Amid cacophonies of blowing horns and revving engines of lumbering trucks on the national highways 37 and 31 and the deafening whistles of diesel locomotives across the state, one could easily hear the hues and cries of the most Bengali speaking people in Assam. For them the New Year began with utter suspense as millions of Assamese woke up to a new year with a sense of trepidation. The million-dollar question – is he/she a citizen of India? – was topmost on their minds.
The much-feared update of National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 is undergoing in the state of Assam following the directives of the Supreme Court of India, the process is also being monitored by the apex court. Its first draft comprising names of 1.9 Crore people out of 3.29 Crore total population is out now. This process of updating began in 2013. About 6.5 Crore supporting documents praying to 68.27 Lakh families residing in the state were received. The second and the final part of the draft is expected to be published very soon. The updated NRC is expected to weed out illegal immigrants from Assam be it Hindu or Muslim.
According to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), there were 89,395 people considered to be illegal immigrants in Assam till August 2017. It says there are currently more than 2000 people languishing in detention centers across the state, and are being subjected to utter discrimination and grief.
Assam, in particular, witnessed huge protest against the initiative arguing that the amendment would jeopardize the historic Assam Accord as well as it would harm the social fabric of the state where various communities irrespective of their caste, creed and religions had been living in harmony.
The state has witnessed protests from various sections who fear their exclusion from the draft. The Assamese transgenders and the All Assam Transgender Association have made up mind to move to the apex court against the Registrar General of India supervising the ill-fated NRC. There are over 5400 transgenders belonging to the state and their citizenship hangs in balance.
For such an issue controversies are due, there has been mudslinging regarding this and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, MP (AIUDF), also the so called voice of the minorities accused both the BJP and the Congress of trying petty politics and making electoral benefits out of NRC. He accused that though the process of updating the NRC is under the supervision of the Supreme Court and the Registrar General of India, the ground work is being done by the Assam government officials ruled by the BJP. Interestingly, the MP’s name is missing from the first draft of the NRC that came out on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1. Notable MLAs whose names are not present in the first list include Nurul Huda, Aminul Islam, Shiladitya Dev, Sherman Ali Ahmed and Sukur Ali Ahmed among others. Although authorities have assured that there’s no reason to panic if one’s name is missing from the first draft, the rustic folks have many reasons to worry.
There have been lot of instigations and one such came from Maulana Sayed Arshad Madani, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind that sparked great controversy. He stated that “Assam will face a Myanmar-like situation” and that Assam will burn and killings and massacre will be daily phenomena.
Currently, about 2000 Bengali-speaking Muslims languish in 6 detention centers in Assam after the Tribunal declared them as ‘Foreigners’. Although a few got relief from the SC after they challenged the verdict, many are yet to find any ray of hope. A recent study claimed that widespread disrespect, discrimination and detention can have long term physical and psychological consequences-on both who observe as well as who experience them.
The NRC update is a very sophisticated task and there are widespread fear that bulk of the people of the 11 minority dominated districts may be left out of the list. This fear multiplied following the first draft where there were families with no members in the NRC. However, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal assured that no genuine citizen will be left out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The NRC 2018 will decide whether the thousands feared ones are Indians, are Assamese or people with no country or people from Mars and till then utmost fear and uncertainty looms that galloped many innocent lives.