Editor's Note: Of the 4 million who didn't make it to NRC, 2.48 lakh have been marked as 'D' voters. The Supreme Court has asked Assam government not to take any coercive action on those who are found to be without proper documents as required under recent National Register of Citizens. NRC, a product of Assam Accord, is expected to solve the fear of Bangladeshi immigrants that has been prevalent in the state for quite some time now. The Centre proposed in 1999 an updated NRC in Assam to solve the problem of "illegal immigration" and two pilot projects were conducted in Dhubri and Barpeta districts. But breaking out of a riot in Barpeta grounded the project. In 2005, when All Assam Student Union opposed the prime minister's visit to the state, tripartite talk between AASU, State government, and the Centre resulted in a decision to prepare a model for the NRC process, which was delayed yet again by over 5 years by the state government. It was only when Abhijeet Sharma of Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO, filed a writ petition in 2009 that the SC's direct intervention led to the start of NRC process in 2014. Firstpost will run a series which will feature 30 profiles in 30 days of those residents of Assam who have not been covered under the final draft of NRC which will decide if they continue to live in the state that they call 'home'.
Silchar: Santanu Naik's roots may be in Gujarat, but for him, Assam — where he was born in 1964 — is home. An advocate and a former RSS functionary, Santanu can speak Gujarati, Bengali and Assamese with equal finesse, and participates in Bihu with as much vigour as he does in Durga Puja. But today, he is faced with the prospect of being termed a 'foreigner' in a country where his family has lived for decades.
Santanu, a resident of Silchar, and his two children have been excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on 30 July.
"I can't think of living anywhere else. Assam is where we belong. Despite being Gujaratis, we never felt like outsiders here. This is a land of diversity, it welcomed us and through the years, we imbibed its culture and tradition," said Santanu, former president (North East zone) of RSS' lawyers' wing Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad.
Santanu's father, Phakor Bhai Naik, was a freedom fighter from Ancheli village in Navsari district, Gujarat, who moved to Assam in 1945. "He was part of a team sent by RSS to spread the message of revolution in these parts. The nation got independence, but my father never left," Santanu said.
He added that he had submitted the documents which prove his father as a voter in Assam, but his name was not in the final draft. His mother and wife, however, made it to the list.
Santanu said he is hopeful of his name being featured in the updated NRC, which is likely to come out in December this year.
"The NRC is a complex procedure. It is an initiative meant to remove illegal immigrants from our country, not genuine citizens. We have documents to prove our citizenship, why should we fear? I'm sure this issue will be resolved and my name, along with my children, will be featured in the updated NRC," he said.
His mother, however, found it hard to share his optimism.
Santa Naik said, "I moved to Silchar from Tripura in the late 1950s after my marriage. Those were turbulent times. A lot of Hindus fled Bangladesh fearing religious persecution. My husband worked tirelessly for their rehabilitation. My son is also working for the betterment of the community and I feel proud of him. But his name, along with those of my grandchildren, did not feature in the NRC draft. My son has assured me that there is nothing to worry. But I can't help feeling anxious."
Santanu is now busy providing free legal aid to others whose names have been left out of the NRC in a camp set up in Barak Valley. The procedure of filing claims and objections began on 10 August.
The camp has been set up by North Eastern Linguistic Ethnic Co-ordination Committee (NELECC), an organisation formed earlier this year in the Barak Valley. Santanu is a part of NELECC, which has raised its voice in support of Hindus who came to India from Bangladesh post-independence. The organisation is working in support of Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955. The amendment allows illegal immigrants belonging to minority communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan to apply for Indian citizenship after six years of their residence in India. These minority communities include Hajongs (Hindus), Sikhs, Chakmas (Buddhists), Jains, Parsis and Christians.
Dhrubendu Shekhar Bhattacharjee, a lawyer in the Supreme Court and member of the NELECC, said, "Many Hindu families from Bangladesh came to India after Partition and it is the responsibility of the Indian government to give them shelter. There were treaties signed by former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi that gave unconditional shelter to persecuted Hindus in India. However, the Assam Accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi has led to harassment of many Hindus for more than three decades. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 will bring them relief."
(The author is a Silchar-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)
Updated Date: Aug 13, 2018 13:14 PM