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NRC Updation in Assam: Prospects and Challenges

Amidst a huge controversy and long debate under the orders of the Supreme Court of India, the Government of India has started the process of updating the NRC of 1951. The objective of updation of the NRC is to help identify foreign nationals living in the state illegally. There is an apprehension among civil liberty groups that the process of updating the NRC may not be fair and could result in the non-inclusion of Muslim minorities and Hindu Bengalis who are often suspected to be illegal citizens. Political Parties and other organisations present in the state are also sounding alarm bells on different aspects on the issue updation of the NRC.

In order to study the whole process of the NRC updation, the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai formed a FACT FINDING TEAM[1] to study the NRC updation process in Assam. The team visited different places of Guwahati, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Dhuburi, Goalpara, Morigaon, Baksa, Nagaon and Sivasagar districts from 22nd May to 26th May 2015. The members interacted with different community people, NRC Co-ordinator Prateek Hazela, officials of the NRC Sewa Kendras, Gram Panchayat Presidents, BLOs (Booth Level Officers), notable citizens like social workers, college principals, professors, teachers, leaders of political parties, people living in shelter camps, and so on.

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Defining NRC:

The full form of NRC is ‘National Register of Citizens’ (NRC). It is the register containing details of all Indian citizens. On the directives of the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA), after conducting the Census of 1951, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 Census. The names of most of the citizens of Assam were enlisted in the NRC of 1951[2].

Limitations of NRC 1951:

On the basis of the Census of 1951, the National Register of Citizens was first prepared.  But this NRC of 1951 was an incomplete one, as not all areas of the state could be covered. Many riverine, chars and remote regions could not be reached by the enumerators. Moreover, Assam also witnessed communal violence while the process of the NRC was initiated. Statistics reveals that 53,000 Muslim families fled to the then East Pakistan between 1948 and 1950 due to communal violence in Western Assam. If we assume a number of five to seven persons in a family on an average, and multiply that with the number of the figure of families that fled, it becomes 265,000 to 371,000 who left for East Pakistan from Assam in the wake of the communal riots of 1950. Latter the Nehru-Liyaqat pact of 8th August 1950 provided them a window of two years to return to India.  In between, the NRC process was completed in Assam. Thus a large number of Muslims were dropped/missing from the total figure of the 1951 NRC and the census. But when in the next Census of 1961 those dropped out citizens’ names were enlisted, the growth rate of Muslims in Assam was seen as very high. Unfortunately the government did not bother to update the NRC of 1951 as was expected.

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Background of the Study:

Rise of Anti-foreigners’ Movement:

Since 1961, a feeling started growing in the minds of a section of the Assamese people that Assam is under an aggression by migrants. It was believed that people were coming illegally from East-Pakistan and settling down in Assam. In 1972, a major political development took place in the continent of Asia, as it gave birth to one more sovereign state in the name of Bangladesh. The region of ‘Bangladesh’ was known by different names during different periods in modern times. Till 1905, it was a part of Bengal. Then, Lord Curzon in 1905 while partitioning Bengal, named the region East-Bengal and merged it with Assam. Thus ‘Assam and East-Bengal’ formed one state. Again in 1947, when India obtained freedom from British rule, the same region was carved out and incorporated into Pakistan, and was known as East-Pakistan. Finally, in 1972 the region emerged as an independent country: Bangladesh.

During the British period there was considerable migration of poor peasants from Bengal and East-Bengal towards Assam that had changed the demographic pattern of the state. This process of migration, though reduced, continued from the East-Pakistan and it is also alleged that it has been continuing even from Bangladesh. Thus the ‘migration issue’ turned into a ‘foreigners’ issue’ in Assam.

It is not surprising that the “foreigners’ issue became the prime agenda of the ‘Assam Movement’ (1979-1985) initiated by the ‘All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the ‘All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP)’. They demanded the deportation of foreign nationals from the state. During the period of the Movement, without any statistical data to back them, the leaders deliberately exaggerated the number of the foreign nationals in the state. According to Jogen Hazarika (1979), the Chief Minister, the number of foreign nationals in Assam was two lakh people. Two regional parties of Assam — ‘Assam Jatiyatabadi Dal (AJD)’ and the ‘Purbanchaliya Loka Parishad (PLP)’ estimated the number of the foreign nationals in the state at 40 lakhs and 13 lakhs respectively. According to an ideologue of the movement, the number of foreign nationals living in the state illegally was 45 to 50 lakhs, out of Assam’s total population of 1,46,25000[3]. Another political scientist estimated the number of the foreign nationals in Assam in 1981 at 40 lakhs. Another exponent of the movement named Bisweshwar Hazarika, counted the number of foreign nationals in the state at 77 lakhs. The All Assam Students’ Union in one of their publications fixed up the number of infiltrators at over 45 lakhs, of whom over 15 lakhs had their names entered into the electoral roles.  If one accepts such fantastic figures, the percentage of foreign nationals would range between 10 to 50 percent of the total population of the State.

 

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A series of discussions took place with the Movement Leaders and the State Government leading to no solution. The Movement Leaders then came into direct conflict with the Government. They decided to stop the general election of 1983, by any means, and created an extremely explosive situation. In February 1983 thousands of people, mostly women and children belonging to Muslim families of erstwhile East Bengal, were brutally killed at Nagabandha and Neilli of Nagaon District as well as other places in the state. After a strong controversy and debate, a Memorandum of Understanding, popularly known as the ‘Assam Accord’ was signed between AASU, AAGSP, and the Central and State Governments in the capital city of ‘New Delhi’ in the early hours of 15th August 1985.[4] The Accord determined 1st January 1966 as the cut-off date for the purpose of detection and deletion of foreigners and granted citizenship for all persons coming to Assam from a “Specified Territory” before the cut-off date. It further ensures that all persons who came to Assam prior to 1st January 1966 (inclusive) and up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, annexure 46 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1939. Names of foreigners so detected would be deleted from the Electoral Rolls in force. Such persons would be required to register themselves before the Registration Officers of the respective districts, in accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1939. On the expiry of a period of 10 years following the date of detection, the names of all such persons who were deleted from the electoral rolls, would be restored. Foreigners who came to Assam on or after 25th March 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law.

AASU leaders considered the Assam Accord as their great achievement. They now formed a new political party ‘Assam Gana Parishad’ (AGP) and contested the election of 1985. Deportation of foreign nationals from the state was the main plank of their election manifesto.

The majority of the people of the State were also convinced by the notions of the student leaders and unhesitatingly advanced their support to the newly formed political party. Thus ‘Assam Gana Parishad’ won its first election with an absolute majority. The new Government tried its level best to find out and deport foreign nationals from the state. But it could not identify and deport even one thousand foreigners.

The ‘Assam Movement (1979-1985)’, ‘Assam Accord (15th August 1985)’ and the failure of the Assam Gana Parishad Government to identify foreign nationals in the state could not bring any political solution to the foreigners’ issue. Poor, illiterate Muslims of Bengali origin and a section of Bengali Hindus are suspected as to be the illegal occupants of the state.[5] Many of their voting rights have been snatched away by the government on the basis of doubts about their citizenship.

‘D’ Voters Issue:

In 1997, the Election Commission of India identified a section of Muslims living in the Char Chapari areas of Assam, a linguistic Hindu minority and even the Rajbongshi people of the state as ‘D’[6] voters. The process of identification of ‘D’ voters was unusual. It is alleged that the lower officials of Election Commission were asked to mark at least 10 to 20 people in each village of the state as ‘D’ citizens. Thus in many families, wives or husbands became Doubtful Citizens, while the rest of the family members remain Indians. Again in some families, sons and daughters were identified as doubtful citizens, while their parents remained Indians.

The officials of the Election Commission did not follow any criteria in identifying Doubtful Citizens. They ambiguously marked the names of voters in the Voters List and these people are then denied franchisee rights. 3.7 lacs people were marked as ‘D’ voters and thirty two (32) Foreign Tribunals were set up throughout the state to detect these large numbers of people to determine whether they are Indians or foreigners. Out of the 32 Tribunals, 13 are lying defunct without judges. Thus the progress of tribunal work is very slow. During 2006-2010 in the Foreigners’ Tribunal of Bongaigaon, against 9,222 registered cases only 1,333 got settled and only four accused have been identified as Bangladeshis. That too, these four persons were given such a verdict, only because they could not produce their documents within the stipulated time frame given by the court.

Likewise, in the Foreigners’ Tribunal of Goalpara District, against 22,000 ‘D’ Voter cases only 6,00 have been settled till date and only one women, called Tarabhanu, has been identified as a foreigner. This Tarabhanu case created a huge controversy throughout the state as it was said that Tarabhanu is an Indian citizen and that she has become the victim of a state conspiracy. Tarabhanu was snatched away from her three-month-old child and was deported from the state — which was an inhumane act!

Even if the 19 Foreigners’ Tribunals that are functional become more active and settle 19 cases in a day and work for 200 days a year, these tribunals would be able to settle a maximum of 3800 cases. Likewise, to settle all the cases that are pending in the Foreigners’ Tribunals of Assam, it will take more than 92 years. Consequently, these 3.7 lacs ‘D’ Voters, as well as their children, who are fighting to get back their citizenship rights for the last 17 to 18 years will remain 2nd class citizens, and most of them will die before their cases get settled. Surprisingly enough, the names of those ‘D’ voters, who have had their cases cleared by the Foreign Tribunals, have not yet been included in the voters’ lists till date. The Deputy Commissioners of the concerned districts also seem to be reluctant to take any action in this regard. In an interview, one of the Deputy Commissioners said that they can’t take any action within regard to the ‘D’ Voters issue, until they receive the signal from a higher authority.

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NRC Updation/Controversy:

The NRC of 1951 was supposed to be updated from time to time. But the Government of India did not bother to update the NRC of Assam, in spite of persistent demands from different socio political organizations of the state. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU); Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, Assam (KMSS), Akhil Bhratiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Assam Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (JYCP), Assam Public Works (APW), and many other organizations put up a list of demands to the Government to update the long pending NRC of 1951. The organizations believe that the updation of NRC 1951 will segregate the foreign nationals living in the state from Indian citizens. After a lengthy debate and an intervention by the Supreme Court of India, the Government of India through a notice had to agree to update the long pending NRC of 1951. It is said that updated NRC would be the instrument to identify Bangladeshi infiltrators in Assam. The NRC is expected to be a reference point against which an individual can check his/her citizenship status. According to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, “NRC updating will bring an end to the issues surrounding the state’s biggest problem of infiltration from Bangladesh. However, there are many people who believe that infiltration (from Bangladesh) is still going on despite the erection of a barbed wire fence and intensified BSF patrolling along the border.”

Accordingly the Government of India, at the initial stage through a pilot project, decided to update the NRC of Chaygaon Revenue Circle of Kamrup District and Barpeta Revenue Circle of Barpeta District in 2010.[7] The work of updating the NRC in Assam, as per a provision of the Amended Rule 4(A) has been undertaken as a pilot project in Barpeta and Chaygaon Revenue Circle in the district of Barpeta and Kamrup Rural respectively. As per this amended rule, all the residents — where most of the people were illiterate — were asked to apply before the District Magistrate along with several supportive documents, and appear for a hearing to prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of the officer concerned, and for the inclusion of their names in the updated NRC.

The task of the Pilot Project of updating the NRC, 1951 started on 15th June 2010 in Barpeta Revenue Circle.  The copies of NRC 1951, Electoral Rolls of 1961 and 1971 were to be reprinted by the district authorities. But the district authorities failed to reprint the documents in full. Moreover, there were numerous anomalies and confusion in the documents which were made available for the public.

  1. Out of 146 revenue villages under the Barpeta Revenue Circle, NRC documents were not available for 24 villages viz. Metowakuchi Town, Metowakuchi Gaon, Joti Town, Gandhi, Goremara Gaon, Chakabausi Gaon, Vella, Veraldi, Joshihati, Aicharapara, Dewliapara, Kadamguri, Katlijar, Dhanbandha, Sonkuchi Gaon, Bar Agdia, Tatikuchi, Dokonia Beel, Rangialortari, Boriarpathar, Bontipur, Pakabetbari Pam, Pakabetbari Pathar,  Phulikipara.

Again, the electoral rolls of 1966 and 1971 were not available with the district authorities for 11 and 12 villages respectively viz. Metowakuchi Town, Gandhi, Dhanbandha, Bar Agdia, Rangialortari, Boriarpathar, Pakabetbari Pathar,  Phulikipara, etc. On the contrary, no guidelines for other documents, such as land records, school certificates, etc. had asked for in the Application Proforma and these were not accepted as valid documents for proof of citizenship by the authorities…

  1. There were wide spread discrepancies and anomalies in the re-printed NRC and Electoral Rolls. Names of 1700 households have been dropped in the re-printed NRC, 1951 under Ghilazhari and Howly Mouza. Surnames of women had been used for men and vice versa. Anomalies had also been cropped up with regard to the age of the inhabitants. Also, the same Serial Number. had been used more than once to identify different households.
  2. In the reprinted NRC of 1951, many Muslim families were identified as Hindu families.
  3. In various instances, the names of father/mother against their siblings were printed as ‘Unknown’. In some other cases, only the surnames and titles had been printed instead of the full name. In some other cases, siblings were mentioned as Kesua (babies) and “Amuk’ (somebody). Males were shown as wives and females were marked as husbands.
  4. In the reprinted NRC of 1951, the birth place of a large number of people had been shown as to be Mymenshing, Dacca and West Pakistan though the original birth places of  those people were actually in various villages of Assam.
  5. Though in Phulkipara and Deorikuchi villages, Muslims have been residing since the pre-Independence period, these villages were wrongly identified as Hindu villages in the reprinted NRC. (What is the intention behind it?)
  6. People who have settled in Barpeta and Chaygaon Revenue Circle areas after 1971 either by marriage or to secure their livelihood, were not able to procure the necessary documents of inheritance as these are not published in their home districts or original places.
  7. In the application form, in Column 12, the word successor had been printed instead of predecessor.
  8. The NRC updation process was silent about the fate of the ‘D’ Voters of Assam whose cases were/are still pending in various Foreigners’ Tribunals/Courts.
  9. R B Vaghaiwala, the then Census Commissioner in 1951, stated that the names of 68415 people were not entered in the said NRC and also a large number of Muslim people specially in the districts of Kamrup and Goalpara were not covered by the said NRC. The Pilot Project was silent about the fate of those ‘dropped out’ people.
  10. In order to solve the foreigners’ issue in Assam, the Assam Accord (5. (3)) signed on 15th March 1985 stated, ‘Foreigners who came to Assam after 1-1-1966 (inclusive) up to 23-3-1971 shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of Foreigners Act 1944 and the Foreigners (Tribunal) order 1964. Names of foreigners so detected will be deleted from the electoral rolls in force. Such persons will be required to register themselves before the Registration Officer in their respective districts, in accordance with the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and Registration of Foreigners’ Rules, 1939. For this purpose, the Government of India will undertake suitable strengthening of the Government machinery. On the expiry of a period of 10 years, following the date of detection, the names of all such persons who have been deleted from the electoral rolls shall be restored’.

Thus, in pursuance of the Assam Accord, people who entered Assam between 1-1 1966 and 24-3-1971 were to be franchised after ten years. The processes of franchising those people have not been carried out till date. The NRC Pilot Project was also silent about the fate of those people and their descendants.

 

Issue of NRC Updation and Police Firing:

Noticing the anomalies in the mechanism of the NRC updation process, the ‘All Assam Minority Students Union’ (AAMSU) gheraoed the Deputy Commissioner’s Office, Barpeta, on 21st July 2010 demanding an immediate postponement of the pilot project on the ongoing updation of the NRC. The organization also demanded the settlement of the D Voters’ problem before starting the process of NRC updation.

Thousands of processionists coming from different areas of the District approached the Deputy Commissioner’s office at around 11am on the 21st of July, 2010. The leaders of the processionists wanted the Deputy Commissioner to come out of his office and take their memorandum which he refused to do. The processionists  waited in the sun in front of the DC’s office for about an hour, for the Deputy Commissioner. Meanwhile, another group, who was ready with stones and wanted to create havoc, started pelting stones on the processionists. The mob now lost its nerve and became violent and in return started pelting the same stones at the DC’s office. Suddenly, the Superintendent of Police of the District appeared on the scene and ordered the police personals to fire on the mob. Four processionists lost their lives and about a hundred more were injured. The persons killed were Siraj Ali, 25, Majam Ali, 55, Matleb Ali and Moidul Mullah, both 30.The police could have controlled the situation by resorting to tear gas or a lathicharge. It is alleged that the police applied the tear gas and lathicharge only after the mob had almost dispersed.

It was noticed that while the processionists were running away to save their lives, many of them were caught by some unidentified youths and beaten up badly. Anowar Hussain, 35, one of the injured, told The Telegraph that he was beaten up by some unidentified youths. “I requested the men, with folded hands, not to beat me up, but they did not stop till I fell unconscious. I suspect there was a third force, which fuelled the incident,” he said[8].

The town also witnessed clashes between the protesters and residents, who started attacking the AAMSU supporters allegedly for shouting anti-AASU and anti-‘Tarun Gogoi’[9] slogans. The clashes continued for over half-an-hour. The situation came under control following the reinforcement of security personnel.[10] The state government immediately announced the postponement of the NRC updation process in the State.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU) activists did not pay heed to the demands of the AAMSU, as the former consider the latter to be the saviours of the Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. According to the AASU, in Assam, there are still lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. AASU is of the opinion that the mechanism which was framed by the Government for the Pilot Project did not have any incongruity and hence its application would have detected the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in the State. Thus, the organization warned the government not to delay the NRC updation process.

Though the Pilot Project failed, the process of NRC updation could not be stopped. The Barpeta incident delayed but modified the process of NRC updation. Many of the anomalies of the Pilot Project were rectified and the process of NRC updation now working under the direct supervision of Supreme Court, was started in 2015. The Government of India has put in place the following mechanisms for the NRC updation works.

WHAT IS NRC UPDATION?

National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of all citizens residing in Assam at the time of NRC updation.

HOW WILL THE NRC BE UPDATED?

On the basis of the Assam Accord, 1985[11] the NRC will be updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. As per the two statutes, citizenship status would be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 and in their absence, the list of admissible documents of the Pre-1971 period. The following are the list of admissible documents-

Legacy Data:

1 1951 NRC.
2 Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (Midnight), 1971.

The above documents are collectively called the Legacy Data. There is a list of other admissible documents in case someone’s name is not found in the Legacy Data. Then the applicant may also produce any of the following documents listed below, to claim inclusion in the NRC. :

List of other documents admissible for inclusion in NRC

3 Land Records including Tenancy Records of relevant period up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
4 Citizenship Certificate issued by competent authority up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
5

Permanent Residential Certificate issued from outside the State up to midnight of 24th March, 1971

6 Refugee Registration Certificate issued up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
7 Passport issued by the Government of India up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
8 Insurance Policy (LICI) of relevant period up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
9 Any License/Certificate issued by the Government authority of relevant period up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
10 Document showing Service/Employment in a Government/Public Sector Undertaking up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
11 Bank/Post Office Accounts of relevant period up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
12 Birth Certificates issued by the Competent Authority up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
13 Educational Certificate issued by Board/Universities up to midnight of 24th March, 1971
14 Records/ Processes pertaining to court up to midnight of 24th March, 1971

The documents placed below are only supporting documents and shall be accepted only if accompanied by any one of the admissible documents listed above.

15.1 Certificate issued by the Secretary of the Village Panchayat countersigned by the local Revenue Official in respect of females from rural areas who have migrated to other is only optional and not mandatory.
15.2 Certificate issued by a Circle Officer in respect of females who have migrated from an urban area after marriage is only optional and not mandatory.
16 Ration Cards issued by a Competent Authority with official seal and signature up to 24th March (midnight), 1971.

HOW TO OBTAIN ADMISSIBLE DOCUMENTS?

The citizen must submit the admissible documents available with them. In case the applicant has lost or misplaced the documents required, they may approach the office from which the documents were issued for obtaining duplicate/certified copies. The Legacy Data can be obtained from the NRC Sewa Kendra free of cost. For this purpose, the government has set 2500 NRC Sewa Kendras throughout the state. The Legacy Data are also available at the Office of the State Coordinator of National Registration (NRC). One can download and print his or her document from there.

IS IT NECESSARY TO SUBMIT ALL OF THE ADMISSIBLE DOCUMENTS?

No. A citizen is required to submit only one of the admissible documents. It can be either NRC 1951, any one of the Electoral Rolls, or any of the 12 other admissible documents mentioned above.

TIMELINES CHART

Sl. No Activities Start date End date Remarks
 

 

1

Legacy Data Publication
a. Publication of records at 100 NSKs a. 27th February, 2015 2500 NSKs have been set up.
b. Publication of records at all remaining NSKs and online b. 27th of March, 2015
2 Distribution of Application Form 2nd week of May , 2015 May, 2015 Delayed. Distribution started in the second week of June
3 Receipt of Application 2nd week of May, 2015 31st July, 2015 Delayed. Started in the second week of June.
4 Field Verification June, 2015 Not started yet
6 Publication of Draft NRC 31st October, 2015
6 Receipt & Disposal of Claims & Objections 1st November, 2015 January, 2016
7 Publication of Final NRC 31st January, 2016

Though the government machinery has framed timelines for completion of the NRC updation work, it has come to the notice that the machinery is failing to meet the timelines. Even the start of the distribution of Application Forms has been late by one month. Thus, it will be difficult to complete the process of the NRC updation by 31st January 2016.

HOW TO OBTAIN AN APPLICATION FORM?

Sl. No Activities Remarks
1 House to house distribution of Application Forms by Govt Functionaries. The distribution of forms has been started by Govt Functionaries by one month late.
2 Elaborate instructions for filling up of the form have to accompany the blank Application Form. A separate page containing elaborate instructions for filling the form has been given.
3 Forms will also be available at the NRC Seva Kendras (NSKs) or they can be downloaded from the NRC Website. Yes.
4 In all instances, the Form are available free of cost Yes.
5 Photo copies of blank Application Form can also be used
6 One Application Form is given for one household that would provide space for up to 6 members of the family. In the case of a bigger family, more than one Application Form can be obtained or a photocopy of the Original Form could be used.
7 Forms are available in English, Assamese and Bengali and are distributed as per prominent/common language spoken in a particular Area. There is demand from the Bodo community people to publish forms in Bodo languages.

Guidelines for Filling up the forms:

Sl. No Government Guidelines Remarks
1 The head of the family shall apply for all the members of the family. Though the government machinery claims that the form is made simple and it is easy to fill up. Practically it is difficult to fill up the form. A lot of information is to be provided by the applicant. Any writing mistake can create problem. Even many educated persons find it difficult to fill up the Form. In that case one can easily understand what would happen to the less educated and illiterate persons. The government should appoint trained and unbiased persons to help the people in filling up the form.
2 Ensure inclusion of admissible documents and identity & linkage documents with Application Form.
3 Only photocopies of the required documents and not the originals are to be submitted at the NSKs along with the Application Form. Originals need to be kept ready for producing during field verification carried out by government functionaries.
4 The family would require providing 2.5×2.5 size photographs (either in color or black & white) for each member of the family in the Application Form
5 In case the family head is no more, the descendants can apply
6 In case of a minor or in case of disabled person, head of the family or legal guardian shall apply.
7 In case of orphanage, homes for mentally or physically handicapped etc, head of the institution shall apply for the inmates.
8 Trainings shall be carried out in the field sensitizing willing persons and field Govt functionaries on Application Form filling up
9 D voters can apply, but their names shall finally be included in NRC only if the Foreigners Tribunals declare them to be citizens It is unfortunate that D voters can apply but their names shall not be included in the NRC until and unless their cases are cleared by the Foreigners Tribunals. It has deprived a considerable number of Assamese who are arbitrarily made D voters of the state.
10 Toll Free NRC Helpline, (Number 15107) will help the public/applicants in filling up the Application Form and in obtaining the necessary documents.

 

WHERE TO SUBMIT THE APPLICATION FORM:

Sl. No Government Guidelines Remarks
1 Forms shall be received only at the NRC Seva Kendra (NSK).
2 One NSK shall receive Applications from only the villages that are marked under it.
3 The public shall be made aware of their designated NSK through publicity measures Sufficient awareness programmes are not carried out the government machineries. Still many people of rural areas are not aware of the NRC updation process. Many people of mainstream community are less interested in NRC.
4 The NSK operator shall check the Form before receiving.
5 On receipt of duly filled up Form, the NSK operator shall give the printout of submitted Application Form along with the summary of the submitted documents.
6 The Local Registrar of Citizen Registration (LRCR) who is the officer in charge of the NSK shall issue acknowledgement of receipt.
7 Only a member of the family whose name figure in the Application Form can be allowed to submit the Application Form
8 In some exceptional cases if anyone outside the family comes for submission, a photo of the bearer shall be captured at NSK for record and verification
9 Forms can also be submitted online (nrcassam.nic.in) also after registration using mobile number of the applicant.

 

Can a “D” voter apply?

Yes. “D” Voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However,         a “D” Voter’s name will only be included in the NRC only after getting a clearance from the Foreigners Tribunals.

It is unfortunate that D Voters can apply, but their names shall not be included in the NRC until and unless their cases are cleared by the Foreigners Tribunals. It has deprived a considerable number of Assamese who are arbitrarily made D Voters of the state.

Though the process and mechanism of the updation process of the NRC is not error-free, the way the foreigner’s issue plays out in Assam; people of the State want to have an updated NRC at any cost. People, especially from the minority Muslim community of Bengal origin, are more concerned about this, leaving their daily routine work to collect data and obtain Application forms and fill them up. This section of people expect that the updation of the NRC in what they believe is a transparent society in Assam, will clear the picture of Indian citizens and illegal foreign nationals (if any) living in the state. While the Fact Finding Team was visiting the Hapachara Camp[12] of Bongaigaon district, where the conflict induced IDPs are from BTAD, living in pathetic conditions on a leased plot of private land, also showed their enthusiasm with the ongoing NRC process. They can’t manage proper food, don’t have the minimum facility of a roof for shelter, no sanitation, no education, no proper drinking water, etc. In short, they don’t have the minimum basic facilities of life. The government is also unwilling to rehabilitate the inmates of the camp. More often these people are suspected as to be illegal occupants of the state. Surprisingly, though the inmates do not have any proper amenities of lives at all, of them have proper documents, sufficient enough to enlist their names in the ongoing NRC updation. One of the inmates of the camp told team ‘our lives are less valuable than dead dogs and we are not human beings’. Now they do not want any promise of welfare schemes from the government. They only want an atmosphere in the state where in they will not be doubted and harassed in the name of being foreign nationals. They hope that the updated NRC might bring that fortune to them.

Challenges before NRC updation process:

It seems from the entire mechanism that this time, the long pending NRC of 1951 will get updated as the majority of the people have welcomed the process. Still, there are numerous challenges coming from different angles. The first challenge is to deal the issue of ‘D’ Voters of the state. Many ‘D’ Voters’ cases are still pending in the Foreigners’ Tribunals. But the present mechanism of the NRC updating process allows the ‘D’ Voters’ to apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However, it is made clear that “D” Voter’s names will only be included in the NRC after getting a clearance from the Foreigners Tribunals. But the speed at which the Foreigners Tribunals are functioning, most of the “D” Voter’s will not be able to get their names enlisted in the present NRC. Pratik Hazela, the Co-ordinator of NRC updation works of the State says his office is unable to assist the speeding up process of the ‘D’ Voters in any way, as the Foreigners’ Tribunal is not under its jurisdiction. Thus the “D” Voter’s cases will be disrupting Assam politics for many more years to come.

As the days go on, new twits are taking place in the Assam. Till recently, the majority of the people in the State suspected poor Bengali-speaking Muslims to be the illegal immigrants in the state and believed that the updated NRC would help identify a large numbers of foreign nationals. But with the progress of the NRC updation work, some latent issues are surfacing. Many Bengali Hindus and the Tea Tribes residing in Assam also do not have the documents needed for submission to the ongoing NRC. It is now suspected that many labourers in the tea gardens came to Assam to settle after 1971. Though these tea garden labours are Indian, they are not eligible to be enlisted in the NRC.  Citizenship of many of the Bengali Hindus is also suspect. More often, the BJP, the major political party of country, declares that the Bengali Hindus should be given the status of Indian citizenship without any question which, again, is not accepted by other political parties and organizations. At this critical juncture, the All Assam Bengali Youth Student Federation (AABYSF) has opposed the present process of NRC updation. The Federation called for a strike in the State on the 17th of June 2015, that paralyzed normal life in the state. It demands the inclusion of the names of all Hindu Bengalis who migrated from Bangladesh to Assam in the NRC.  It also demands that all Hindu Bengali detainees should be released unconditionally from all detention camps. During the 12-hour bandh, buses and other vehicles did not ply and the streets wore a deserted look. Government offices, banks, schools, colleges along with other institutions remain closed. The role of the present AASU leaders in the NRC process in Assam is also suspect. Initially, the AASU leaders were proponents of the NRC updation.  But now they are officially claiming that NRC updating will not be able to detect Bangladeshi immigrants. They want constant monitoring by the Supreme Court of India.

In the present system of NRC updation, many Indian citizens residing in Assam do not have any of the listed documents to produce for enlisting their names in the NRC. Even many Assamese people lived outside Assam between 1951 to 1971 and so their names are also not available in any of the documents. Their descendents are now facing problems in the process of NRC updation. Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, former Education Minister of Assam has raised the question and appealed to the government to rectify the process of NRC updation. According to him, in the present process of NRC updation, many of the indigenous people will out numbered. He thus threatened that if a proper rectification is not undertaken by the government, he will go the Supreme Court.

Even after knowing that the NRC of 1951 was incomplete[13] Mr. Pranab Gogoi, Speaker of  the Assam Assembly, and some other organisations like AASU have been demanding that only the people whose names figure in the NRC 1951 should be considered indigenous people, giving them special privileges in all sectors. This has been creating confusion in the minds of the people.

Again, a group of so called Assamese intellectuals and organisations, who run their business in the name of ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ do not want the updation of NRC, as it will close their business doors. Some of the organizations like APW have again approached the apex court demanding further amendment of the Citizenship Act and to stop the ongoing NRC updating process. At the same time, some of the print and electronic media in Assam have started running a propaganda campaign against the process. Editorials in several daily newspapers have been questioning the NRC updating process. The leading English daily The Assam Tribune in one of its editorials “The migration imbroglio and NE” on 17th March directly claimed that the ongoing NRC updating will legitimize the ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ as Indian nationals! Veteran journalist and known right-wing intellectual, Dhirendra Nath Chakravarty, recently made a statement that Muslims of Bengali origin can be Indian, but not Assamese. He didn’t even hesitate to suggest that certain districts where Muslims are in a majority should be allowed to secede from Assam. All this is helping to create a chaotic situation amidst the process of the NRC updation, so that the process gets derailed and the politics in the name of foreigners’ goes on.

In spite of all these controversies the work of NRC updation is going on. The Government seems determined to complete the task.

Observations of the Fact Finding Team:

  1. Most of the people, across the board enthusiastically welcome the NRC updation. They want the process to continue. People of East Bengal origin in Assam who are often suspected of being illegal occupants of the state, are in the forefront of the fight to complete the updation of NRC. People are visiting the NRC Sewa Kendras to collect their Legacy Data, filling up forms and submitting them to the authorities. They expect that the updation of this NRC will solve the long debated foreigners’ issues in the State.
  2. Married women are strongly condemning the discriminatory provision of requiring them to submit linkage certificates in addition to other documents. However, it has been clarified by the authority, that a marriage certificate is not mandatory in proving a linkage of a woman to her father. She can submit any other legal document that proves father-daughter relationship.
  3. In some places, it is found that the Legacy Data has not yet been uploaded against records found in village data. People complain that all Voters’ Lists from 1951 to 1971 have not always been found available in the website.
  4. The Fact Finding Team found that Legacy Data of Ganesh Valley, Neille area inhabited by Bengali Hindu Refugees, Patgaon Mokam of Kamrup Rural, etc. have not been uploaded yet. The inhabitants of those areas are worried.
  5. Many people have complained that they have been given only 1971 data (Voters’ list) in some of the NSKs, despite the fact that the NRC 1951 and Voters’ Lists of 1966 are available for those people. People want to be updated in the NRC with the information in the earliest documents which they do have with them. In some NSKs, Legacy Data Codes are not generated even after uploading their valid documents.
  6. In Baksa district, people complained that the number of NSKs are insufficient. Some villages of Barpeta districts are shown in Baksa districts. More NSKs should be set up in the said district.
  7. The Fact Finding Team found ‘D’ has been written against many entries in the original sheets of the 1951 NRC. However, in 1951 there was no ‘D’ category citizen in the country. When the question was raised, Pratik Hazela, the Co-ordinator of NRC, Assam could not clarify anything about it in detail. He simply said that it would not create any problem in the process of NRC updation.
  8. One Booth Level Officer (BLO), Purnima, of Nellie area, was agitated and showed the Fact Finding Team how arbitrarily ‘D’ has been marked in the Voters’ lists, even though she knew that that they were citizens.
  9. Given the arbitrary manner in which some citizens have been categorised as ‘D’ Voters, why should they be required to approach two fora to prove their citizenship? The Fact Finding Team appeal to the Government to consider that If, after verification, ‘D’ voters become eligible for entry in NRC, that their cases lying in Foreign Tribunals should stand disposed off.
  10. It has been observed that most of the BLOs are not properly trained. They do not know the process of NRC updation. They cannot address the queries of the common people. The BLOs need more training to complete the ground level work more efficiently.
  11. Though the government machinery claims that the Application Form has been made simple and easy to complete, in reality it is difficult to fill up the form. A lot of information has to be provided by the Applicant. Any writing mistake can create a problem. Even many educated people find it difficult to fill up the Form. In that case one can easily understand what would happen with less educated and illiterate persons. Even the BLOs are not trained enough to help Applicants fill up the form. The government should appoint trained and unbiased persons to help ordinary people with this important task.
  12. In many instances, it has been reported that a fee has been charged illegally for filling in the NRC form. Even many advocates, in different parts of the state, are charging money from ignorant people for filling up the NRC forms.
  13. In some areas like Alopoti, fuel is not supplied to run generators of the NSK centres. In those centres people are asked to bring petrol to run the generators and computers in order to get their documents printed.

In spite of all these shortcomings, the task of NRC updation should go on and be completed. Hopefully, this NRC updation shall minimise the issue of foreigners in the State of Assam.

 

[1] The Fact Finding Team comprised of Advocate Irfan Engineer, Director CSSS, Mumbai, Prof. Monirul Hussain, Gauhati University, Professor Dilip Borah, Gauhati University and Convener AISF Assam State, Dr. Shahiuz Zaman Ahmed, Assistant Professor, SPP College, Sivasagar, Dr. Hafiz Ahmed, President Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad,Assam, and Susanda Madhab Baruah, Guwahati

[2] After conducting the Census of 1951, a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in respect of each village, showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding, the number and names of persons staying therein; and in respect of each individual, the father’s name/mother’s name or husband’s name, nationality, sex, age, marital status, educational qualification, means of livelihood or occupation and visible identification mark. This was done by copying out in registers the particulars recorded during the Census done in 1951. This NRC was prepared under a directive from the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA). These Registers covered each and every person enumerated during the Census of 1951 and were kept in the offices of Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers according to instructions issued by the Government of India in 1951. Later these registers were transferred to the Police in the early 1960s.

[3] Census Report of Indian, 1971.

[4] Assam Accord (Memorandum of Understanding), 1985.

[5] Poor peasants of riverine areas and internally displaced persons go to cities and other places of upper Assam in search of work and a livelihood. These people of the laboring class are often insulted on the suspicion of being Bangladeshis and ‘Miyas’. Though miya is considered a respectable term here in Assam, for them, it is used as a derogatory word. While discussing with poor people of Tetelital, Barpeta, a group of daily labourers told the Fact Finding Team that they do not carry any documents while they go out in search of work. They are also not issued any documents by the government. Many of the labourers do not have any idea of the importance of documents certifying citizenship. If they are asked for such documents, it becomes a problem for them.

[6] Doubtful citizen of the state

[7] The Ministry of Home Affairs in the Gazette of India Extraordinary, Part II, Section 3 subsection II.

[8] The Telegraph, 22nd July

[9] Chief Minister of Assam

[10] The Telegraph, 22nd July

[11] Rastriya Nagarikpanjir Adyabadhikaran: Assam Gana Parishad Dalor Dristibhangi aaru Daybadhata, Assam Ganaparishad, Guwahati, 2015, P-1.

[12] 1118 families of around 10000 are living in the Hapachara IDP camp set up on a piece of private land measuring 10 bighas against an annual rent of Rs. 7000. In October, 1993, the Bodo militants started targeted violence against the Muslim minority of Sidli subdivision, Kokrajhar district, Assam. The violence spread to other Muslim villages in Bijni subdivision, Bongaigoan district and it continued till October 11. The victims left their villages and could not go back for resettlement. For some two years they lived in a government relief camp at Patabari under Sidli police station. Paramilitary forces were deployed to provide security to camp inmates from the attack of Bodo militants, still within a couple of months two camp inmates were killed by the Bodo militants just outside the camp. To avoid further attacks the camp was shifted to Anandabazar where also insecurity continued and one Baser Ali was killed near the river by smashing his head by stone. Thus, it became almost impossible for the inmates to go outside the camp even at the time of emergencies. The security personnel strictly prohibited the camp inmates not to go outside without permission. The victims got trapped and were literally confined in the camp. But one day, the security forces suddenly disappeared from the camp, and the government food and other essential relief supplies were stopped. The inmates then had no option but to leave the camp.

 

[13] R B Vaghaiwala, the then Census Commissioner, 1951 stated that the names of 68415 people were not entered in the said NRC and also a large number of Muslim people specially in the districts of Kamrup and Goalpara were not covered by the said NRC.