Kolkata: Rivers can create havoc. But if you have to be residing in Assam and are a Bengali speaking resident then the after-effect of the Brahmaputra river swallowing villages after villages, in Assam every year during the monsoon, can be even more devastating.
For a better understanding, take the example of Rashminara Begum, who was three-month-pregnant when she was arrested and taken to prison after she failed to prove that error in the date of birth, mentioned in her school leaving certificate was a mere clerical error. Thus she was declared a foreigner.
The truant Brahmaputra and NRC crisis in Assam
The village where she grew up, has long been engulfed by the Bhramaputra river and along with it were swallowed all the necessary documents, the pre-Independence documents along with a certificate which declared that her grandfather was a freedom fighter and a Congress leader. The letter of identification from the secretary of the gram panchayat that mentioned that she had moved to her present village after marriage was also not considered to be sufficient enough to prove her nationality.
“My grandfather was a freedom fighter. My brother has a government job. How can I be called a foreigner?,” rued Rashminara, while talking to a fact-finding team that had travelled from Delhi to Assam for a ground-zero assessment of the problems that lie with the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
An initiative of human rights organization – United Against Hate (UAH) had SR Darapuri, former inspector general of Uttar Pradesh Police, senior journalist Amit Sengupta and activist Nadeem Khan, along with nine more team members comprising human right activists and journalist to gauge the existing scenario of Assam.
The findings compiled into – Fact Finding Report on Assam, Doubtful Citizenship, Distorted Rights, was released at the Kolkata Press Club on Wednesday by Sengupta, Khan and senior journalist Debashis Aich.
Need for NRC to be implemented without bias
Speaking about their experiences, Sengupta declared, “This report is not driven by any political agenda. It’s a non-biased, balanced report about what we experience in Assam. There are many more heart-wrenching stories like that of Rashminara in the report prepared by us.” He then added, “Based on the meetings we had with lawyers, activists, politicians and the common people of Assam, we realized that it was the women who are the worst affected by the NRC being updated. About 3000 people were sent to the prisons, with the onus being on them to prove their Indian citizenship. And let me tell you, even those who have been asked to prove their citizenship feel that if NRC is implemented once and for all so that the question mark looming above their head regarding their nationality ends once and for all.”
Bengali speaking population, the target
Adding to that Khan, who is also the convener of UAH, said, “Unlike the common perception, that it’s the Muslims, who are on the verge of being persecuted, we discovered that along with many Bengali speaking Muslims, Bengali speaking Hindus had also been summoned by the hundred-odd foreign tribunals set up in Assam for the identification of the nationality of people residing in Assam.”
He added, “Let me be clear on this – there is no religion-based discrimination in Assam. What we understood after researching there was that the discrimination was on the basis of the language – Bengali.”
The activists also alleged that the tribunals set up by the government were not completely unbiased and impartial. They stated that during their stay in Assam, they had come across many cases, some of which they have mentioned in the report, where the citizenship had been denied on flimsy ground.
Digital notice escalate problems
“Adding on to the woes of these people is the fact that the NRC reports and updates and notices are being uploaded on the internet. Many don’t have access to the internet and are not tech savvy, so we came across many cases, where these people missed out on their hearings as the notice or summons were released online. Thereby, they got listed as D-voters or doubtful voters and would now have to prove their nationality,” explained Sengupta.
The report further adds that the government’s move or decision to support the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, which proposed to accept illegal immigrants who are Hindu, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis and even Christians but Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh as Indian citizens are making things more complex.
Summing up the report, Khan said, “The present condition of Assam is like a catch 22 situation and we are simply demanding an impartial solution to the existing situation. Our report is a gateway to the Assam crisis, which needs to be addressed without any political agenda.”
NRC and Political agenda
However, on being asked, if there was a political agenda, Sengupta said, “Being part of a fact-finding team, I really don’t want to comment on the political part. All that I can say was that this entire process of NRC being updated was begun by the Congress. However, this was being done in phases back then and has been fast-tracked by the BJP, which is the ruling government both at the centre and state.”
Adding to that Khan concluded, “After conducting the fact-finding research in Assam, we discovered that NRC is the Ram Mandir for Assam, about which both the ruling and opposition party will talk about but not bring in a proper solution to have it resolved.”