Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation

National Register of Citizens-A Fight for Indigenous Identity in Assam

Assam, the land of SrimantaSankardeva which had never been taken over by invaders in history, is now fighting a battle for its identity against disguised invaders in the form of immigrants. This decade old struggle seems to be reaching to its deserved destination. With the publication of second draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) on 30th July, 2018, where by nearly forty lakh people have been left out to find place in the draft.People left out still have a chance to make claim and objections till 30th August, 2018. Since this “external aggression” is a cause of great concern for demographic and economic disturbances not only for Assam but for unity, integrity and security of India, it is pertinent to excavate the truth of this illegal Bangladeshi infiltration in eastern Indian states and the driving forces behind it to demolish the discourse of ‘Human Rights of Refugees’ and the vicious theory of ‘Economic Migration’ constructed by some passionate Indian liberal intelligentsia and those vested with interests of votebank politics to dent our national interests.

On May 16, The1946 Cabinet Mission Plan arbitrarily announced to group British Indian states in A, B & C categories. Assam was kept in Group C with Bengal, creating a predominantly Muslim zone in eastern India like the one proposed to be setup in western India. Actually, Muslim League always had a devilish eye on Assam, Jinnah himself declared in a meeting in Guwahati way back in 1940 that Assam was in his pocket. It was Gopinath Bardoloi who exposed these intentions of League and its leader Syed Saadullah, Prime Minister of Assam (Chief Minister) and toppled his government. He rose to become the Chief Minister and rejected this scheme of Cabinet Mission Plan and fought to retain the indigenous character of Assam and prevented it from being a part of Islamic State of Pakistan with the support of Mahatma Gandhi. In a report submitted to the President of India on 8th November, 1998, Lt. General SK Sinha, the then Governor of Assam has, after a detailed analysis,stated that a concerted effort was made to encourage the migration of Bengali Muslims into Assam for political reasons during Syed Saadullah’s Muslim League Ministry. To this effect Lord Wavell wrote in his Viceroy’s Journal, “The chief political problem is the desire of the Muslim ministers to increase this immigration into the uncultivated government lands under the slogan of “Grow More Food”but what they are really after is “Grow More Muslims”.

In pursuance of this problemRohini Kumar Chaudhary, Constituent Assembly member from Assam, on 12th August, 1949 vehemently argued against granting citizenship to those who have infiltrated in Assam. He quoted newspaper reports in the Constituent Assembly as documents specifying Muslim League’s confession of at least 3 lakh Muslim infiltrators in Assam; he urged the political establishment to take greater care of Assam due to infiltration.

On the same day, Dr. Ambedkar assured the house that Parliament in its wisdom would look into the illegal migration in Assam and secure the rightof the native Assamese. Later on, theinterim Parliament passed a law called “The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950” to protect the cultural and social interests of native Assamese which empoweredcentral government to remove any person who had come into Assam from outside India, and whose “…stay in Assam is detrimental to the interests of the general public of India or of any section thereof or of any Scheduled Tribe in Assam”,but it excluded those Hindu Refugees who came amidst riots in Bangladesh seeking refuge.

Then, thelarge-scale migration during the 1971 war made the situation worse; in 1978 Mangaldoi Parliamentary Constituency in Assam registered an increase of 70, 000 new voters in just one year. This triggered an agitation in the entire state, All Assam Students Union (ASSU) and Assam Gan Sangram Parishad led this movement; it took more than 800 sacrifices of native Assamese to compel the Union Government tosign Assam Accord on 15th August 1985 at 3 AM in the morning.In order to incorporate the Accord in the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 an Amendment in the form of Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1986 was brought to add Section 6A in the Act. As per this amendment those persons who came after January 1, 1966, but before midnight of March 25, 1971, were to get citizenship upon registration at the expiry of 10 years after their detection as foreigners and those who entered after March 25, 1971, upon identification under the “Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act, 1983”, were to be deported.

The IMDT Act, 1983 replaced The Foreigners Act, 1946 in the state of Assam, but technically it provided a cushion to Bangladeshi immigrants by altering the conditions of detection of foreigners in Assam. The IMDT Act, shifted the burden of proof on the complainant himself to prove that an individual against whom he has complaint is an illegal immigrant, stipulations such as only neighbors within 3 km radius can complain, 10 rupees fee, production of a ration card to prove his Indian citizenship as sufficientetc., made the Act helpful for Bangladeshi immigrants and resulted in less than 0.1% convictions. Actually,the IMDT Act was nothing but one more attempt to protect the interests of the infiltrators by the then Congress regime in powerwith a sheer vote-bank motive.

Ultimately,the Hon’ble Supreme Court has struck down this Act in 2005 due to its arbitrary nature and being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution in SarbanandaSonowal vs Union Of India &Anr, on July 12, 2005, expressing great concern over demographic changes in Assam.Further, in 2007, the court quashed “The Foreigners (Tribunals for Assam) Order, 2006”, which put the onus of proving a person a foreigner on the complainant as well (Sonowal II, December 5, 2006).

In the spirit to detect, delete and deportthe Union Government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeein 2003 enacted “The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003” which in Section 4 of the Act provided for a National Register of Citizens (NRC). In pursuance of this, Assam Public Works (NGO) filed a writ petition in Supreme Court demanding upgradation of NRC and deportation of illegal migrants in Assam. In December, 2014 by an interim order, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has directed for updating NRC in a time-bound manner under its supervision,taking 25th March, 1971 as a cut-off date. This marathon exercise resulted in the release of first draft on midnight of 31st December, 2017 and second draft on 30th July to move towards achieving the objective ofAssam freefrom illegal immigrants.

Now, even today there is a continuous attempt to derail this entire NRC exercise by giving it a religious and linguistic angle, a subtle defense is being created for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants by making it an issue of Bengali and non-Bengali speaking people, firstly no Bengali speaking people or Hindi-speaking Bihari laborers are required to give proof of their citizenship in Assam before 1971, they are only required to get a verification from their respective home states, any Indian citizen from any part of the country can live anywhere in India so can a Bengali speaking individual in Assam. This is not at all a linguistic issue. Secondly, an argument is raised that proposed “Citizenship Amendment, Bill 2016” will give citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus in Assam, it is against the secular credentials of India, excludes Muslims and is unconstitutional because if Hindu Refugees from Bangladesh can be given citizenship they why can’t the Muslim Bangladeshis be accepted in Assam.

First of all, many prominent Constituent Assembly members like Pt. Thakurdas Bhargava, Sardar Bhopinder Singh Man, Prof.ShibbanLal Saxena on 11th and 12thAugust, 1949 raised their voice for giving citizenship to Hindus and Sikhs across the globe considering India as their only homeland quite similar to “Israeli Law of Return” though the idea failed the “secular” litmus test and was vetoed by Pt. Nehru. Secondly, it will be pertinent to refer to “Nehru-Liyaqat Pact” signed on 8th April, 1950 which ensures the rights of minorities in both the countries.

All of us know that the first Law Minister of India was a Dalit but very few of us know that the first law minister of Pakistan was also a Dalit, his name was Jogendra Nath Mandal and it is tragic that same Mandal who helped Muslim League getting districts like Sylhet in Assam by mobilizing his support in their favor died as a refugee in the Indian state of West Bengal. The death of first law Minister of Pakistan as a refugee in India is a testimony to the failure of Pakistan (either in East or in West) in fulfilling its responsibilities towards its minorities. In the case of failure of Pakistan to ensure the rights of its minorities, they become a responsibility of Indian state and cannot be left to die or convert, since there is a difference in being an illegal immigrant and a refugee, Bangladeshi Hindus are an unfinished agenda of partitioning and questioning Indian secular credentials in this issue is irrelevant.

Many people think that Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee resigned from Nehru cabinet on the issue of Kashmir but he resigned due to “Nehru-Liyaqat Pact” on 8th April itself, when we see today that Hindu/Sikh population in Pakistan is less than 1% which was almost 20% at the time of partition we find that Dr. Mookerjee was very correct regarding this pact, this is how Hindu/Sikh minorities have been treated in East and West Pakistan. In such circumstances the people of Assam will definitely welcome their share of refugee brothers with open arms, to help them in difficult times and will embrace them because there is a difference between an infiltrator and a refugee, infiltration is nothing but an external aggression and Assamese resistance is against illegal infiltration and not against persecuted minorities begging shelter.

More importantly at this crucial juncture of our economic journey we are already burdened with a population explosion, it will be detrimental to future prospects of India to welcome immigrants because average population density in India is 378 per square km considerably high in comparison to world average of 46 per square kmand being a democratic country, it is impossible for her to impose measures like “One Child Policy”. Since population is the biggest problem of developing third world India, its future lies with Emigration, not with Immigration.

Secondly,refugees come with a predominantly different culture it becomes difficult for native citizens to adapt this change in their public life, share their livelihood and moreover the demographic changes give rise to violent strife and a struggle of dominance in occupying public spaces.

Thirdly, and most importantly the Indian geographical position compels it to be a neighbor of two nuclear powers which are enemy countries to it and were in a state of war in the past and continue to have a border dispute. In today’s era of proxy wars, India cannot afford to accept any more refugees to make its border areas volatile.

As the Hon’ble Supreme Court stated in theSarbanandaSonowal case, illegal Bangladeshi infiltration in India and particularly in Assam is nothing but an external aggression and in that casethe protection of Right to Life, Livelihood, Culture and Identity of Indians Citizens is an obligation on the Indian State. National Register of Citizens (NRC) is nothing but an exercise to fulfill that obligation after all native Citizens are also human beings they also have human rights, in factthey have every right to fight for their identity so as in this last battle of Saraighat.

(Shubham Tiwari is a law student at NALSAR University of Law.)