On Saturday, the final list of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) excluded names of over 19 lakh applicants. A total of 3.30 crore applicants had applied to be included in the NRC. Who are the applicants who were not included in the NRC, and where do they go from here?
Why is it called an “updated” NRC?
Witness to decades of migration from Bangladesh — formerly East Bengal and then East Pakistan — Assam already has an NRC, which was published in 1951 on the basis of that year’s Census. The only state with such a document, Assam is currently updating it to identify its citizens.
The update, mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court, is a fallout of the Assam Accord of 1985, which sets March 24, 1971 as the cutoff date for citizenship. Those who entered Assam before that date are recognised as citizens.
But was there not an updated NRC last year itself?
That was a draft, published in July 2018. In that list, 2.89 crore residents were included as Indian citizens, while 40 lakh were left out. After that, those who were left out were allowed to file claims for inclusion. Meanwhile, citizens had the option of filing objections against anyone who they felt was wrongly included. Earlier this year, NRC authorities put out an additional exclusion list, with 1 lakh individuals, who had originally been included in the NRC draft but were later found eligible. Saturday’s NRC is the result of all those included an excluded.
Does this mean that the 19 lakh are illegal migrants?
Not necessarily. They still have the option of appealing. They can approach, within a deadline, a Foreigners Tribunal with a certified copy of the rejection order from the NRC, along with the grounds for appeal. In addition to the 100 existing Foreigners Tribunals, 200 more will be functional soon, state government officials said. If the applicant loses their case before such a Tribunal, he or she can appeal in the High Court, and then the Supreme Court if necessary. Someone who is not only excluded from the final NRC but also loses his or her case in a Foreigners Tribunal, however, faces possible arrest, and the prospect of being sent to a detention centre.
How do those excluded back up their claims for inclusion?
They will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971. This is the cutoff date in the Assam Accord of 1985, agreed upon by the Centre, the state and the All Assam Students’ Union, at the end of a six-year movement against migration from Bangladesh.
Surviving citizens from the 1951 NRC are automatically eligible for inclusion in the updated version. So are descendants of the survivors and of the deceased — provided that they can prove their lineage. Linkage to the 1951 NRC is, however, not compulsory. Going by the cutoff under the Assam Accord, anyone who figured in electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or who are descendants of such citizens, are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC. Various other documents are admissible — such as birth certificates and land records — as long as these were issued before the cutoff date.
Wouldn’t those rejected have already submitted such papers?
Since the NRC includes only those who could establish their linkage to March 24, 1971 or earlier, it would suggest that the excluded 19 lakh submitted papers that were not enough to establish this linkage. Those who were rejected on the basis of submitted papers will face an additional concern, for they could face rejection again if they submit the same papers a second time. They face the task of finding documents other than those that were rejected.
If even legal recourse fails for those excluded, will they be deported?
Although the Assam movement was for deportation, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam. The state also has six detention camps (with plants to build more) for illegal migrants within existing jails, and proposes to build a seventh with a capacity for 3,000. These cannot, however, be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into lakhs.
If not deported or detained in a camp, how would life change for the finally excluded individuals?
They would officially be non-citizens, but what happens to them remains a grey area. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons, Home Ministry sources said. The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education. There have been suggestions in Assam that they be given work permits — Home Ministry sources said that this may come under consideration — but certain sections have been opposing this idea, too.
But aren’t there policies for refugees?
Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee. India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls. For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits. Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.
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