NCHRO Convention on NRC, Citizenship and Dissent:
‘‘Without Coming on Streets, Citizenship Issue Won’t Solve in Assam’’
September 23, 2018
Prominent activists, intellectuals and Assamese representatives at a convention on NRC held at India International Centre here on Sunday organized by the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO), stressed the need of launching people’s struggle for citizenship issue in Assam. They said four million citizens, whose names did not get included in the final draft of NRC, should not be left only on the discretion of the apex court. While demanding the proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 should be immediately dropped; they said it looks like a pilot project of the BJP to divide people on the basis of language and religion as the ruling party has been indulging in false propaganda on the issue.
The convention was of the view 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.
Without positive action by the State to change the discriminatory nationality laws, statelessness will continue being passed on from one generation to the next. A National Human Rights Commission study in January 2018 stated that Assam had six detention centres. The detainees in these centres are not allowed to legally communicate with their family members, no recreation facilities; the inmates are not allowed to work, parole is denied to the detainees even in case of sickness or death of family members. Even as NHRC highlights the “situation of grave and extensive human distress and suffering” in two of these detention centres – in Kokrajhar and Goalpara – the Centre has made no alternative arrangements to house or rehabilitate people who are omitted from the final list.
Nationality and citizenship are fundamental elements of human security because they provide people with a sense of belonging and identity. The NRC has effectively become a political tool in the hands of divisive forces. Fact-finding reports by civil society groups and the media indicate that the NRC process is not free from error or bias. According to several reports, even people with legitimate documents proving their citizenship status have not been registered because of technical reasons such as spelling mistakes or different names being used in the various documents.
Three delegates 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), presented his paper titled: “On the Citizenship and Human Rights Violation in Assam”. 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), presented his paper on “Citizenship issue in Assam: Sons & Daughters of the soil rise together”.
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
Inaugurating the seminar organized by the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO), Ravi Nair, Executive Director of South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center (SAHRDC) 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. Instead of hearing the issue of Constitutional validity of the NRC exercise which was the primary issue, the apex court has now directed to give second chance to prove citizenship.
He further said that the uncertainties and communalization that NRC brought, leading to much anxiety among those affected, as well as every concerned citizen of the country. Why is there a classification amongst citizens of the country where some have to make it to the National Registry of Citizenship where the onus of proving one’s citizenship is on the person who although is a citizen of country as per the constitution, yet has to show evidence to make it to the registry.
Human rights are inherent, indivisible and universal. They are not rewards to be given and taken away. Nor are they time bound or limited by colour, caste or creed. 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 tho Marna Seekho, Qadam Qadam par Marna Seekho”.
In the presidential address, Prof. A. Marx, Chairperson of NCHRO said, “About 40 lakhs of people were excluded in the NRC draft. They were all living in Assam for the past many decades and their parents and their ancestors were there. But only become stateless since they have not been able to produce certain papers. Then what are they (government) going to do with these 40 lakhs people. No idea to the Home Minister and the coordinator of NRC. You don’t have the deportation agreement with Bangladesh and what will happen to them by going to keep these 40 Lakhs people once again in concentration camps.
They (government) have no answers. But the problem is still there. Now, 40 lakhs people are facing harassment. May be some communal violence may happen in future. Because, these people (sangh parivars) are speaking in such a language. The Home Minister and the coordinator of NRC say that they (40 lakhs people) won’t be sent back. Amith Sha and the central government say that we cannot tolerate any criticism in NRC. And they are adamant to implement it. But, how they are going to implement it. That is the question prevailing here. That, we have to address and we have to fight for the rights of these people, who lost their citizenship.
They (40 lakhs people) have worked for India and they have the role in the development of Assam. But, now they (government) are saying that they are not the citizens of India. They have to vacate and they don’t know where to go. That is a very big human rights problem. We have to answer it.
The other issue prevails here is, so many activists were arrested across the country under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the draconian law without any evidence. Their houses were raided. The entire exercise is to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the Nation and to instill fear in the minds of people. The arrests are part of a malicious campaign to threaten human rights defenders, independent journalists, writers and thinkers in this country, from critiquing the government and its policies and an attempt to muzzle dissent. Dissent and protest are basic rights assured in any democracy”.
Manisha Bhalla, the 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. 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 Assam Gana 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 Bill 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.
Adv. A.R. Sikdar said in his paper that the present situation in Assam is the result of cultivation of communal and imperialist conspiracy in Assam on the ground of ethnicity. The citizenship problem is to be addressed with human approach, but not with chauvinistic or communal approach. The Nodal officer of NRC has issued a separate Notification on 02.05.20418 whereby instruction given to his subordinate staff that not to include the brothers, sisters and other family members of Declared Foreigners (DF), who were declared by the Foreigners’ Tribunal, i.e., FT Court.
Actually, the declaration has been being made by the FT Courts with illegalities, disbelieving the dozen of documents by undue interpretation, picking-up minor discrepancies of name, title and age in the voter list and thereby held failure of linkage with parents/brothers or other family members. Therefore, there cannot be any justification to trap the family members by separate proceeding and dropping of those persons from NRC is unjustified. He urged that the arbitrary reference and adjudication of foreigners’ cases may be stopped and cases may be tried exclusively by regular judicial officers, not by the persons appointed on contractual arrangement. He also urged the apex court to take all care so that no genuine Indian citizen is dropped from the NRC so as to minimize the human crisis. (Detailed Paper can be Downloaded here).
Questioning the NRC exercise, Retired Prof. V.K. Tripathi, IIT, Delhi said the amendment of sec. 3 in the Citizenship Act, 1955 in 2003 says any one (i) born between 1950 and 1987, irrespective of 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.
Blaming the two RSS-minded Police officers who sowed the seed of hatred some four decades ago, Prof. Tripathi said he visited Assam and found that most of them who left out from the final draft are from working classes. He said there should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion or language. (Detailed Paper can be Downloaded here).
It is not Indian, but Assamese Nationalism
Dr. Taslim Ahmad Rehmani, National Secretary of SDPI, said it is purely a political issue to deprive downtrodden from political power. He revealed that the inhabitants of Assam are not interested and concerned about Indian nationalism but their focal point is Assamese 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. The four million in Assam who have been unable to prove their citizenship include both Hindus and Muslims, but with the shrill muscular nationalism that the Bharatiya Janata Party promotes, the claim often heard is that these are all illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
What is fact is that this whole exercise has led to millions of current residents of Assam being labeled illegal immigrants and non-Indians. Imagine living in a place for 40 years, creating a family, and then being told you don’t belong to this country. People have a moral obligation to act when they see government injustice, lest their passive acceptance of unjust laws constitute tacit endorsement, he added.
Dr. Abul Bashar, State President, NCHRO Assam Chapter expressed his concerns, “If you think that NRC issue is problem of Assam; we will leave it, you are doing miscalculation. Because, Assam’s present situation is an experiment of sangh parivar. They will take it to other places also, and all over India. You should be very careful about it. This is the part of their divide and rule policy. Don’t give space to their divisive politics. If we all join our hands and raise the voice strongly, definitely the evil designs of the fascists will be defeated”.
E.M. Abdul Rahiman, National Executive Council Member, Popular Front of India added that a human being has the right to life, liberty and security; the right to education, equal protection under the law, the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and to freedom of opinion and expression; and the right to a nationality. Stateless persons are denied all of these rights. Being stateless means that individuals may not even be able to marry or register the births of their own children.
Public expressions of dissent lie at the very heart of representative democracy and our notions of justice. When governments impose unjust laws, they have breached a fundamental condition of the social contract. This is so irrespective of majority support, as the will of the majority does not guarantee respect of natural law. He 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.
Echoing his views, Prof. Apoorvanand, Delhi University said BJP’s intentions are not any secret as its president Amit Shah dubbing all the 4 millions as “are ‘Ghuspaithiye’ – infiltrators or illegal migrants” which is against the ruling of the Court. He said BJP chief’s statement cannot be taken lightly as it seems fanning the fires of hatred for one cause or another. Recalling the speeches of Narendra Modi during run up to 2014 general election, he said first they (BJP) coined ‘Bangladeshi’ term and now ‘Ghuspaithiye’ as BJP’s policies will push the country on the path of disintegration. Along with the spreading of myths and prejudices against ‘others’, is a tool to achieve the goals of the proponents of hate ideology.
Aminul Haq, State General Secretary, NCHRO Assam Chapter 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.(Detailed Paper can be Downloaded Here)
Adv. A. Mohamed Yusuff, National Secretary of NCHRO read out resolutions adopted in the convention.
Adv. Amit Srivastav (Programme Convener, NCHRO), Swati Sinha (Joint Convener) and Ashok Kumari (Delhi Chapter President, NCHRO) also spoke on the occasion. The awakening cultural songs were played by the Sangwari theatre group and Mukesh group during the programme.
As government repression escalates, we must work together to innovate viable ways for protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Most progress can be made when everyone comes together with a shared vision and determination to make positive change. If our representatives are unwilling to convey the views of the public, the recourse is dissent. NCHRO hopes this convention sparks conversation and ignites change to better practices and policies with the wishes and needs of the people. It keeps democracy vibrant.
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.
Resolutions No. 1
Stop Discrimination on the Basis of Religion and Language; Give Amnesty to 4 Mn People and Treat them Indian Citizens; Drop Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016; Terming ‘D’ voters is unconstitutional; Release Victims from Detention Camps
More than four million people of Assam, almost all Bengalis and largely Muslims, are now made stateless after the release of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on July 30, 2018. The home minister as well the coordinator of the NRC, Mr. Prateek Hajela had assured that this is not the final list and those who cannot find their name in the list may appeal again, of course, with relevant documents. The problem is the affected people are mostly illiterate and poor and it will be very difficult for them to follow the tedious procedures that are to be followed by an applicant who has lost his or her documents. An expert says that if a person who lives in Assam, but born in some other state, then the NRC official who process her application has to make about 6,00,000 requests for “legacy verification” to various states. Let us consider that a relevant document of a person such as voter’s list is in Shillong which was once the capital of unified Assam. Shillong is now in Meghalaya and so she has to apply to that government and that government should respond.
The NRC coordinator says that for those whose names are left in the registry one need fear that he or she would be deported. But at the same time the ruling party backs the registry in unequivocal terms saying that, “We firmly denounce any criticism of NRC.” If the government has any idea of deporting those four million people who are left out in the registry then it should remember that just because one state decides that a person is a citizen of another country, the other country is not obligated to accept that determination. Indian government should remember that there is no deportation agreement between India and Bangaladesh. Then what they are going to do with those who are denied citizenship? Are they going to dump all these four million people in concentration camps or detention centres as they are already doing? These are all practical difficulties. Apart from this such a drastic action of making more than four million people lose their legal status as citizens should not be a cause of celebration in a democracy. It will be against our constitutional ethics and international laws and bindings.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 moved by the present government, though now it is shelved temporarily, opens a path to Indian citizenship to Hindu unauthorised migrants from Bangaladesh including those who have come recently. If this proposed amendment becomes a law and creates a distinction between Hindus and other minorities then it would be a clear proof that the motive behind it is purely communal. As Hannah Arendt has put it citizenship is the “right to have rights”. It has become an absolutely necessary to keep his life going on. Depriving a person of f ones citizenship is equivalent to kill him. He cannot get a job, own his little property that he earned through his hard work and so on. We who have assembled in this conference point out that any move by the central and state governments to keep all those four million people left out in NRC in a state of “liminal legality” or detain them in camps or initiate move to deport them is illegal and against our constitutional morality.
We demand that all those four million people left out of the registry should be given amnesty and should be treated as Indian citizens. Our constitution does not permit discriminating people on the basis of religion or language. There should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion or language. The proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 should be immediately dropped. We demand that all those who are incarcerated in detention camps at present should be released immediately. Separating a section of voters as ‘D’ voters is unconstitutional and should be stopped immediately.
Resolutions No. 2:
Stop Arbitrary Arrests; Release Activists; Repeal UAPA
On Aug 28, the Maharashtra police carried out simultaneous raids on the residences of lawyer and national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Sudha Bharadwaj (Faridabad), writer and HR activist Gautam Naulakha (NewDelhi), Dalit intellectual and writer Anand Teltumbde (Goa), activists Susan Abraham and Father Stan Swami (Jharkhand), revolutionary poet Varavara Rao (Hyderabad), lawyer and author Arun Ferreira and Prof Satyanarayana (Hyderabad).
All these people are prominent human rights activists, lawyers and writers and some of them are leading peoples’ rights based movements. During the raids they were harassed by asking unnecessary and silly questions. At last five of them Sudha Barathwaj, Gautam Naulakha, Arun Fereira, Vernon Gonsalves and Vara vara Rao (Hyderabad) were arrested on completely fabricated charges without any credible material and evidence under various provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code.
This is not the only incident in which activists are arrested in the recent past. On June 6, 2018 well known social activists Surendra Gadling, Dalit activist and publisher Sudhir Dhawale, Prof Shoma Sen, Human rights activists Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut were arrested in a broad countrywide swoop and charges were framed against them under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It is said that these activists were responsible for the communal clashes that happened in Beema Koregaon near Pune on 31st December 2017. It is ridiculous and malicious to say that they are inciting communal tension. All these ten activists now arrested are actually working for communal harmony and for the upliftment of Dalits and other downtrodden people. Action against these well respected activists clearly shows that the present government is against Dalit assertion and the growing unity among Dalits, OBC, Minorities and the left. Such a unity was exhibited remarkably during the Beema Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan organised by Elgaar Parishad in Pune. It was some communal and casteist elements very close to the ruling Bhatathiya Janatha Party who attacked the people assembled there on that day. Instead of apprehending those responsible for that attack the Maharashtra government have now arrested the activists who were working for communal amity.
The entire exercise is to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the Nation and to instill fear in the minds of people. The arrests are part of a malicious campaign to threaten human rights defenders, independent journalists, writers and thinkers in this country, from critiquing the government and its policies and an attempt to muzzle dissent. Dissent and protest are basic rights assured in any democracy. As Noami Wolf puts it, invoking a terrifying internal and external enemy, destroying the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution, developing a thug group, setting up internal surveillance system, engaging in arbitrary detentions, targeting key intellectuals and equating dissent with treason are some of the first steps a fascist government takes.
We the people assembled here strongly condemn the arrests of these intellectuals and the raids on their residences. We demand that all those ten intellectuals and activists who are now arrested should be left free immediately. We also demand that the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) should be repealed immediately.
Working behind the scenes Delhi NCHRO Chapter Members led by NCHRO Exco Member, Adv.Ansar Indori contributed in a major way to the success of this gathering. Thank you to everyone involved for making the convention such a success!