The Council of Europe reports that there are more than 680,000 stateless people in Europe today, a large number of them being ethnic Roma with no basic documents to prove their identity, legal status and citizenship. They are all individual stories of deprivation of rights, with their statelessness caused by, “discrimination in laws, complex and costly administrative practices, conflicting nationality legislation or insufficient safeguards against statelessness” (COE.INT). The stateless people are not able to, “access education, healthcare, employment, housing, justice, participation in the political life, etc” (COE.INT). The analysis of the language spoken by the Roma suggests that they are originally a Hindi people from northern India” (Lallanilla, 2013).
In the backdrop of the ongoing NPR/NRC/CAA debate raging in the country and taking my cue from the above report I decided to review the literature on Assam relating to migration, illegal migrants and discrimination to understand the ‘statelessness’ happening there. This article presents the findings from this review, some analysis, and some recommendations. The article shows a large part of those who came to be excluded from the Assam NRC are actually among ‘sons of the soil’ and talks of their discrimination.
Ancient to Pre-Colonial Migration & Discrimination
Migrations into Assam have been taking place since ancient times. The Austro-Asiatic or Austric race lived in South-West Asia in 8000 BC and are said to have entered India around 6000 BC (Sharma & Sharma, 2015, p.165). They lived in the Indus and Gangetic Valleys and later a branch of the main race crossed over to Assam, where they encountered Negritos, whom they pushed away to the mountains of the east (p.166)
The Austrics were the first to migrate into Assam (Borah, 2009, Ch 2). The present-day Khasis and Jantias of Meghalaya belong to this race. The Dravidians followed. The principal migrants to Assam include the Austro-Asiatics, the Dravidians, the Tibeto-Burmans, the Mongoloids and the Aryans. The Aryans came to Assam in the 1st Century AD.
The charts below present the migrants to Assam from the earliest times up to the pre-colonial period i.e. up to the early 19th Century and also the Social Groups in Pre-Colonial Assam. The first chart presents the key dynasties established by some of the tribes that became powerful among tribes that migrated. The Assamese society today is richer due to the immemorial contributions of the ancient tribes. For instance, the Bodo tribal people had been rearing silkworm, much before the Aryans came to Assam (Atreya & Maulana…Asian Studies, 2007. p. 146). In fact, the Bodos were the first people to introduce cultivation of various varieties of the silkworm in Assam, and Assam has therefore been famous for her silk from the time immemorial (p. 147). Further, the famous Kamakhya Temple of Assam was constructed or reconstructed by the Mlechchhas (“Yogi, Yoginis”2010).
A Bodo weaver, now marginalised.
However, the classical Hindu texts refer to the Bodos as Mech (Mlechhas in Sanskrit), which is a derogatory term. Brahma (2007) writes, “In the history of Assam the Mleccha or the Meches were the most important people as these people had moulded and shaped the history of ancient Assam then known as Pragjyotishpur or Kamrupa” (Brahma, 2007, Ch.2. P.12).
The Bodos are also referred to as Kirats, danavs, rakshasas, asuras and by other names in the classical Hindu texts. The literature review reveals that the Kirat people are not confined only to Assam. The first chart (below) shows that the Mongoloid race has been at the forefront of establishing powerful dynasties in Assam. The literature review also reveals that different sections of the Bodo tribe established many dynasties that together ruled Assam for hundreds of years. The ancient tribes converting to Hinduism is also a significant episode in the history of pre-colonial Assam. The evidence for all these statements, which also explain the chart below, follow the chart.
|Chart 1 Pre-Colonial Assam: Migration/Tribes Dynasties|
to Assam (oldest to Newest)
Present day descendants
of different races that
migrated to Assam
Dynasties established in Assam
by the descendants of different
races up to the 19th century
|Austrics||South-West Asia||Tribes: Khasio, Jantia of Meghalaya (earlier part of Assam)|
|Dravidian||Mediterranean coast||Tribes: Kaibarta, Bania*|
|Mongoloid||China, Tibet||Tribes: Kachcharis, Dimasas, Bodos, Rabhas, Lahungs, Mishing, Karbis, Ahom, Khamtis, Naras, Pakhiyals, Shyams, Kirat, Garo, Deuri, Chutias, Morans, Hajong, Mech||
|Mixed Races||Koche (Rajbongshi), were an admixture of the Mongoloid and Dravidian races; Bar Bhuiyan (do not belong to any one particular ethnic group)||
Note: The table information is not exhaustive.
Main Chart Source: 1. Borah, S.M. (2009) ‘Ethnic Conflicts and Political Parties in Assam’. Culled out from chapter 2.
Subsidiary Sources: 2. https://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsFarEast/IndiaAssam.htm
*A community of Goldsmiths in Assam (http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/mdetails.asp?id=jan0314/at08).
According to Borah (2009), ‘Mahiranga Danav’ was the earliest ruler of Assam. His dynasty was replaced by the ‘Naraka’ Dynasty. Narakasur, the Kirata King founded ‘Prajyotishpur’, the name by which ancient Assam is known. Prajyotishpur later came to be known as Kamrup and then Assam. The Kingdom of Kirata ruled over the territory between the Himalayas in the North and Bay of Bengal in the South. The Barman dynasty (350-650 AD) followed. It was replaced by the Salasthambha dynasty (650 AD-790 AD). Thereafter, the Pal dynasty (790 AD- 1142 AD) ruled. When the Ahoms entered Assam in the 13th century, the Chutiya, Koch and Kachari dynasties were active. The Ahoms ruled Assam till 1826 AD.
Manikiyal (2016) mentions Narakasur as the ancestor of the Barman, Salasthambha and Pala rulers. The Barman, Salasthambha and Pala rulers all belonged to the Mech (Mlechchha in Sanskrit) tribe (Boruah, 2002). Even the Kacharis belonged to the Mech tribe(Das, 1987). The Dimasas are a branch of the Kacharis. The Kacharis, identical with people called Mech in Goalpara and North Bengal, are described as the earliest known aboriginal inhabitants of the Brahmaputra Valley. Das (1987) further writes, that Kacharis call themselves Bodo or Bodo fisa (sons of Bodo) in the Brahmaputra Valley. The Kacharis became separated as Southern (Dimasa), a corruption of Dima fisa or ‘sons of the great river’ (Endle, 1911 in Das, 1987). Endle (1911) further writes that the Kacharians were in earlier days the dominant race in Assam (Endle, 1911 in Das, 1987).
Bodos belong to the greater Kirata group and during the time of the epics and Puranas the present day Bodos were known as Danavas, Asuras, Rakhshasas, Daityas, Mlechhas and Kiratas, etc. (Brahma, 2007, Ch.2. p.8). While the Kiratas constitute one of the major segments of the population of Indian sub-continent in ancient time living in the Himalayan and Sub-Himalayan regions, Eastern and North-Eastern India, Northern and North-Western India, forests, tracts, mountainous areas and the Gangetic plains, valley and deltas of India, their contribution to Indian History and Civilization is ignored (p.8). “One may say that, the Bodos who spread over the whole of the Brahmaputra valley and North Bengal as well as East-Bengal, forming a solid block of North-Eastern India, were the most important Indo-Mongoloid people in eastern India, and they form one of the main basis of present-day population of these tract”. (Chatterjee, S.K., 1951, cited in Brahma, 2007. P. 32-33)
Borah (2009, Ch.2) says, Brahmin Priests were invited by the Barman rulers and the latter converted to Hinduism. The Salasthambha and Pal rulers also converted to Hinduism. The Ahoms too converted to Buddhism and Vaishnavism spread throughout the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam. From the ‘Buddhist Records of the Western world’, we come to know about the Buddhists (Barman period) that, ‘Such disciples as there are, are of pure faith, say their prayers (repeat the name of Buddha) secretly, and that is all”. “Virtually all of Assam’s kings, from the fourth-century Varmans down to the eighteenth-century Ahoms, came from non-Aryan tribes that were only gradually Sanskritised.” (Urban 2011, p. 234). Chatterji (1955) writes about Bhaskaravarman, the noted ruler of the Barman dynasty, that “Hiuen Ts’ang by mistake described Bhaskara-varman as a Brahman, but he was just a neo-Kshatriya, a member of a Hinduised mleccha or non-Hindu Indo-Mongoloid family which had been accepted within the fold of Hindu orthodoxy”. (Chateerji, S.K., 1955)
Yasmin (2017) writes that several strands of Muslim settlements from the early 13th Century is recorded in the Aitihasic Patabhumit Asomor Aitijyamondita Islamdharmi Xokol (Muslims in the historical Landscape of Assam) and the Kanai Barashil Bowa Sil inscription found in North Guwahati and issued after the invasion of Bakhtiyar Khilji, where Muslims are called Turukshas, corroborate it (Yasmin, 2017, p. 116). “Ibn-Batuta mentions the Muslims of Kamarupa in his twelfth-century Rehla” (Yasmin, 2016). In Assam, “the conversion of a tribal man named Ali Mech during Khalji’s invasion commences the local roots of the Muslim community” (Yasmin, 2017, p. 117). So the Muslims in Assam are about as old as the Ahoms in Assam.
The second chart (below) presents the social groups in pre-colonial Assam. This chart is taken from Borah (2009), Chapter 2. It shows the different social groups in Assam by religion. Clearly, the society of Assam is multi-religious as it is in the rest of the Country. According to census, 2011, the population of Assam consists of 61.47% Hindus, 34.22% Muslims, 3.74% Christians, 0.07% Sikhs, 0.18% Buddhists, 0.08% Jains, 0.09% Other Religions and 0.16% Not Stated.
A caste analysis of chart 2 (above) is revealing. The analysis looks at the social groups mentioned in the chart above in terms of their position in the caste structure. The findings include mongoloid tribes that founded Assam, shaped it and established major dynasties that ruled and defended Assam through the ages are now in low caste positions in Assamese society. In the chart above, the Keot, Ganaks, Ahoms, Chutiyas, Motaks, Kumar, Marials and Julahas fall in the OBC (other backward caste) category. The Koch, Rajbanshis, Bodos, Kacharis, Mech, Lalung, Kachari and Deori fall in the ST (Scheduled Tribe) category. The Hira, Mali, Kaibarta and Sutradhar fall in the SC (Scheduled Caste) category. The Marials and the Julahas are low castes among Muslims. According to Karmakar (2018), Goriya-Moriya is among indigenous Muslim communities of Assam called Deshis, whose forefathers were Koch-Rajbongshis. Marials are also referred to as Goriya-Moriya. Thus we see, historically powerful indigenous social groups have been relegated to low caste position both in Hindu and Muslim societies of Assam. The Sachar Committee report states that Muslim caste categories include Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzals (Sachar Committee, 2006, p.191-192). Caste is the basis of social stratification in India.
Tribe is a “social group with territorial affiliation, endogamous, with no specialization of function, ruled by tribal officers, hereditary or other-wise, united in language or dialect, recognizing social distance with other tribes or castes, without any social obloquy attaching to them, as it does in the caste structure, following traditions, beliefs and customs, illiberal to naturalization of ideas from alien sources, above all conscious of homogeneity of ethnic and territorial integration”(Mazumdar and Madan, 1950). Chart 2 above shows a predominantly tribal society of Assam reduced to a caste society. The caste-based practice of Hinduism and Islam in the region may have caused it. As noted earlier, in classical Hindu texts such as the Puranas and Rig Veda, mongoloid Kings of Assam, are referred to as mlechchhas, asurs, danavs and rakshasas, despite their immemorial contributions to Assamese society. In case of Muslims, Mariya (reference to low caste Marials) appears to be the name given to braziers, since their work involves hammering/maar (Yasmin, 2017. p. 118). This certainly has the effect of reducing the worth of such people and their work.
We come across the use of such belittling terms as mentioned above elsewhere in the country too. In the context of Hinduism, Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd finds in his review of the book, ‘Could Not Be Hindu — The Story of a Dalit in the RSS’, the narration of, “absence of any talk in the Sangh ideology of people involved in productive labour. Their literature and speeches are only about mythic stories with vague ideas of falsified past glory. Labour, wages or the science of advancing food production are never mentioned. It follows that those who work in the fields are the despised mlecchas. The tillers of the land, graziers, shepherds, potters, fishers, carpenters, smiths, shoemakers — all get mobilised as unequal to the Brahmins, Banias and Kshatriyas (dwijas)” (Ilaiah, 2020) . The Sangh referred to here is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh involved in the promotion and protection of Hindu culture and defining India’s national identity based on Hinduism (rss.org). The dalits are the un-touchables, whereas the Brahmins, Banias and Kshtriyas are dwijas or twice born forming the higher social groups of Indian society enjoying immense privileges and immunities.
The Hindu and Muslim caste systems serve to keep the people assigned low caste positions in perpetual subjugation. Violence, physical (caste atrocities) and symbolic, are used to sustain the subjugation of low castes. Many Hindu festivals, example Diwali and Durga Puja, celebrate the killing of characters considered rulers by dalits and adivasis (https://www.indiatoday.in/fyi/story/mahishasura-martyrdom-day-durga-puja-mahalaya-1047773-2017-09-19). The book, ‘Masawat Ki Jung’ talks about caste-based violence in the Indian Muslim community, apart from raising other caste-based issues (Ansari, K.A, 2013).
In Assam, the indigenous population is invoking their racial roots in order to establish their identity. Following initiation of the process of NRC (National Register of Citizens) updating in Assam, around 40 lakhs indigenous Muslims called deshis found themselves placed in the ‘suspected bangladeshi’ category, whereas they are ‘sons of the soil’ from communities such as Koch, Rabha, Mech, Garo, Nath, Yogi and Kalita, and had converted to Islam following in the footsteps of Ali Mech in 1205 AD (Karmakar, 2018). Since their being Muslims was creating an identity crisis for them, the Deshi Janagosthiyo Mancha has demanded OBC tag for protection of their unique identity, culture and language and inclusion in the NRC as original inhabitants (Karmakar, 2018).
Borthakur (2017) writes, “Over the years, the ethnic identity of the Deshis, one of the oldest indigenous groups of lower Assam, is diminishing and the religious identity is becoming the sole determinant”. The deshi community showcased their traditions during Rongali festival in an attempt to establish their separate identity (Borthakur, 2017). One such tradition of the deshi is of the bride and the bridegroom on whom turmeric-green gram paste is applied on the occasion of the traditional bath on the eve of marriage (Borthakur, 2017). It is due to fatwas from clerics that many deshis stopped using sindoor during marriages, but it is still popular with married deshi women living in interior villages (Borthakur, 2017).
Colonial Migration and Discrimination
Colonial Assam for several decades was part of Bengal Presidency. “The boundaries of Assam were decided by colonial administrative convenience and imperial interest rather than based on history or culture. Thus, colonial Assam excluded areas that were part of pre-colonial Assam and included areas that were historically not a part of pre-colonial Assam” (Saikia, H. 2012). For instance, Koch-Behar a part of Assam was left out and Sylhet, an East-Bengal district was incorporated into the province (Saikia, H. 2012). Historically the territory of Koch Behar has been known as Pragjyotish, Kamarupa, Kamarupa-Kamta and lastly Koch Behar under the Koch dynasty of Assam (Dutta, 2015).
Tea plantations, coal mines, oil wells, etc, which came up during British rule in Assam necessitated a migration from neighboring states and other parts of British India to work in the newly opened tea gardens, coal mines and oil companies. The growth of the local economy of Assam attracted Marwari traders from Rajasthan. Educated Bengalis were encouraged to come to Assam by the British to take up jobs in the lower echelons of the Provincial Government. Peasants came from Bengal to work on cultivable wastelands, introducing jute cultivation, hitherto unheard of in Assam (Government of Assam, 2012). Thongkholal, 2010, p.77) writes a pull factor was created to attract people from other parts of the Country.
However, the local people did not gain out of Assam’s development story during the colonial period. “The region acted as a resource provider, to be extracted and exploited by outsiders, where the local population have nothing to gain out of it” (Thongkholal, 2010, p. 80).
Post Colonial Migration, detection of Illegal Migrants and Discrimination
The Government of Assam has prepared a White Paper on Assam’s Foreigner’s issue. It gives all details regarding the detection and deportation of foreigners, updating of NRC and steps taken to protect the international border like taking up fencing and strengthening of border outposts, etc., up to the year 2012 (Government of Assam, 2012). The White Paper has been summarized as follows:
1. The immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950 is passed to differentiate between refugees and other migrants coming into Assam from East Pakistan. The Act imposed conditions on the stay of immigrants from East Pakistan. The Act did not apply on refugees fleeing Pakistan on account of civil disturbances or fear of such disturbances.
2. Nehru-Liaquat Agreement of April, 1950 to protect the right to immovable property of immigrants who fled to East Pakistan following communal disturbances in Assam, provided he returned to his original home by 31st December, 1950. Almost all of them returned.
3. A National Register of Citizens, 1951 was prepared based on information of the population enumerated during Census 1951. The NRC Registers were transferred to the Police in the early 1960’s for verification of infiltrants/illegal migrants.
4. Early fifties drive against illegal immigrants is affected as Passport and Visa regulations between India and Pakistan come into operation only in October, 1952. Further, a Pakistani National is defined a ‘foreigner’ only after the amendment of the Foreigner’s Act, 1946 in March 1957. Instructions were issued to all state governments to deport Pakistani Nationals staying in India without proper authority or sanction. Further, the Citizenship Act was passed only in 1955.
5. 1961 Assam Census reports 220691 infiltrants to Assam. Intelligence also reports infiltration. Between 19962-64 a drive is launched to detect and deport infiltrants. 4 Tribunals headed by special officers with judicial background are also set up to scrutinize cases of those who claimed to be Indians.
6. The deportations invite criticism from some leaders of Assam and Pakistan. Pakistan threatens to take the issue of deportation to the United States.
7. By 1968 there were 9 Foreigners Tribunals.
8. 1969: Government decides that only 3 categories of foreigners will be deported- 1. Pakistani nationals who held Pakistani passports, 2. Re-infiltrants who were once deported and 3. Fresh infiltrants caught at the border.
9. Project PIP (Prevention of Infiltration into India of Pakistani Nationals), 1962 of the Home Ministry, Government of India: Aiming at physical check and control over the number, identity and movement of existing inhabitants in immigrant settlements near the border making it impossible for any new entrants to go untraced or unnoticed. Border districts covered: Goapara, Garo Hills, Char, Kamrup, Nowgong, Darrang and Lakhimpur. The whole project was under police administration. By 1984, 1873 police watch posts were created along the border with Pakistan. In 1967, a scheme for keeping thumb and finger impressions and photographs of Pakistani infiltrants was also introduced to complement PIP and Watch post schemes.
10. In 1965 the issue of expeditious compilation of NRC and issue of identity cards based on NRC is taken up by Government of India with Government of Assam. By 1966 the Central Government drops the proposal finding the project impracticable. Central and State Government’s plan to erect barbed wire fencing along the border is also dropped due to shortage of barbed wire.
11. 1976: Home Ministry issues a notification entrusting powers of Central Government to Superintendents of Police and Deputy Commissioners in charge of Police against Bangladesh Nationals. But, persons who had come to India from East Pakistan/Bangladesh before 1971 are not to be sent back.
12. In 1979, the Assam Agitation begins, the trigger being allegations of a large number of names of suspect nationality included in the voter’s list of Mangaldai Lok Sabha constituency going for by-elections following the death of its sitting MP Shri Hiralal Patwari. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) lead the state-wise agitation between 1979-1985) demanding ‘detection, disenfranchisement and deportation of foreigners’ involving revision of electoral rolls based on 1951 NRC. The agitation is largely non-violent except for the big communal violence in 1983.
13. 23 rounds of negotiations take place between the Centre and AASU in 1980-82. The initial positions: AASU wanted 1951 to be the cut-off year. The Centre stuck to March 25, 1971. Later Centre proposed 1967, AASU stuck to 1951. AASU later offered allowing immigrants who came to Assam after 1951 till 1961. For those who came after 1961 till 1971, the Centre would have to shift them to other states. The Centre refused to accept this proposal.
14. Assam Accord signed on August 15, 1985. Important clauses relate to the foreigners issue, border fencing, construction of border roads, setting up of border out posts, etc.
15. The Assam Accord settled March 24 1971 as the cutoff date. The accord also provided for citizenship to those who came to Assam between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971 after disenfranchising for a period of 10 years subject to registration.
16. Definition of Illegal Immigrants is hazy due to the shared history of the British colonial rule, the partition at the time of Independence, the role played by India in the creation of Bangladesh and the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955, which defines an “illegal migrant” as a foreigner.
17. The fact that most immigrants who entered before 1971 have not followed the legal process to become Indian citizens, complicate the issue of identifying the illegal migrants.
18. The various statutes governing provisions in respect of foreigners detection, deportation, citizenship, National Register of Citizens in respect of Assam include: The Foreigners Act, 1946; The Foreigners Order, 1948; The Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964; The Foreigners (Tribunal) Amendment Order, 2012; The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920; The Citizenship Act, 1955; And, The Citizenship (Registration of Citizen & Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
19. IM (D)Ts were established under the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 to take up cases of suspected foreigners of the post March 25th 1971 stream. The existing Foreigners Tribunals were entrusted with the responsibility of disposing of cases pertaining to pre-March 25th 1971 stream. The IM (DT) Act was struck down as ultra vires in 2005 by the Supreme Court of India given its poor performance, as out of 112791 cases referred to it between 1985-2005 only 12846 persons were declared foreigners out of which 1547 had been pushed back/deported. All cases pending with the IM (D)Ts were transferred to the Tribunals constituted under the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964.
20. Under Foreigners Tribunals, between 1985 to 2005 number of cases referred were 6094 and number of persons declared foreigners was 4598 out of which 39 were deported/pushed back.
21. Since 1985, 61,774 (including 6590 ‘D’ Voters) persons have been declared foreigners (both streams included).
22. Border Police Personnel are deployed for detection of suspected foreigners and deportation of/push back of declared foreigners. Survey and surveillance are the methods for detection. They take the help of local Gaonbura, VDP, etc.
23. Survey and surveillance is generally carried out in areas of new settlements, construction sites, encroached land, government land, forest land and hitherto un-inhabited areas to identify and detect the suspected foreigners. Spot visits to ferry ghats, bus stands, weekly bazaars and railway stations are also carried out to check the movement of suspected foreigners.
24. Most of the suspected foreigners are daily wagers and rickshaw pullers who do not carry their documents with them. During the period given to them to fetch the documents many go untraced. In cases that produce documents, but the documents are not reliable enquiry is initiated and if the enquiry report is positive a reference is made to the foreigners tribunal. If at this stage too they are not able to produce the relevant documents, their case is enquired into under the Citizenship Act, where if the suspected foreigners are of the 1966-1971 stream, their name is deleted from the electoral rolls for a period of 10 years from the date of detection and they are required to register their names with the registering authority within extended period of 60 days. In case they fail to do so, they are liable to be deported.
25. Deportation/Push Back of persons declared foreigner and kept in detention centre- In case of Push Back there is no need for acceptance of the person concerned by the Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB). In case of deportation, proper flag meeting takes place between BSF and BGB and deportation happens only when BGB accepts the foreigner. If BGB refuses to accept the foreigner, BSF is left with no further option and such persons become ‘stateless’.
26. Between 1985 to 1997 several exercises of revision of electoral rolls in respect of all LACs (Legislative Assembly Constituencies) to identify ‘D’ voters and delete their names from the electoral lists was undertaken. Concerned smaller lists (e.g. lists from the tribunals), court orders, etc, were kept in view while identifying ‘D’ voters.
27. A total of 2,31,657 ‘D’ references were made to the competent authorities between 1998-July, 2012. Out of cases referred, 88192 cases were disposed, 143465 cases were pending, 6590 persons were declared foreigners, 44220 persons were declared as Indian and 37382 cases were those where no opinion could be expressed.
28. Person marked as ‘D’ in the electoral rolls are neither allowed to cast their votes at elections nor allowed to contest any elections.
29. Implementation of the Assam Accord: Progress has been made on border fencing, patrolling, installation of floodlights, etc. The white paper also talks about updating Assam NRC.
Clauses 5.1 to 5.9 of the Assam Accord deal with the Foreigners Issue (https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/IN_850815_Assam%20Accord.pdf. The updated National Register of Citizens, Assam (NRC, Assam) published in August 2019 excludes 19 lakhs people without giving any break-up (BusinessToday.in). At a press conference called to discuss the impact of CAA-NRC on dalits and adivasis, retired IPS, and noted Human Rights Activistm S.R. Darapuri said about Assam NRC that lot of adivasis and dalits could not show their documents, further that the Rajvanshi community was impacted the most (The Wire, 2020). The Rajvanshi Community are a scheduled tribe community of Assam, and one of the oldest inhabitants of the state of Assam (as mentioned earlier). According to one report the population of Koch Rajbongshis in Assam stands at 6.9 million (Deka, 2016).
CAA: Unconstitutional, also violates International Treaties signed by India
Secularism is one of the salient features defining the Constitution of India. Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by excluding Muslims is a law that violates the secular principle of the Constitution of India by acting as a ‘Muslim filter’ (Meghnad, 2014). It also violates the Articles 14 (right to equality) and 25 (Freedom of Religion). According to Justice Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, the proviso to the definition of ‘illegal migrant’ in the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 is unconstitutional as there is a twin requirement of rational classification and reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the legislation to pass the text of Article 14 (Sinha, 2019).
The International treaties violated by CAA include, The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights that India ratified in 1979- “is very clear that you cannot deprive people of their citizenship on the basis of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origins”, and the International Conventions on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that India signed in 1967 and ratified the next year, which “explicitly obliges India to guarantee the right of everyone to equality before the law, including in the enjoyment of the right to nationality” (https://clarionindia.net/caa-violates-international-agreements-india-signed-in-1967-and-1979-human-rights-watch/). Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has filed an intervention in the Supreme Court on the Citizenship Amendment Act (PTI, 2020).
The long story of caste based discrimination must end and not be allowed to become an eternal phenomenon. All measures that need to be taken by the State and people themselves, particularly people subjected to caste discrimination, must be taken to address the caste issue. The rich customs, traditions and language common to people living together for hundreds and thousands of years make up their primary identity. People need to be made aware of this. Religions must also contribute to building this awareness among people. Religions in no way should distort or dilute this shared foremost identity of people. Further, the State should ensure that the rights of historically discriminated people guaranteed by the Constitution of India are safeguarded and effectively implemented. There are still large sections of extremely discriminated Muslim tribal communities that are not covered under affirmative action of the Constitution of India. The same applies in the case of dalit Muslim and Christian communities. The conviction rate in the case of caste atrocities is also dismal. Serious steps need to be taken to maintain communal harmony at all times. Invariably, it is the discriminated communities that are also victims of communal violence.
The 19 lakhs people excluded from the Assam NRC now have to approach the foreigner’s tribunals, etc, with valid documents. There is a real fear of many losing their citizenship status and becoming stateless. There are already many who have been rendered stateless in Assam. With respect to both these categories of people, it will be useful to implement best practices evolved by other Countries to help stateless people. The Council of Europe recommends measures such as providing free legal aid, waving of administration fees, mediation on behalf of stateless people, mobile registration units, trans-border cooperation, etc. CAA is not the solution as it is discriminatory, designed to provide relief only to non-Muslims declared ‘foreigner’. Further, the policy of deportation should be pursued over ‘push back’ or detention centers. In any case a genuine citizen/historical inhabitant must be protected at all cost.
NPR stands for National Population Register. NRC stands for National Register of Citizens. NPR precedes NRC and is the first step towards NRC. The full details of NPR and NRC may be read at (Citizenship Amendment Act, 2003; Citizenship Rules, 1956; Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 [India], 7 January 2004, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/410520784.html [accessed 5 February 2020]).
CAA stands for Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. It provides citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The full Act may be read at (http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/214646.pdf)
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Naaz Khair is a Pasmanda-Bahujan activist and Development Professional.