State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

Activists hold placards as they shout slogans during a protest against the exclusion of applicants in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, in New Delhi on September 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

  • Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC
  • “Two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC,” an activist said

NEW DELHI: Ahmed Toweb says his life has taken a turn for the worse since Aug. 31 last year, when his name was left off the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a 7-year-old program to identify “genuine” citizens in India’s eastern state of Assam.
“I’ve faced rejection in three marriage proposals in the last six months. Only my name has been excluded in my family of nine. How is it possible that my parents and other siblings are Indians and I am a foreigner?” Toweb, 28, a social and political activist from Barpara village in the Bongaigaon district of Assam, told Arab News.
“The entire list is faulty and not prepared properly,” he added.
Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC, which excluded about 1.9 million people.
The NRC is a by-product of violent civil strife in Assam in the 1980s, when students and political activists led a popular movement to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
To end the agitation, New Delhi signed the Assam Accord with students and the local government in 1985. It ordered a new list of citizens and resulted in a decree that people who entered the state after March 25, 1971, would be declared foreigners.
However, following the accord, no real progress was delivered.
In 2013, the Supreme Court expedited the process and fixed a time frame to complete the NRC process, before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 and claimed credit for the list.
With the advent of the BJP government in Assam in 2016, there were allegations that the party was using the NRC to target Bengali-speaking Muslims and consolidate its core vote bloc among Bengali-speaking Hindus.
To save its core Hindu constituency, the BJP brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that allows citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims.
For Ahmed Toweb, the debacle has caused concern about the future, especially if his appeal to be included in the NRC is rejected.
“I was very active when the NRC was being prepared, helping others to fill up forms and collect the right documents. Muslims thought the NRC would take off the stigma of being called illegal Bangladeshis, but we failed to understand the designs of the government,” he said, adding that Hindus now have the “advantage of the CAA, but we are left to our own fate.”
Those not listed on the NRC are sent a rejection letter by the government, after which they can appeal to the Foreign Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, and submit documents to “prove their citizenship.”
“It’s more than a year, and the reason for our non-inclusion has not been explained. As a result, we are in limbo,” Toweb said.
Fatema Begum from Bongaigaon district agreed and said she faces the same dilemma. Her husband is in the NRC, but she is not.
“What will happen to my married life and family if I am declared stateless? Already I am facing a problem. I can’t get a ration from the government shop because my name is not in the NRC,” Begum, 29, told Arab News.
Bongaigaon-based social activist, Rubul Iftikar, said Begum is not alone and that “the situation is so grim, that in his district, two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC.
“Some young girls who are not in the NRC list are not finding a groom. It’s a desperate situation where Muslims are not at all hopeful that the system would give them justice after the introduction of the CAA,” Iftikar told Arab News.
Experts said there are other motivations behind the NRC.
“The most enduring belief is that the NRC has an inherent bias against Muslims,” Assam-based lawyer A Sabur Tapader told Arab News.
Last year, after the release of the NRC, the BJP rejected the list and called for a review following reports that more than 60 percent of the 1.9 million left out were Hindus.
“The NRC is a political tool for the ruling BJP, and they want to woo the Bengali Hindu voters again by saying that they are fighting for them in court,” he added.
Now there are reports that the BJP is moving the Supreme Court to review the NRC again.
In the meantime, the process has left Bengali Hindus feeling confused, too, with some saying they have become a “political pendulum.”
“It’s difficult to trust the government. Assam will never accept the CAA because of its history. The government just wants to keep the issue alive and keep people fighting in the name of religion,” said Biplab Das of Sonipat district in Assam.
Das’ name is in the list, but his children are not included in the NRC.
Tapader said that with Assam elections scheduled for early next year, the government is reaching out to the Supreme Court to seek a reprieve.
“They have not yet framed the rules of the CAA, and it takes time to implement it. So people now understand the hidden motive of the BJP,” he said.
Delhi-based political analyst Jayanta Kalita said the BJP has an “ulterior motive” in implementing the NRC.
“The BJP had an ulterior motive when it talked about the NRC before 2014. It was not at all concerned about the grave threat posed by the influx of migrants from Bangladesh to Assam’s ethnic demography. Assam made a mistake by trusting the BJP. It showed its true communal colors by passing the CAA that is intended to benefit Hindu migrants,” Kalita told Arab News.
“Assam can’t be allowed to become a dumping ground for illegal immigrants,” he added.

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.