The final list of the government’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on Saturday (31 August). It’s the list of all houses, alongside the names and number of people residing in them, and their assets ostensibly meant to filter out illegal immigrants who have percolated through state’s porous border with Bangladesh.
On one hand, the publication of the NRC list marks the culmination of a process that practically started in May 2005 but had been stewing for much longer. On the other hand, it has impelled lakhs of Assam residents, who have been stripped off their citizenship by the stroke of a pen, into a legal quagmire. Those who are labelled ‘outsiders’ must defend their rights as Indian citizens in a court of law, or suffer deportation or detention.
This is when the Centre itself had admitted that there was a possibility that the process of determining the state resident’s legal claim to citizenship may not have been foolproof. The Centre and the Assam government had sought permission for sample re-verification to find out wrongful inclusions and exclusions of persons in the NRC, which was to be published by 31 July. On 23 July, the top court had extended the deadline for publication of the final NRC by a month to 31 August while rejecting the pleas seeking permission for 20 percent sample re-verification.
The NRC, which is being updated in the state for the first time since 1951 following a long-standing demand from the indigenous population, is a result of the six-year-long Assam agitation in the 1980s, a massacre that claimed lives of almost 3,000 people (mostly Bengali Muslims), a bloody bout of violence in state that warranted imposition of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act in state, a peace accord signed between indigenous people and the Union of India, and several nudges from the Supreme Court of India.
While civil rights activists labelled the exercise arbitrary and blatant subversion of human rights, indigenes argued that it cannot be judged based on reportage of selective events and a without proper historical context. Ridden with State excesses and several rounds of bloody communal violence, it’s a long and blighted history.
19 July, 1948: This was the last date in accordance with Article 6 of the Constitution when people from Pakistan could immigrate to India post Partition and still claim all citizenship rights, subject to exceptions in the law.
1 March, 1950: The Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 was enacted on this day and although it extends to whole of India, it is common knowledge that the Act was worded in a way to check the influx of Muslim immigrants from East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), while protecting the Hindu Bengalis who suffered persecution in the state and flowed in large numbers after anti-Hindu riots in East Pakistan. The law allowed the government to safeguard Hindu Bengalis interests while at the same time, deporting Bengali Muslims back into the Pakistani territory.
07 April, 1950: However, matters were complicated after the introduction of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact, which gave minorities (Muslims in India’s case) rights to return and reclaim their property. The partition of the subcontinent resulted in communal riots, following which Hindus from East Pakistan and Muslims from West Bengal crossed the borders; those he remained on the ‘wrong side’ were looked upon with suspicion. The prime ministers of the two countries then met in Delhi on, 2 April 1950 and signed an agreement to safeguard the rights of the minorities after several rounds of discussion. This pact, known as the Nehru-Liaquat Pact or Delhi Pact, states that those who return to India by 31 December 1950 were entitled to claim their properties back.
9 February, 1951: The first Census of India was initiated, the data collected from which became the basis for the first-ever National Register of Citizens. The 1951 NRC, not a public document, was created in the state from the census slips of 1951. It was nearly a year after the implementation of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act.
30 December, 1955: The Citizenship Act, 1955 was enacted. The legislation is basically the exhaustive law relating to citizenship in India.
24 October, 1960: The Assam official language Act was enacted amid fears that the influx of Bengali population will undermine the local Assamese language.
1960-61: The Bengali Language Movement protest peaks which oppose the decision of the Government of Assam to make Assamese the only official language of the state. It was in 1961 that Bengali was made the official language of Barak Valley following the Bengali Language Movement.
1964: Widespread riots against Hindu Bengalis spur more infiltration into Assam, Tripura and West Bengal.
23 September 1964: After the Registrar General of India in his report on the 1961 Census said 2,20,691 ‘infiltrants’ had entered Assam from East Pakistan – a fact backed by intelligence reports – a police drive was initiated in the border state in 1962 to detect and deport such infiltrators. This led to a hue and cry. Thus the Central Government set up the Foreigners Tribunals to provide a judicial remedy to people who were deemed illegal immigrants before the State could take any action against them.
8 August, 1967: The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) was formed in the backdrop of massive refugee influx and Indian government’s support in settling them in Assam.
1965-71: The border tensions rise and India-Pakistan war breaks out leading to even more infiltration of immigrants. Thousands of Bengali Hindus crossed the border escape atrocities unleashed by Pakistan Army in East Pakistan. Finally, The war of 1971 once again changed the complexity of implementing Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950 as the Indira Gandhi government decided not to deport people seeking refuge as a result of religious persecution.
19 March, 1972: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sign the Indira-Mujib agreement, determining various issues of the two countries, including 1971 as the cut-off year to identify the Bangladeshi infiltrators/refugees to India.
April, 1976: Government of India issues a notification to the state government following the prime ministers visit, wherein the state is instructed not to deport persons who came from Bangladesh to India prior to March, 1971.
1978: In 1978, Mangaldoi MP Hiralal Patowary died, necessitating a by-election. During the process of election, it was observed that the electorate had grown abnormally, giving rise to the fears that Bangladeshis have become ‘kingmakers’ in Assam. The All Assam Students Union demanded postponement of polls until the doubtful voters were struck off the electoral roll.
1979: Student leaders in 1979 came out in fierce protest demanding detention, disenfranchisement and deportation of illegal immigrants from Assam. The historic movement which came to be known as Assam Agitation or Assam Movement was initiated by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) and officially lasted a span of 6 years.
May 1980: The All Assam Minority Students Union was formed in 1980 to push back against the indenes’ Assam movement, which it said was targeting Muslims of East Bengal origin, Bengali Hindus and Nepalis based on false propaganda.
18 February, 1983: The day of the infamous Nellie massacre. Close to 3,000 people in Nagaon district, most of them Muslims, were massacred. Many of those targeted were descendants of legal migrants to British India.
1983: The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal ) (IMDT) Act was an Act of the Parliament of India enacted in 1983 by the Indira Gandhi government in order to detect illegal immigrants (from Bangladesh) and expel them from Assam while protecting them against undue harassment due affected by the Assam Agitation. It has been alleged to be one of the main reasons for the rapid rise of the Muslim population and demographic change in Assam.
15 August, 1985: Officially culminating the six-year-long movement waged by indigenous people, the Government of India finally signed a Memorandum of Settlement with the leaders of the Assam Agitation. Assam Accord establishes: Persons who came to Assam prior to 1 January, 1966, “shall be regularised”; Persons who came to Assam between (inclusive) 1 January, 1966 and 24, March, 1971, must register themselves, have their names deleted from electoral rolls, and after 10 years, have their names restored to the electoral rolls; Persons who came to Assam after 24, March, 1971, shall be expelled; Persons who have been expelled and re-entered Assam, shall be expelled. The Assam Accord is for all practical purposes, the basis of the current updating of NRC.
1985: Parliament of India passes Amendment 6A to Citizenship Act, 1951, which inserts Assam Accord rules into the Citizenship Act.
1997: The Election Commission of India, while reviewing the electoral roll introduces a ‘D’ tag (Dubious voter or Doubtful voter). It is a category of voters in Assam who are disenfranchised by the state government for lack of proper citizenship credentials. They are barred from contesting elections and casting their votes. In 2011, the Gauhati High Court ordered the D voters to be transferred to Foreigners Tribunals and be kept in detention camps.
2003: The Citizenship Act was amended to rule that: every person born in India, on or after the 26 January 1950, but before the 1 July 1987; on or after the 1 July 1987, but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is a citizen of India at the time of his birth; on or after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, where- both of his parents are citizens of India; or one of whose parents is a citizen of India and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of his birth, are all Indian citizens.
5 May, 2005: The tripartite talk in the presence of then prime minister Manmohan Singh formally adopted resolution to update the NRC within September 2007. But nothing progressed beyond the talk.
12 July, 2005: Supreme Court Strikes down Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983 in Sarbananda Sonowal versus Union of India. As a result, all cases pending before the appellate tribunal were transfered before the tribunals formed under the Foreigners Act. The IMDT Act reversed the burden of proof from individuals to State, made reference to tribunal more onerous, and indirectly made it harder to deport illegal immigrants.
12 July, 2009: Assam Public Work, an NGO files a case in Supreme Court claiming the names of 41 lakh foreigners have been included in the electoral rolls of Assam. In response to the APW case, the Centre tells the Supreme Court that the NRC 1951 is being updated to detect illegal foreigners so that Assam could have electoral rolls of genuine Indian citizens based on updated NRC. Later AASU became an intervener in the case and Supreme Court asks the government to expedite the process of updating NRC.
22 April, 2010: Then Union home secretary holds a tripartite meeting where the decision to conduct a pilot project to update NRC in Barpeta and Chaygaon revenue circles was taken. While the Chaygaon pilot project was successful, violence in July 2010 that claimed four lives halted the Barpeta project. Barpeta violence made the government shelve the entire NRC update. After Barpeta violence, AASU and 26 other ethnic organizations started joint movement for NRC update
2015: The process to update NRC starts in earnest after Supreme Court asks the government to expedite the process. It is said that the process gathered momentum only after the Supreme Court started monitoring it. The NRC authorities were given the deadline of 31 December, 2015 to complete the process. The deadline was missed.
31 August, 2015: This was the last date for people to submit applications to enroll their names in the updated NRC. About 3.2 crores of people submitted NRC applications.
31 December, 2017: The first draft of the NRC for Assam was published on the intervening night of 31 December, 2017 and 1 January, 2018, in accordance with the top court’s direction. Names of 1.9 crore people out of the 3.29 crore applicants were then incorporated.
30 July, 2018: The final draft of the revised NRC list was finally published from which the names of more than 40 lakh residents are missing.
28 August, 2018: The Supreme Court orders re-verification of 10 percent sample data of NRC, from each district amid complaints of arbitrary exclusions and lack of proper procedure.
25 September, 2018: Those excluded from the list were given the opportunity to file objections until 23 November.
17 July, 2019: The Centre and the state government sought more time alleging wrongful inclusions and exclusions from NRC. They sought a direction for 20 percent sample re-verification of names included in the final NRC draft in the districts of Assam bordering Bangladesh and 10 percent sample re-verification of names included in the final draft in the remaining districts
23 July, 2019: The Supreme Court extends deadline for publication of the final National Register of Citizens in Assam to 31 August.
20 August, 2019: The Union Home Ministry increased from 60 to 120 days the time limit for filing appeals in Foreign Tribunals (FTs) regarding exclusion from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
23 August, 2019: The government decided to make arrangements to provide legal aid to the needy people amongst those excluded from NRC. The three lists of the NRC published so far have left out over 41 lakh people out of 3.29 crore applicants.
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Assam NRC final list published: From 1947 to 2019, a timeline of state’s struggle against influx of… – Firstpost