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Human Rights

Common documents enough to prove citizenship: Home Ministry

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday said guidelines for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) were yet to be drafted but Citizenship of India may be proved by giving any document relating to date of birth or place of birth or both.

“Such a list is likely to include a lot of common documents to ensure that no Indian citizen is unduly harassed or put to inconvenience,” a Ministry spokesperson said.

Indian citizens do not have to prove any ancestry by presenting documents such as identity card, birth certificate etc of parents/grandparents dating back to pre-1971 situation. March 24, 1971 was the cut-off date for Assam’s NRC conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court as per the Assam Accord, 1985, and was not related to countrywide citizens’ register. According to the Citizenship Act, anyone born on or after 26 January, 1950, but before 1 July, 1987 was an Indian citizen by birth. “The people born between these years are naturalised citizens by now and would be having some kind of document as a proof of their birth here,” the spokesperson said.

Nineteen lakh people, out of 3.29 crore applicants, were excluded from Assam’s NRC that was published on August 31.

The spokesperson said, “For illiterate citizens, who may not have any documents, the authorities may allow them to produce witnesses or local proofs supported by members of the community. A well laid out procedure will be followed.”

A senior Home Ministry official said each application received online under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) would be checked and enquired by officials, as the final decision to grant citizenship rested with the Centre. There would be no time restriction to apply under the CAA. Though the rules for the CAA were yet to be framed, it could not override legislation passed by Parliament on December 11, which did not have any provision of fixing a window to apply.

The CAA allows citizenship on the basis of religion to undocumented non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. There are apprehensions that the Act, followed by a country-wide NRC would benefit non-Muslims excluded from the citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship.

On being asked as to how the authorities would prove that these people fled the three countries due to religious persecution, the official said, “that is a cause of concern. There is no such proof, we will see.”

NPR to be compiled next year

No separate legislation was required to compile the NRC, as the provision existed under the Citizenship Act when it was amended in December 2004. The NRC’s precursor- the National Population Register (NPR) would be compiled next year, he said.

The third phase of the NPR, a register of usual residents of the country who had been staying at a particular place for the past six months, would be conducted in September 2020 along with the Census exercise. The NPR database would contain demographic as well as biometric particulars. The exercise was conducted in two phases, in 2010 and 2015. It was mandatory for every usual resident of India to register with the NPR.

The NRC was the next step of the NPR. After the NRC ended, citizens would be given unique cards, the official said.

The State governments, he noted, have no powers to reject the implementation of the CAA, the NPR or the NRC. Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have announced that the CAA was “unconstitutional” and had no place in their States. The West Bengal government stopped the NPR exercise through an order this week.

“The power to grant citizenship to district collectors has been delegated by the Centre. The CAA changes the provision and it can be vested back with Central authorities like the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). This is not to minimise the role of the district collectors but the process is anyway online,” the official said. (The Hindu)

Indigenous no-state people

Assam NRC: 4 million missing names catch attention of US State Department

The four million people in Assam who have been left out of the final draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) have caught the attention of the US State Department. A 55-page report gives extensive description of human rights abuses in India vis-à-vis the minority community and vulnerable sections of the society and includes reference to the BJP leadership and government ministers.

The Hindu stated that the report mentioned about BJP president Amit Shah who had stated on September 24 last year that the Bangladeshis present in Assam are “termites whose names will be struck out from the citizens’ register”. The US State Department report also highlighted that the four million people of Assam whose names were missing from the final draft NRC face “uncertain citizenship status”.

The report also documented that refugees and internally displaced persons need more effective legal safeguards to prevent human rights abuse.

Indigenous no-state people

NRC Coordinator Under Fire For His Suggestion To SC

Guwahati: NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela has come under fire from the ruling and opposition parties for suggesting to the Supreme Court to curtail the number of documents required to prove Assamese identity for the claims and objections process.
The apex court on September 5 had deferred till further orders the commencement of the process of receiving claims and objections for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and sought the Centre’s response on the suggestion that any one of the 10 documents can be used by claimants to prove legacy.
A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman had perused the report of Assam’s NRC coordinator and said it was agreeable to his suggestions that any one of the 10 of a total 15 documents provided in List-A of the claim form can be used by the claimants to prove legacy.
Leader of Opposition in Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia has sought Hajela’s removal for suggesting to the apex court to dispense with the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters’ lists of Assam while dealing with claims and objections relating to omission of over 40 lakh names from the complete draft of the NRC published on July 30.
The Congress leader, in a press release, said the eligibility criteria framed for the NRC by various stakeholders, including the government, had specifically listed the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters’ lists as the first two among the important documents for the purpose of verification and these were even mentioned in the relevant part of the Rules, 2003. “It is consequently logical to attribute a malafide motive to Hajela’s arbitrary recommendation to drop these two important documents from the verification process,” he alleged.
Many people, especially those with economic and educational backwardness, did not anticipate that a day would come when the presence of the names of their ancestors in the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voters lists would not be sufficient to prove their citizenship, the opposition leader said.
Changing the eligibility criteria at such an advanced stage of the NRC process is against the demands of natural justice, the Congress leader said.
The opposition leader urged all parties involved in the ongoing NRC-related proceedings in the Supreme Court to keep this aspect in view while submitting their views on Hajela’s proposal at the next date of hearing. Congress MLA Kamalakhaya Dey Purkayastha has demanded Hajela’s arrest for making this suggestion. “He has gone against the interest of the people. The NRC is not his personal document but for the public, for Assam,” he told reporters.
Another opposition party, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), has also opposed Hajela’s suggestions with its party general secretary Aminul Islam terming the recommendation as “unethical and biased”. “There seems to be political pressure behind this suggestion. If the 1951 NRC is not accepted, then what is being updated,” he asked.
Criticising the NRC state coordinator’s suggestion, the general secretary of the state unit of the ruling BJP Dilip Saikia claimed it has complicated the situation at a time when the names of lakhs of Indian Gorkhas, Bengalis, Hindi-speaking people and those from several other communities were left out of the NRC draft.
“In view of this, BJP state chief Ranjit Kumar Dass and other party leaders will discuss with our party national leadership in Delhi about Hajela’s role in this matter, inclusion of the missing names of genuine Indian citizens in the complete NRC and the future action to be taken,” Saikia said in a press release here Friday.
Hajela had filed the report in compliance with the court’s August 28 order and stated that the 10 documents of List-A could be relied upon or introduced afresh by any claimant for his or her claim for inclusion in the NRC, subject to their authenticity as per the certification by the relevant issuing authority.
The ten legacy documents which are admissible include land documents like registered sale deed, permanent residential certificate issued from outside the state, passport and LIC insurance policy of the relevant period.
Voluntary organisation Assam Public Works (APW) president Abhijit Sarma, who had filed the petition in the apex court in 2009 for updation of the NRC, had demanded engagement of a third party to assist in the monitoring of the update process.
The APW president said a third party will give direct feedback from the field to the court, which is monitoring the entire NRC update process, as the officers engaged in verifying the process are not permitted to report the anomalies because they are government officials, Sarma said. “Unless the third party’s assessments are taken into account, it wont be possible to correct the mistakes already committed in the process, Sarma said in a press release.
Hajela could not be reached as he has been censured by the Supreme Court for talking to the media. His mandate is only to update the NRC and not brief the press about it, the court had observed. (PTI)

Human Rights, Politics

A Crackdown on Minorities: Gross HR violation in NE India


Even before the family introduce themselves by name, they produce a thick file with documents that go back 80 years. “Evidence before conversation,” the youngest son says as he arranges chairs outside his village house for the large family and visitors. “We are Indians. We’ll show you proof.”

Shajahan Ali Ahmed, a 29-year-old social worker, part-time journalist and YouTuber, displays the documents out on a plastic table in the middle of his courtyard. Here are the names of the grandfather, father, mother, and brothers on the electoral lists for decades. Here are tattered land deeds from 1934 issued in the sweeping cursive of a British colonial bureaucrat. Here—laminated with pride—is Shajahan’s college certificate. Sisters’ birth certificates. Brothers’ school admission cards. Driving licenses. Paperwork tracing the lifetime of an Indian family.

And yet, nearly every member of Shajahan’s family is on the brink of losing his or her Indian citizenship—along with 4 million other people in the northeastern state of Assam, excluded from a draft list of citizens released by the Indian government on July 30. “I’m not even sure what that would mean,” says Shajahan’s older brother Humayun Islam, a vegetable vendor. “What would it be to not be Indian?”

The diverse state of Assam, one of India’s main tea-growing areas, is the doorway to northeast India. It borders Bangladesh and in this state alone, there is a list called the National Register of Citizens (NRC). First made in 1951, the government began updating it in 2015.

The citizenship drive in Assam is the biggest of its kind in India, and perhaps the world. Nearly 33 million people here have been trying to prove that they, or their ancestors, were in the state before March 24, 1971, one day before the Bangladesh War of Independence began. Conceived of by other parties, but now led by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the update of the citizens list is an attempt to detect undocumented immigrants. Those on the list are deemed genuine Indian citizens, under conditions more stringent than the rest of India.

For three years, millions of people have been submitting dog-eared, yellowing land and identity documents in Assamese, Bengali and English. They logged online to access digitised census back-data that goes back over 60 years. Households have had to trace their ancestors, find paperwork linking them, and submit intricate family trees listing siblings and grandchildren over four generations. NRC officials conducted more than 900,000 hearings with large families to identify, and thus verify, each other as descendants of the same ancestor.

The process was expected to finally settle the issue of migrants from Bangladesh. But in the process, the NRC has brought to the fore some of Assam’s deepest social divides—exacerbated by the religious rhetoric of the current Hindu majoritarian ruling party. The mammoth bureaucratic exercise now risks pushing millions to statelessness.

On July 30, officials released the list of citizens at a press conference and sang the Assamese state anthem along with local journalists, heads held high. Twelve percent of applicants didn’t make the cut. The NRC does not provide a demographic breakdown, but within a week, it was clear that most of those excluded were Bengali-speakers, both Hindus and Muslims. (There are Bengali speaking communities on both sides of the border.) The Indian Minister for Home Affairs said people would be able to appeal their exclusion. No one would be subject to punitive action, detention or deportation, he added — at least not yet.

Other countries’ attempts to redefine what constitutes nationhood have created controversy. When the Dominican Republic in 2013 retroactively stripped 200,000 persons of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said it was arbitrary and in violation of international treaties to target persons of a certain descent and make the migratory status of parents a condition for nationality.Meanwhile, the debate around citizenship for DREAMers revolves around how undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children should be treated.

In India, too, this register has polarized debate in Assam state and across the country. But few questions have been asked about the fundamental idea of stripping the nationality of a people half a century after they laid roots in India, and of generations who have spent their entire lives there. Not only does India have no treaty with Bangladesh about returning the millions of “illegals” Assam says it will weed out, but it also has no clear plan to deal with future migration from the porous border, except for strengthening vigilance.

Though monitored by the highest court of India, Assam’s exercise has received criticism. Human rights groups see parallels tonearby Myanmar stripping the Rohingya of nationality, claiming they were migrants from Bangladesh. They fear the NRC sets India on a similar path.“Assam has long sought to preserve its ethnic identity, but rendering millions of people stateless is not the answer,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Officials in Assam vehemently reject such comparisons. But in the state today, the average Assamese will conflate local and immigrant Bengalis, and speak of them“taking over.” They will speak about protecting Assamese identity with an urgency that reveals a history of deep tensions. It’s why Bengali Muslims like Shahjahan grow up with the fear of being seen as a “foreigner”; it’s why his family carefully preserves a shelf-full of paperwork.

Activists of All Assam Students' Union (AASU) take part in a torch light procession in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 proposal to provide citizenship or stay rights to minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India, in Guwahati on May 14, 2018.

Activists of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) take part in a torch light procession in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 proposal to provide citizenship or stay rights to minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India, in Guwahati on May 14, 2018. Biju Boro—AFP/Getty Images

As borders in this region were drawn and redrawn over a century—creating East Bengal, then East Pakistan, and finally Bangladesh—Assamese and Bengali relations gradually soured. The resentment first began when the British colonialists wooed Bengalis through land and jobs to a region with largely Bodo tribes and Assamese-speakers. Different groups clashed over limited resources, and cultural and linguistic primacy.

Eventually, it became a question of who has the right to Assam, and to India. Riots and state-run anti-immigration programs by various parties, including the Indian National Congress, have often targeted Bengali-speaking Muslims and Hindus who have lived in the region for generations.Violence reached its peak during a six-year anti-outsider agitation in the ‘80s, known as the Nellie Massacre. Machete-wielding Assamese youth killed 2,191 “suspected immigrants”—all descendants of migrated Bengali Muslims—in one February morning.

More recently, there is palpable alarm about the growing Muslim population—rising from 28 to 34 percent of the state population from 1991 to 2011, according to the last census. (Some experts ascribe this to higher birth rates among illiterate and poor Muslims, rather than to illegal migration from Bangladesh.)

Many Indians have praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party for updating the NRC. The federal and state governments budgeted $175 million for the policy, which was a crucial plank leading to the BJP’s victory for the first time in Assam in 2016. Initially, it was widely believed that those left off the list would be immediately deported; in late July, the federal government even approved funds for a detention camp, saying the six temporary ones are getting overcrowded.

But opposition figures across in India have criticized the NRC for bureaucratic gaffes and possible discrimination against Bengali-speaking locals. Four Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations have expressed serious concerns about potential “wrongful exclusion.”Amnesty International asked that families not be “torn apart,” and the rights of those at risk of becoming stateless not be violated. Now, as some BJP politicians demand prompt expulsion and others assure a fair process, it’s unclear what exactly will happen to those who fail to reclaim their citizenship when the process is finally complete.

They may have to face opaque and corrupt Foreigners Tribunals, run by the state’s Home department, before they are thrown in detention camps. In 2013, Ainul Hoque, 40, was declared Indian by a tribunal but two years later, was questioned over his status again by the police—he faces trial again. As a result, he and his children have been excluded from the NRC. “How many times should I prove I’m Indian?” Hoque asks, slapping his forehead with a stack of documents. A rice farmer in Assam’s river islands, Hoque has a birth certificate showing we was born in India. Floods and erosion have displaced his family eight times. “I accept nature’s fury, and god’s wrath,” he says. “But I don’t know what to do when my own country wants to throw me out.”

Social activists hold posters during a protest following the publication of a draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Kolkata on August 1, 2018.

Social activists hold posters during a protest following the publication of a draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Kolkata on August 1, 2018. Dibyangshu Sarkar—AFP/Getty Images

The registry seeks to be neutral, but it is saddled with Assam’s identity wars. Village-level officials undertaking the NRC have been accused of acting on their own biases. Hasina Ahmed, a 28-year-old woman from Alipur Char village, said an official rejected the village link certificate she submitted as proof of lineage. “He said it looked fake,” she says. Subsequently, a higher official cleared it as authentic. The NRC village offices allowed Assamese women to submit the same document with no verification. “They’re original inhabitants,” an official in Barpeta explains to TIME, citing a category that no longer officially exists.

The state’s ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government is also trying to infuse the local desire to expel foreigners with its own anti-Muslim agenda. In 2016, it tried to amend laws in parliament to relax citizenship requirements for only non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries including Bangladesh. Assam erupted in protest against it. “We have no religious bias. We don’t want Bengali Hindu immigrants either,” says former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, leader of the Assamese nationalist Asom Gana Parishad, an ally of the BJP government in Assam.

Assamese society largely supports the NRC, but are sharply divided on whether it is fair. Despite the longstanding tensions, most people here criticize the idea of driving out Muslims. At the same time, they believe the changes migration has wrought in the region must be reversed in some way.

Today, as people excluded get ready to appeal to the NRC, Assamese nationalist groups are beginning a new fight. “We have estimated that there are 5 million illegals,” says Palash Changmai, the general secretary of an influential Assamese students union, mentioning an unsubstantiated number popularly quoted in anti-foreigner rhetoric. “The list has excluded only 4 million. Where are the rest? We know where they are.”

Self-appointed border-guards in neighboring Meghalaya and West Bengal are randomly stopping people at state borders, claiming to prevent an influx of the declared foreigners. Undeterred by the NRC’s flaws, some groups of Indian nationalists are demanding such an exercise for the entire country to root out “infiltrators.” This would put millions in India under risk of losing their nationality, like the Rohingya did in Myanmar, or face perpetual harassment in the name of citizenship.

Even with the NRC list, all sides remain anxious. But the stakes are highest for those finally excluded. They face a bleak limbo in detention camps. It could uproot tens of thousands, and split up families. Anita Barman, a 49-year-old Bengali Hindu teacher who did not make the list, has little hope for the appeals process. “What will they do with us in the end?” she asks in frustration. “Drown us in the sea? Send us to a country I have not even seen in my imagination? Leave us at the border with nothing?”

The Hindu