After the publication of the updated NRC in Assam and after settling of all complaints in this regard, there will be three categories of people. These categories are:
- The people who were domiciled in India at the time of the Constitution
- The migrants who came to India after the enactment of the Constitution till March 24, 1971, by whatever means and continued to stay here thereafter
- The migrants who came to India from March 25, 1971 till date
The migrants who came to India after March 25, 1971, are foreign nationals and liable for appropriate action for expulsion (except the children born in India till 2014 as defined in the Citizenship Act). The vexed question is, if the foreign nationals illegally entering India as indicated above (the third category) are a large number and if their country of origin does not want to take them, what will be their fate? Then they are India’s liability, whether we like the situation or not.
In a situation like this, they cannot be deprived of human rights and India has to follow international human rights requirements. They cannot be treated like the Rohiyingas of Myanmar. They should specifically be given opportunities to earn livelihood for survival, dignity of existence and opportunities for their children’s future career. In such a circumstance, the Indian government will have to treat them as a special category of foreigners and ensure their human rights as it has been done in respect of the Tibetans staying in India. They will have to be given a specially devised identity card with provisions for future growth of their progenies.
The second category i.e. those who are in the stream of migrants entering India after India adopted the Constitution till March 24, 1971, and continued thereafter, all of them will be citizens of India in terms of Assam Accord, and will be entitled to all the rights of citizens.
But Assam Accord Clause 6 makes room for some special constitutional safeguard for the ‘Assamese’ (to be interpreted here as the indigenous people of Assam) which has to be guaranteed by the Central government. What are these safeguards? There are various demands in this respect and some reservations in economic, political and cultural areas are legitimately anticipated by the indigenous people. The nature of protection is not worked out formally as yet.
I see these rights as:
- Reservations of seats in the Legislative Assembly
- A Legislative Council for indigenous peoples
- Reservations in government employment (all only through constitutional amendment)
- Reservations in educational institutions of higher studies within Assam
- Reservations in government contracts up to a specific financial limit
- Restriction on transference of land prohibiting the foreign nationals from purchasing land in the state
Of course, all kinds of reservations cannot exceed 50 per cent as per the Constitution unless provisions are made through constitutional amendment (which will be very difficult and may not stand judicial scrutiny). Prohibition on purchase of land by foreign nationals in Assam is of utmost importance, and in fact, a law should be enacted even now by the state government towards this end.
But there is a question. Who will be ‘Assamese’, or for that matter, how the indigenous people will be defined for these constitutional safeguards? I feel indigenous people will include all people domiciled in Assam at the time of the enforcement of the Constitution in 1950. The only reference document available for this purpose is the NRC of 1951, but it is not conclusive. Some other permanent public records pertaining to that period will have to be relied upon – those documents which provide bonafides of the present generations as being the descendants of the citizens of the then Indians living in then Assam. What will be such documents will be decided upon through the consensus of the three parties signing the Assam Accord.
Meanwhile, vested interests are trying to raise passions in such a manner as if the whole exercise is aimed at excluding certain categories of Indian citizens with an ulterior motive. After the first draft NRC was published, a massive propaganda was launched by some elements from the Barak Valley that the exercise was a conspiracy against the Bengali community. After the publication of the final draft NRC, and thereafter the ruling government’s assurance that illegal migrants belonging to Hindus and a few other religious communities (excluding the Muslims) would be given citizenship by amending the Citizenship Act, much of this outcry subsided, but as the final NRC is nearing, some vested interests have launched another communally motivated propaganda, nationally and internationally, that a huge number of people of immigrant Muslim community are being excluded from the final NRC, despite their being genuine citizens or being pre-1971 immigrants eligible for citizenship. The actual status in this respect will be known to the NRC authorities only and before the publication of the final NRC, they may not react to such propaganda in any manner.
In view of the lack of reactions of the authorities concerned, the propagandists have become aggressive .The propagandists give posture as if they know much more than the stakeholders.
What is the objective of the NRC? It should be clear that no Indian citizen should be left out – and there cannot be any exception, and no foreigner should be included in the final NRC. Now, if some people whose documents were accepted in the draft NRC but subsequently were excluded during the hearing of objections, there must be authentic recorded grounds that can stand judicial scrutiny. The purpose of the ongoing exercise is to ensure a correct Register of Citizens and there cannot be any room for large-scale anomaly as being presently alleged. We hope the Supreme Court will device strict test to ensure this.
But why a great hullabaloo is raised and the Assamese are blamed of xenophobia on the basis of some internationally motivated propaganda fed by unverified materials from local sources? The NRC exercise is carried out under the strict supervision of the Supreme Court as per its guidelines. Why the propagandists forget this? Some strains of propaganda may put a strain on fraternal harmony leading to some negative consequences that may harm peaceful coexistence. Some signs of restless response have been noticed in the social media. This development is disturbing requiring restraint by all debating groups involved in verbal fisticuffs.
And yet the interest groups feeding the international propagandists have used some basis that needs attention. Suppose a large number of people whose names were there in the final draft have been excluded at the concluding stage of claims and objections? Will it be their final status vis-a-vis their citizenship claim? I feel, their cases deserve judicial hearing. The due process of justice should be to decide their claims of citizenship through judicial procedure. They may not be disturbed till the judicial route is exhausted.