NEW DELHI: Masuma Begum has been in a state of shock since her name failed to appear in the National Register of Citizenship or NRC, a draft that the northeastern state of Assam is preparing to enlist “genuine” Indian citizens.
The 25-year-old Begum, a trainee teacher in Guwahati, Assam’s biggest city, is the only one in her family of six whose name is not mentioned in the new citizenship draft published on July 30.
Ajmal Haque, 51, a resident of Chhaygaon in Kamrup district, and an Indian Army officer who retired after 30 years of service, also finds his name and those of his two children missing from the NRC list. He feels sad. “Despite my serving India for so long, it does not recognize me and my family as Indian citizens,” Haque told Arab News.
There are four million people whose names have not been included in the draft list that was published on Monday.
Out of the 32.9 million population of the border state of Assam, 28.9 million names were included in the final draft of the NRC.
The NRC is the by-product of the Assam Accord of 1985 that ended six-year-old violent agitation to expel illegal immigrants from the state.
The NRC stipulated that all immigrants who have entered Assam on or after March 25, 1971, were to be identified and deported.
However, no progress was made on this front and the matter reached the Supreme Court of India in 2015. It ordered that the NRC of 1951 should be updated so as to identify genuine citizens.
In the meanwhile, for the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), which has long been demanding the identification of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims in Assam, the NRC came, according to analysts, as a political opportunity to further consolidate its Hindu votes in Assam, where they came to power for the first time after playing the majority card.
“I feel politics has come into play in the preparations of the NRC list. I feel some names are deliberately being left out for political reasons,” said Begum, who said her family was also part of the first NRC in 1951. “Muslims are no doubt the target of this exercise,” she added.
Suspicion on this front become all the more pronounced with the BJP’s attempt to introduce an amendment to the 1955 Citizenship Act, thereby giving Indian citizenship to all non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring countries, except Nepal.
India’s Interior Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday: “Even if someone didn’t find their names in the final NRC, they can go to the foreigners’ tribunals. All individuals will be given a fair chance.”
But Haque questioned the move by the government: “The whole process is faulty and I feel humiliated that despite serving the country for three decades, I have to prove my citizenship and my name does not feature in the NRC list.”
The junior commissioned officer raises doubts about the fairness of the whole process. “I see a clear political agenda in the targeting of the Bengali Muslims of Assam. By targeting the Muslims, the Indian government is creating a Rohingya kind of situation in Assam. You first disenfranchise them and then make them refugees in their own homeland.”
Abdul Haq Azad, an Assam-based researcher, said the Muslims of Assam saw the NRC as a panacea from all sorts of persecution, harassment and discrimination in the name of illegal immigrants, “but the government has made it another tool for persecuting the Muslims through its range of exclusionary provisions.”
“The current situation in Assam reminds one of the conditions of Rohingyas in Myanmar in the 1980s,” said Azad.
Human rights activist Suhas Chakma said: “The very premise of the NRC is faulty. How will you prove someone is an original inhabitant of the land or not?”
In the meanwhile, the NRC second draft has kicked up a political storm in India with the Upper House of Parliament seeing a heated debate between the ruling party and the opposition.
The opposition feels the government should adopt a humanitarian stance on this issue and should not precipitate a crisis in the country.
Political analysts, however, believe that “the BJP sees electoral gains in this communal polarization.”