The confusion that Assam is going through over the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was evident when three speakers at a citizens’ meeting ended up citing different figures for the number of people who face losing Indian citizenship.
At the event on Monday, Jamiat Ulama i Hind president Arshad Madani claimed that denying 75 lakh people their rights would turn India into Myanmar. Endorsing him, Assam academic Hiren Gohain said that he would like to put the facts straight — that the number of affected people is 27 lakh and not 75 lakh. Advocate Hafiz Rashid Choudhury then took the microphone and said that according to documents submitted in court by the NRC coordinator in Assam, about 48 lakh people would be affected.
NRC updation has been a contentious issue in Assam for some time now. While the government claims it is an exercise that will weed out illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the opposition and some sections of citizens have been vocal that it would end up denying voting rights to many legitimate Indian citizens, especially women, and rob their children of educational opportunities.
The matter assumed greater gravity after the Gauhati High Court passed an order that certificates of residency issued by panchayats would not be admissible under NRC. The deadline for completion of the exercise is December 31, but after it was recently submitted in court that more than 1 crore verifications are still pending, there are doubts about whether that deadline will be met.
Madani said, “When women got married in remote areas with poor literacy rates and moved from one place to another, procuring identity documents was not always possible. That is why the panchayat pradhan, locally called Bora, issued certificates that were considered valid proof for years in the state through Congress and AGP regimes.
“It was the nation’s misfortune that a BJP government came in the state. In the interim 48 lakh weddings have happened. We are talking about 48 lakh women, their children who will denied the right to vote, the right to education of some 75 lakh people. India doesn’t know what is happening in Assam. It is not a matter of religion. It is a humanitarian crisis that will turn India into Myanmar,”
The Jamiat is very active in Assam, with one of its leaders Badruddin Ajmal running a political party, the All India United Democratic Front, of which Ajmal and his brother are MPs.
While Madani said he had come on the invitation of the Delhi Action Committee for Assam, Gohain, who is one of the members of the committee, said that while he was in agreement with the substance of Madani’s statement, “I would like to put one fact on record. The number is 27 lakh and not 75 lakh. Even 27 lakh is a huge number.”
Speakers talked of what they considered a deliberate attempt to stoke discord in the northeastern state by putting a question mark on the Assam Accord that had accepted with the consent of all political parties that 1971 would be the citizenship cut-off.
Advocate Choudhury said: “The figure submitted in court is 47 lakh people in rural areas and about 68,000 in urban. That is the number we are talking about here. The reality is some people do not want NRC, they just want to keep the issue alive.”
Gohain ruled out meeting the Prime Minister on the issue.