By: Pervez Bari
New Delhi: In a resolution passed in a Convention on “NRC, Citizenship and Dissent” conducted by the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, (NCHRO), it has been demanded to give Amnesty to 4 million people in Assam, who have been left out of the draft of NRC, (National Register of Citizens), and treat them as Indian Citizens by including them in it; to drop Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016; to stop discrimination on the basis of religion and language; to withdraw terming people as ‘D’ voters as it is unconstitutional; to release the victims incarcerated in Detention Camps.
While in another resolution also adopted at the conclusion of the convention it was demanded to stop arbitrary arrests and to release immediately arrested activists viz. Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Naulakha, Vernon Gonsalves, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao (Hyderabad), lawyer and author Arun Ferreira. The resolution demanded to repeal the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act known in short as UAPA.
The overall message that emanated at the conclusion of the convention was that people should come forward and join hands to defeat the fascist designs of the Central and state governments under the BJP. Speakers in the convention by and large concurred that on the NRC issue people must gird up their loins to hit the street as the matter could not be left only at the discretion of the apex court.
The convention was held here on September 23, 2018 in the India International Centre. A host of prominent thinkers, rights activists and Assamese representatives put forth their views while discussing the issues about Assam NRC and arbitrary arrests of activists and intellectuals from across the country. Prof. A. Marx, chairperson of NCHRO, delivered the welcome address.
Three persons presented papers in the convention while others spoke their mind extempore. Adv. A.R. Sikdar, Convener of D’ Voters Legal Aid Committee, NCHRO Assam Chapter), paper was titled: “On the Citizenship and Human Rights Violation in Assam”. While Aminul Haque, State General Secretary, NCHRO Assam Chapter, presented paper on “Note on Preparation / Updation of NRC”, and retired Prof. V.K. Tripathi’s (IIT, Delhi), paper was on “Citizenship issue in Assam: Sons & Daughters of the soil rise together”.
The convention was concerned that the publication of the draft NRC in Assam, is an effort to make millions of people in Assam stateless on the dubious argument that they have no identity papers. Many people born and brought up in the state do not make into the NRC. This looks like a pilot project of the BJP and there are indications that it may use it to divide people on the basis of language or religion on the eve of 2019 general election.
The speakers in the convention raised the strong voice against the Central and state governments under the BJP regime, which have been arresting and imprisoning people who oppose them in different parts of the country. And, it also asserted that the aim of such arrests is to create a sense of fear among the general public by arbitrary arrests, shootouts, spreading of false stories about terrorists and Maoists and using the repressive laws like UAPA and other so-called security laws.
Issue of Constitutional validity of NRC diverted
Meanwhile, Ravi Nair, Executive Director of South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre, (SAHRDC), in his inaugural speech of the Convention alleged that the Supreme Court has diverted the real issue on Assam NRC and directed the authorities to give a second chance to those whose names not included in the final to prove their citizenship.
Nair lamented that the questions first drafted by the two-bench of the apex court to determine the issue of Constitutional validity of the NRC exercise has been sidetracked. Astonishingly the lawyer fraternity has not raised their eyebrows and remained a mute spectator the way Supreme Court has arbitrarily jumped the process and come to a thing which was to come much later.
Recalling late socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia’s quote: “Zinda qaumein Kisi mudde ke liye panch saal intezaar nahi kiya karteen”, Nair said the people need to hit the streets as without this struggle one cannot compel the parliament and government for decisions. He further quoted: “Jeena Hai to Marna Seekho, Qadam Qadam par Marna Seekho”.
Questioning the NRC exercise, retired Prof. V.K. Tripathi (IIT, Delhi), said the 2003 amendment (Section 3) in the Citizenship Act 1955 in 2003 says anyone (i) born between 1950 and 1987, irrespective of the citizenship of the parents, is Indian by birth; (ii) born between 1987 and 2003, is Indian if one parent is Indian citizen. The NRC must take this into account. The Indians who go abroad and work for few years get the citizenship of that country. As such we must accord at least the same right to people whose generations have lived here. In fact the borders are made porous for the working classes, he added.
Manisha Bhalla, a senior Journalist who was part of Fact Finding Team which visited Assam for 15 days before the publication of 2nd Draft of NRC, said the state is currently stalked by insecurity, uncertainty and trauma. There is grave possibility of huge fissures which will decisively impact the social and political fabric of this sensitive and strategic border state of Assam in the Northeast of India in the days to come.
Ms Bhalla said the crisis is centred on two issues: the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill first tabled in Parliament on July 15, 2016. The BJP backs the Bill. It is being vehemently opposed by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and its political front, the Atom Gina Parisad (AGP), which is in alliance with the ruling regime led by the BJP in the state. The NRC is backed by both the BJP and the AGP.
Ms Bhalla revealed Prafulla Mahanta, founder-president of AASU and twice chief minister of the state, told the fact finding team in Guwahati on June 29: “The AGP will break the alliance with the BJP if it pushes the Citizenship Amendment Bill.”
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, seeks to change the classification of “illegal migrants‟. The Bill will amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, to provide citizenship to “illegal migrants‟ from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are of Sikh, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain, or Christian origin. Muslims, or its various sects and communities, are not included in this Bill, including those who are facing persecution in Pakistan, such as the Shias and Ahmediyas.
Ms Bhalla informed that the concept of D-voter is only found in Assam. The concept of “D-Voter‟ is completely illegal. It has no place in the Indian Constitution. There can be citizens and non-citizens but not doubtful citizens.
Earlier, it was the complainant who used to bear the burden of proof, but, now, the burden of proof has shifted on to the accused. People complain that they have not received notices. Most have no access to internet. If, thereby, they miss the hearing, since they have not got a documentary/written notice, they can be declared “D-Voter‟ ex-parte.
“In majority of the cases, we found people being declared foreigners ex-parte. And therefore, they end up languishing in jails in the name of detention camps. We also found that people were declared foreigners but they have not been provided with a copy of the judgement so that they can challenge the verdict in superior courts”, Ms Bhalla stated.
E.M. Abdul Rahiman, National Executive Council Member, Popular Front of India, was of the view that until and unless the people of Assam rise to the occasion to fight out the NRC issues nothing can be done. It is not only Assam issue as it is wider matter of citizenship which may later on affect other states also. There should be a network support system within Assam to help out the aggrieved people, whose names have been excluded from the draft of NRC, to overcome the gigantic problem. It is not a humanitarian crisis but a social and political problem created by vested forces. A political agenda can only be defeated by a very vibrant, sensible and active movement which is missing in Assam at present, he opined.
Prof. Apoorvanand of Delhi University while putting forth his views, said BJP’s intentions are not any secret as its president Amit Shah dubbing all the 4 millions as “ghuspetiay’( infiltrators) which is against the ruling of the Court. He said BJP chief’s statement cannot be taken lightly as he is not a fringe leader and holds considerable clout. Recalling the speeches of Narendra Modi during run up to 2014 general election, he said first they (BJP) coined “Bangladeshi” term and now” Ghuspaitiay” as BJP’s policies will push the country on the path of disintegration. He said now demands for NRC are being raised in whole of the north east.
It is not Indian but Assamee nationalism
Dr. Tasleem Ahmad Rehmani, National Secretary of SDPI, said Assam NRC is purely a political issue to deprive Muslims and tribals from political power. He revealed that the inhabitants of Assam are not interested and concerned about Indian nationalism but their focal point is Assamee nationalism.
When the movement started the people of Assam wanted all non-Assamese, linguistic and religious, to be driven out of the state. However, Dr. Rehmani said, with the entry of saffron brigade in the political scenario in Assam and other N-E states the ongoing controversy with connivance was given a communal colour making it a Hindu-Muslim issue. He said myopic policies of RSS and BJP are pushing India towards disintegration with North Eastern states drifting away from the Indian nationalism
Aminul Haq, State general secretary, NCHRO Assam Chapter, also said the local staff involved in NRC exercise was inspired by Assami nationalism sentiments. It is an effort to make millions of people in Assam stateless on the dubious argument that they have no identity papers, he added.
Haq said with huge anomalies in the final draft of NRC lakhs of genuine Indian Citizens had not got equal opportunities in verification process. Many of the officers engaged for NRC duties misuse their quasi judicial power to exclude maximum names from the final draft. This happened mostly in the name of scrutiny (special verification and quality check). After the publication of final draft when excluded applicants want to know the causes of their exclusion as per the norms of NRC, the grassroots level officers could not give them proper reply. In many cases they give some absurd and arbitrary replies to their queries. In maximum cases the excluded applicants couldn’t be satisfied with the answers given by the NRC authorities.
Meanwhile, Dr. Abul Bashar (State president, NCHRO Assam Chapter), and Adv. A. Mohammed Yusuff (National Secretary, NCHRO), Adv. Amit Srivastav (Programme Convener, NCHRO), and Ashok Kumari (Delhi Chapter president, NCHRO) also spoke in the convention.
Swati Sinha (Joint Convener, NCHRO) conducted the proceedings while Adv. Ansar Indori, State General Secretary, NCHRO Delhi Chapter proposed a vote of thanks.