'NRC has been fair and invaluable; let's not twist it with malicious propaganda': An Assamese citizen's appeal
The NRC is one of the most hotly debated national issues. But there is a lot of deliberate misinformation and half-truths being floated to muddy the waters, and hamper the process.
Every story has a beginning. The story of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) began with the Assam Agitation: A time in my state’s history when the entire population rallied behind young students who struggled for 6 gruelling years to protect the interests of the indigenous people of Assam. They demanded the identification and deportation of all illegal Bangladeshi migrants from the state. Those were turbulent years, marked by strikes, ethnic violence, protests, demonstrations, and unstable governments. Thousands of young people sacrificed their careers and lives, and Assam lost an entire generation in their prime.
My aita (grandmother) used to tell us, her eyes blazing with passion, how students would march on the streets and chant: “Aah oi aah, ulai aah” (come, o, come. Come out). Hearing the rallying cry, young and old, from all walks of life, would drop whatever they were doing, and come out of their houses to join “their” boys. The strong sentiments of the people and their unwavering demand for justice compelled the Government of India, under Rajiv Gandhi, to sign the Assam Accord on 15 August, 1985. It was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between the Government of India, the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad. The NRC originated from the Assam Accord.
Once the papers were signed, successive governments dragged their feet in fulfilling the commitment. The United Progressive Alliance government finally initiated the NRC in 2005. Then they lost political will and abandoned the issue due to various pressures. The National Democratic Alliance government took over the matter when it assumed power in 2014. Under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India, which set strict timelines for implementation, the process has now reached the final stages.
Today, the NRC is one of the most hotly debated national issues. But there is a lot of deliberate misinformation and half-truths are being floated to muddy the waters, and hamper the process. In the following sections, I will discuss the basic details of the NRC, and what it means for Assam and India.
The goal of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to identify Indians living in Assam. It entailed a mammoth and intricate administrative exercise. To explain the scale of the operation, let me share just a few figures: The NRC draft involved the verification of 3.29 crore people. In order to do that, the Assam government had to sift through around 6.6 crore documents submitted by applicants. Of these, 5.5 lakh documents were sent to different states for verification. The entire process was directed and monitored by the Supreme Court of India.
The first draft was released on 1 January, 2018. It contained names of 1.9 crore people, from a total of 3.29 crore applicants. The names of my kin were not on the first list and this caused some anxiety. This was followed by a second NRC draft list, which was released on 30 July, 2018. This included 2.89 crore eligible people. Forty lakh names still remain to be verified.
In order to understand the necessity of this exercise, one has to have a sense of the geography of Assam. The state shares a 4,096-kilometre long border with Bangladesh, following the boundary of the five border states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal. The porous borders of the northeastern states make it easy for the immigrants to sneak into India.
As a result of large-scale illegal immigration, the demographics of the northeastern states are changing, and are endangering their culture, land and jobs. In many areas it is causing grave security threats. Thus, while Assam is dominating the national conversation right now, the problem persists in many other northeastern states.
The regular influx of immigrants from Bangladesh reached a crisis level during the Bangladesh war of liberation. It is estimated that millions of Bangladeshi refugees entered India by crossing the porous border into Assam and Meghalaya. The locals were sympathetic to the fact there was a humanitarian crisis brought on by the genocide in Bangladesh.
However, this did not mean that the welcome was extended to all, in perpetuity. That was the beginning of an illegal population invasion, and it continues unabated. The NRC exercise is extremely valuable in identifying those illegal immigrants who have entered Assam after the cut-off date of 24 March, 1971.
The NRC process is clearly chalked out. A person is eligible to enroll in the NRC, if he/she can prove that his/her ancestors were living in Assam, or were citizens of India before the aforementioned cut-off date. They have to provide supporting documents to prove their case. Once the documents are verified, they are added to the list.
The NRC list published on 30 July is merely a draft, and there is ample time provided for the submission of claims and objections. Those missing from the citizen's list will receive a letter, and be given a fair chance to produce proof of their citizenship. The final NRC will be published only after the disposal of all the claims and objections. This has been repeatedly emphasised by the government and the Supreme Court. Even after the final NRC is listed, every person will get an opportunity to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunal to appeal. Thus, the process is fair and impartial.
One cannot stress the sensitive nature of this issue, and its ramifications on the rest of the country. It is unfortunate that many political parties and vested lobbies are trying to create unrest through malicious propaganda. Some parties outside Assam are even threatening civil war! I don’t expect anything better from them since their raison d'etre is divisive politics and expedience.
However, I expect support from my compatriots. As an Assamese and an Indian, I appeal to you all: Please stand by your people in Assam as they navigate through these turbulent times. Read, research and understand the need for this massive effort, undertaken to sift out the illegal immigrants from our region. Remember, India is a sum total of her parts. For the whole to be safe and secure, the parts need to be safeguarded.
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