On 24th July, 2018, Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill, a progressive multi-ethnic, multi-religious group of Assam held press conference critiquing the Hindu Right and also the Indian Human Rightist groups which have been at the forefront of questioning the NRC process. ‘Forum Against Citizenship Act Amendment Bill’ comprises of a cross section of Assam’s progressive intelligentsia who have a history of challenging the mainstream Nationalistic/Communal Axomiya elite opinions. The Central Executive Committee of the Forum consists of Hiren Gohain (Professor, Guwahati University), Manjit Mahanta, Harekrishna Deka, IPS (Retd); Prof. Udayaditya Bharali (Retd. Principal, Cotton College); J.P. Saikia, IAS (Retd); Dr. Dinesh Baishya (Retd. Principal, B Barooah College); Haidar Hussain (Eminent Journalist); Dr. Haren Das (Sr. Advocate, Guwahati High Court); Debabrata Das (Literature); Prof. Abdul Mannan; Dr. Dilip Bora (Prof. Guwahati University); Holiram Terang (Former Minister and Tribal Leader); Jiban Goswami (Retd. Sr. Bank Executive); Dr. Navanil Barua (Renowned Surgeon); Abu Nasar Sayeed Ahmed (Literature); Deben Tamuli (Journalist); Santanu Borthakur (Advocate, Guwahati High Court); Kishor Kumar Kalita (Advocate & Columnist); Dhiren Ingti (Tribal Leader);Manoj Sarma (Social Activist); Krishna Gogoi (Advocate) and Rasel Hussain (Entrepreneur)
Ever since the BJP government at the centre launched the Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) in parliament, the process of updating the National Register of Citizens(NRC), which has been going on under the monitoring of the Supreme Court, has been waylaid by one road-block after another.
The NRC updating is the direct result of a consensus of leading ethnic groups, including Muslims of immigrant origin, reached more than thirty years ago, to bring to an end the climate of terrible uncertainty, bloody conflict, vicious hatred and mistrust centring around the issue of citizenship in Assam. This noble attempt at conflict resolution had been promoted by various civil society groups and left and democratic parties. And the key point of the consensus was acceptance of 24th March 1971 as the cut-off date for the legitimate claim to citizenship, a date and year that earlier immigrant Muslim organizations had vehemently rejected. The consensus that was reached later improved the social environment of the state greatly and restored social peace and harmony here in Assam. The NRC was a product of this democratic consensus-building that the Supreme Court and the government had come to accept.
But in a backward state like Assam, where among certain sections of people awareness of law and legal formalities was poor due to lack of education and government negligence, the process was bound to be very complex and liable to confusion and misuse. Hence the NRC has resulted in confusion here and there, harassment and perhaps denial of due rights in some cases. But all that could not be construed as deliberate and planned. Rather, mechanical and bureaucratic approach had led to hardships for many of the affected people.
It is also a fact that the governments at the centre and the state, bound to their determination to grant citizenship en bloc to Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh, apparently find the NRC a serious obstacle to this plan of theirs. Hence, they appear to be creating all sorts of legal hurdles and distractions on the course of NRC updating process.
Both the government and certain circles close to the government has been expressing alarm about the outcome of the NRC in a sensational manner. Great disorder and breaches of peace had been openly apprehended by them before the publication of the of the first incomplete draft of the NRC on 31st December 2017. But at that time all sections of people in Assam in spite of the difficulties they faced maintained peace, putting to shame the prophets of doom.
Now that the complete draft of the NRC is nearing completion and publication, there is an uproar from certain linguistic and religious bodies from outside the state that publication of NRC will result in catastrophic violence and disorder.
We believe that such propaganda is designed to torpedo the process of updating NRC as a bulwark of social peace and harmony in Assam. Further, we are convinced that knowingly or unwillingly, these will frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the indigenous peoples of Assam for a secure existence of their identity and culture. We have always opposed and condemned chauvinism of any community, striven for justice and peace among people.
It must be put on record that the consensus on NRC makes no distinction on the basis of language, religion or ethnicity for people who could prove their credentials from before the cut-off date of 24th March 1971. To portray the process of NRC as against any particular linguistic or religious community is therefore to subvert the very basis of social harmony and established democratic values.
We, therefore, feel compelled to express our deep reservation about the Fact-Finding Report by the group “United Against Hate” as ill-conceived, hasty and damaging. The report conflates the NRC with activities of Foreigners’ Tribunal, and the Election Commission’s direction to mark certain people without valid documents as “D-Voters”. It is true that the government pressure may be behind the recent hyper-active role of the Border Police and Foreigners’ Tribunals towards the fag-end of the process of preparing the updated NRC, resulting in serious hardship for many people. These issues should be addressed to protect people from arbitrary and harsh bureaucratic handling of cases. But such issues have nothing to do with the legitimacy of the NRC.
As for the wildly sensational claims of the online campaign by AVAAZ, a New York based web-portal, it is definitely aimed at creating an ominous situation. Without considering the facts in an objective, impartial manner it goes on to declare that the publication of the final draft “will lead to mass violence, ethnic cleansing and the transfer of minority Muslims to prison camps for life.” It claims 70 lakh Muslim names would be “deleted” from NRC.
We consider this fantastic claim outrageous and extremely harmful. It ignores the fact that lakhs of Muslims were included in the first incomplete draft of the NRC, and that the authorities have repeatedly declared that there would be plenty of room for correction and revision of the complete draft, based on proper evidence. We appeal to all not to heed such mischievous appeals, which are in character not different from fake warnings on “child lifters” issued on social media which at times lead to grievous violence.
We will stand united for a peaceful, democratic, just future for our troubled state.