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Fear of statelessness haunts thousands rejected by NRC in Assam

A file photo of villagers checking the final NRC.   | Photo Credit: Anupam Nath

The fear of statelessness among in Assam has a name now.

Almost everyone in Kamrup district’s Goroimari block knows this name — of 50-year-old Jabeda Begum, declared a foreigner in western Assam’s Baksa district — that has become the template of despair for those left out of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Also read | Assam’s NRC exercise: The registry test of citizenship

Most of some 21,700 households across 75 villages in this block have at least one member left out of the NRC published on August 31, 2019. “Moktar, Joinal, Akbar Ali, Mirchan Nessa... their documents may be considered as they are among one or two members of their families excluded from the list. What will happen to us when they (courts) are rejecting 15-16 documents?” said Jochhon Ali, a farmer whose 31-member family does not figure in the NRC.

The number is a reference to Ms. Begum, who submitted 15 documents, including PAN card, land revenue receipt and bank passbook but did not pass muster for the Gauhati High Court to overrule the order of a Foreigners Tribunal (FT) declaring her a foreigner of the “post-March 1971 stream”. The court dismissed her petition on February 12.

March 25, 1971 is the cut-off date for detecting and deporting foreigners or illegal immigrants, or “Bangladeshis”, according to the Assam Accord of August 15, 1985.

Also read | Assam’s NRC-excluded wait anxiously six months after publication of final list

Since finding themselves among the 19.06 lakh NRC-rejects, Mr. Ali and his three brothers have been trying to salvage any document they might have missed while applying for inclusion in the NRC. But the case of Ms. Begum, who has been absconding after the dismissal of her petition, has made Mr. Ali and thousands like him lose hope as the NRC authorities prepare to issue rejection slips.

The Assam government told the Assembly a few days ago that such slips may be issued from March 30 onwards. A rejected person has to appeal his or her case in a quasi-judicial FT within 120 days of receiving this slip citing the reasons for exclusion.

“What can we show beyond those we have already shown? What will stop them from finding fault with the fresh documents we submit?” said petty trader Jamaluddin. All 26 members of his family were excluded because his father’s name had minor alphabetical changes in different “admissible” documents possibly due to clerical errors.

Also read | Don’t send children excluded from Assam NRC to detention camps: Supreme Court

The NRC authority had during the updating exercise listed 14 documents as admissible. These included the NRC of 1951, which Ms. Begum had submitted (of her parents), electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971, land and revenue records, citizenship certificate and refugee registration certificate.

An additional list of admissible documents includes ration card and certificate from circle officer of Gram Panchayat secretary in case of married women.

Also read | Scrap updated NRC, Assam government urges Centre

“The apprehension is understandable. When those running the system are determined not to accept any document, nothing you show will really matter. And the excluded will have to go the FTs, which will be like jumping from the frying pan to the fire,” All Assam Minority Students’ Union president Rejaul Karim Sarkar told The Hindu.

Each FT is headed by a member, who is either a retired judge or bureaucrat with judicial experience or an advocate with at least seven years of practice. Assam had in August 2019 appointed 221 members for 200 FTs to be added to the existing 100 for handling the cases of the NRC-excluded.

Also read | Assam NRC authority seeks details of ‘ineligible persons’

In September 2019, the Amnesty International had cited an Assam government’s assessment report that said members are retained or fired depending upon how many people they mark as foreigners.

Bengali Hindus, believed to be the second-largest group after Bengali Muslims to be left out of the NRC, are losing hope too despite the perception that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) will shield them from rejection by the FTs.

“Many NRC-rejected Bengali Hindus have been living in Assam before 1971. The CAA is no guarantee for their inclusion, as they will first have to declare themselves as refugees who entered Assam between 1971 and 2014, which they are not,” said Kamal Chakraborty of Unconditional Citizenship Demand Committee based in southern Assam’s Silchar, a Bengali-dominated town.

“It will be a long legal battle for them, perhaps never-ending, that will kill them and their descendants financially and psychologically,” Mr. Chakraborty said.

Mr. Sarkar agreed. “No matter how long it takes, we will fight it out in the courts, our last hope,” he said.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 4:56:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/fear-of-statelessness-haunts-thousands-rejected-by-nrc-in-assam/article31077342.ece

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