People excluded from Indian citizens list given time to prove status

The names of more than 1.9 million people living in India’s north-eastern state of Assam did not figure in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on Saturday.

This figure included those who did not file claims.

Most of them are immigrants from neighbouring Muslim-majority Bangladesh, earlier known as East Pakistan.

They have 120 days to appeal against their non-inclusion in NRC at Foreigners Tribunals (FTs). If they lose the appeal, they can move the Assam High Court and then the Supreme Court. No one will be detained until all legal options are exhausted.

The state government has urged them not to panic, instead produce any document available to prove their families lived in India before the cut-off date, March 24, 1971, hours ahead of the liberation of Bangladesh.

Some 10 million Bangladeshi refugees, mostly Hindus, had entered India during the 1971 war with Pakistan and most of them remained in India due to economic and security issues back home.

Waves of migration from Bangladesh (East Pakistan) during the past century had brought a perceptible change in the demographic pattern in some districts of Assam leading to the 1979 agitation as locals felt their jobs and lands were taken away by outsiders. The agitation ended with the signing of the landmark Assam accord that underscored the detection, deletion and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

The order for updating the first NRC in 1951 came from the Supreme Court in 2013 when the Congress-led government was ruling India and the court had been continuously monitoring the process over the past six years.

Political parties upset

While those excluded from NRC face an uncertain future, political leaders cutting across party lines are upset with the final NRC which showed 31.1 million applicants are eligible for inclusion in the citizens list.

Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said many people, especially Hindus, who came to India as refugees before March 24, 1971 were not included in the final citizenship roll while Muslim immigrants living in border districts got their names listed in NRC by manipulating the process.

Sarma is hoping that the Supreme Court will allow re-verification of 20% of people included in the list in districts bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the rest of Assam.

Had the NRC process been flawless, the number of foreigners excluded would have been much higher, he said.

Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner which sought the update of NRC, called final NRC a flawed document.

APW’s president Aabhijeet Sharma wondered whether the software used in updating NRC was capable of handling so much data.
A flawless process would have opened a golden chapter in Assam’s history. That opportunity was wasted and it now appears the problem of illegal immigration will never be resolved in Assam, Sharma said.

Pradip Kumar Bhuyan, the petitioner who approached the Supreme Court to update the NRC, said the government should remove from voters’ list the names of those excluded from NRC till the tribunals and courts decide on their status.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU), which spearheaded the 6-year agitation against foreigners from 1979, said it will move the Supreme Court against the abysmally low figure of exclusion in the final NRC.

Tarun Gogoi, former chief minister of Assam, said the BJP-led government is trying to hoodwink people through NRC.

Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen said NRC has busted the so-called myth of illegal migrants in Assam.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the NRC list is part of the government’s plan to “target Muslims.”