NRC: As Assam counts its citizens, expert fears Rohingya like situation

Hyderabad: With fear, anxiety, hope, people in Assam awaiting the second and updated draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on or before June 30. The first list designated about 19 million people as legal citizens out of the total population of 32 million.

Amidts speculations of large-scale violence, concerned citizens raising voices from all round the corners.

Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden Ashok Swain in his article published in the Outlook predicts mass violence.

He pointed out the speculations that nearly half of these 13.9 million will be only included in the second list. That can possibly lead to a situation that 6-7 million Assamese residents, who do not have legally verifiable documents to support their cases, might be declared as stateless persons or what Americans call “illegal aliens”. Which will have serious political and security implications not only in Assam but also in its neighboring states.

Previous governments in Assam were reluctant to pursue the citizen identification procedure fearing serious law and order crisis.

Rohingya-like situation?

Muslims, who form nearly a third of the state’s 32 million population, have often complained of harassment at the hands of police, in many cases genuine Indian citizens have been declared foreigners or ‘D’ voters.

Activists and experts fear that tens of thousands who do not find their names in the NRC list will be thrown in detention centres and may be rendered stateless – similar to the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

The arrival of tens of thousands of Bengali refugees – both Muslims and Hindus – in Assam during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war brought the issue into national focus. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Bengali origin Muslims were attacked during mass anti-immigrant agitation called the Assam Movement.

In the Nellie village of Nagaon district, nearly 2,000 Muslims were massacred at the height of the anti-foreigner agitation in 1983. The widespread violence ended after the government signed the Assam Accord with protesters led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) in 1985.

Non-Muslim vs Muslim refugees

The proposed changes to the Citizenship Act 1955, pushed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have created a major controversy.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, if approved, will allow religious minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to obtain Indian citizenship.

However, the AASU, which led the Assam agitation in the 1970s and early 1980s, has protested against the move that will make about 1.5 Bangladeshi Hindus residing in the state eligible to become Indian citizens. Several groups, including AASU, organised protests across the state and burned effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the state Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

BJP’s Mission 2019?

After facing defeat in the recent bypoll despite polarisation. The party has used the Jat-Muslim Muzaffarnagar riots and the so-called exodus of Hindus from Kairana due to ‘threat from Muslim gangsters’ in an attempt to consolidate Hindu voters in the region but failed.

Now, BJP is reportedly in search of all the possible options before 2019 General Elections. The BJP leaders have publicly called Muslims “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, who should be sent back, while defending the granting of citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis on the ground that they face persecution.

Ashok Swain’s article raises many questions on the implications, he highlighted the handing over the process of identifying citizenship to a highly corrupt and inefficient local bureaucracy where the Assam state is being ruled by a BJP government for the last two years, which is openly pro-Hindu.

That makes it further difficult for the inept bureaucracy to be religiously neutral while undertaking the verification process. It is true that the chief minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal before joining the BJP had made his political career in opposing migrant population in his state. But, the RSS, which has been engaged in the religious mobilisation of Assam for decades and has brought the BJP to power in the state, always supports Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. Under no circumstances, the RSS is going to let CM Sonowal or the BJP’s coalition partner AGP to go against Hindu Bengalis settled in Assam, Ashok wrote in the article.

Siasat Web Team