People of Assam have been facing the issue of illegal immigration since 1951 following the first wave of immigrants from East Pakistan. The Lok Sabha elections in 1978 noticed the number of voters increased by 50,000. In 1983, Indira Gandhi brought in The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal ) IMDT Act and Assam Accord was signed between the Centre and the State promising identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. Some of the key demands included; outsiders who had entered Assam during 1951-1961, were to given full citizenship including the right to vote, while those who came during 1961-1971 were to enjoy the rights of citizenship but not the right to vote, and the ones who have entered after 1971 were to be deported. However, the Supreme Court struck it down in 2005 on the petition of Sarbanand Sonowal.
In 2012, after Manmohan Singh’s Government announced updating of NRC, ethnic clashes broke out between Bodos and Bengali Muslims in Bodoland Territorial area and the matter moved the Apex Court. The Supreme Court ordered Assam Government to work on NRC. The first draft was released, stating 1.9 crore people as Assamese and D(doubtful)–Voters were kept in detention camps.
— BJP (@BJP4India) April 11, 2019
The final NRC list released on August 31st has left out 1.9 million people as stateless. People who were not able to make it for the NRC list will be presented to the Foreign Tribunal. These ‘stateless citizens’ would be kept in detention camps for an unspecified time.
International publications has severely criticised Indian government’s action, equating detention with imprisonment. They have called it a Hindu Nationalist agenda, which aims to redefine the “Indian identity.” Bangladesh, too, raised concern over the Assam’s NRC process. While Minister of Foreign Affairs, S Jaishankar responded stating the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Northeast as India’s internal matter.
The delivered outcome of this long drawn process has left many people unhappy in Assam. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is furious that the list is not composed entirely of Muslims whom they could attack as Bangladeshi “infiltrators.” Assamese hardliners, meanwhile, are concerned that only a few (7%) of Assam’s official population — have been excluded. They remain convinced that “outsiders” number in the tens of millions.
The government, however, claims to have done well in helping Bangladeshi Muslims, who have been exempted from the list. Home Minister, Amit Shah raised concerns regarding the filing of appeals before the Foreign Tribunal and therefore gave an extended buffer of 60-120 days. The government is now focusing on its immediate responsibility towards the excluded as to set up around 300 Foreign Tribunals.
Early in September, Amit Shah assured the people of Assam that centre won’t touch Article 371, a special provision meant to preserve their culture. Some BJP leaders have said that Hindus among the 1.9 million need not worry. That makes outsiders of Muslims and others, and suggests that being an Indian means being a Hindu (and vice-versa).
Addressed the 68th plenary session of North Eastern Council in Guwahati, Assam.
Modi government is committed for the development of the North East while preserving the culture and language of the region.
Our government respects Article 371 and will not alter it in any way. pic.twitter.com/8BFoknonNy
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) September 8, 2019
After the final NRC in Assam was released, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also announced his plan to implement NRC in his state. He argued that it is necessary so the employment opportunities of the citizens are not compromised due to an influx of migrants.
Whereas Karnataka, who has 4,420 people of Bangladeshi origin, plans to drop out of the NRC. Though it witnessed tensions due to outsiders taking the native job and the consequent problem of cultural engulfment, nonetheless, the major issue of migration in its capital Bengaluru remains more of domestic nature than international displacement.
Prateek Hajela, who led the exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, was recently transferred by the Supreme Court to Madhya Pradesh for “security” reasons. The move comes in the wake of two FIRs lodged against him for “discrepancies” in the final NRC list.
— Bar & Bench (@barandbench) October 18, 2019
Most of these people are poor and illiterate, clueless about the future of their families, and their own identity as Indians. These ‘Stateless Citizens’ have a long fight ahead in proving the legality of their existence, with the Foreign Tribunals as their only option, approaching which can cost them a fortune.
By Shreya Samtani and Sukriti Vats