could be extended by a month beyond September 28. The authorities would face bigger challenges ahead, especially after the final NRC list determines the precise number of deemed illegal immigrants. With Bangladesh already declaring that it has nothing to do with illegal immigrants India would face a major hurdle in deporting them.

The NRC is seen as the culmination of the campaign of the All Assam Students Union and Asom Gana Parishad. However, the NRC authorities must remove any scope for discrimination and foul play on the basis of religion, sect, language or ethnic origin. The Union Home Ministry has assured that there would be no immediate steps taken on the basis of NRC. All steps have to be taken to prevent eruption of linguistic, ethnic and religious conflicts. The authorities must give all the opportunity to those left out to prove their citizenship. Some of those left out might be poor and illiterate people who were unable to produce the required documents for proving their claim of Indian nationality within the deadline. As far as the definition of a foreigner goes, the laws are very clear. The foreigner may be a Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist; if he does not satisfy the conditions to qualify for Indian citizenship he has to be declared a foreigner. However, there might be people who were not born in Assam but have lived in Assam for several generations and become a part of the society and local economy. Uprooting such people would not be rational and humane, for it could set off a chain reaction in other states.

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