Guwahati, August 31 (Indian Express/newsin.asia): On Saturday, the final draft of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam listed 31.1 million as Indian citizens. These were out of 33 million applicants for inclusion. This means that 1.9 million applicants are not in NRC and therefore are not citizens of India.
Although non-inclusion can be challenged in the many Foreigners’ Tribunals, in the High Court and the Supreme Court, the worrying question is how many of the applicants have the wherewithal to go through the expensive and laborious process. Most of them are abjectly poor.
They will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971. This is the cutoff date in the Assam Accord of 1985, agreed upon by the Centre, the state and the All Assam Students’ Union, at the end of a six-year movement against migration from Bangladesh.
Cannot Go Back To Bangladesh
Even if they decide to go back to Bangladesh from where they had allegedly come as illegal immigrants, Bangladesh will not entertain them. Bangladesh has consistently maintained these so-called Bangladeshi immigrants are not Bangladeshi at all. They are Bengali-speaking Muslims living in Assam for centuries.
The Bangladesh Foreign Minister raised this issue when the Indian Foreign Minister S.Jaishankar visited Dhaka recently. The Bangladesh Minister was told that it is an “internal matter” of India and that Bangladesh need not worry about it. Jaishankar perhaps was hinting that a solution to the long-standing issue of illegal immigrants in Assam will be found within India.
Perhaps they would be given work permits and the right to run businesses but without voting rights. In fact the first person to go to court on the issue of illegal immigration has said that giving work permits will be alright but what will not be alright is the giving of voting rights. Voting rights had enabled millions of illegal immigrants to influence legislation and decisions to the detriment of the indigenous populations of Assam.
Assam has many detention camps for foreigners and illegal immigrants and more are to be built. But these cannot be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into hundreds of thousands.
They would officially be non-citizens, but what happens to them remains a grey area. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons, Home Ministry sources said.
The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education. There have been suggestions in Assam that they be given work permits — Home Ministry sources said that this may come under consideration, but certain sections have been opposing this ides too.
Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee. India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha (parliamentary) elections but not in Assembly polls, though.
In the case of Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits. Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labor, rations, housing and loans.