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Refugees – made in India

Refugees – made in India

Maulana Muhammad Amiruddin was the first deputy speaker of the Assam Legislative Council.

An independent MLA, he had served in this position from 1937 to 1946. Historical records will testify that Maulana who took part in the national freedom struggle and served prison sentences, played a crucial role in retaining Assam as part of India post-partition. His house can still be seen in Kalikajari, a small village in Morigaon district, Assam. His descendants live nearby. But, as per the government statistics, they are all 'foreigners'. More than a hundred of Maulana's relatives have been moving from court to court for years to prove their citizenship. If this is the plight of the kin of a great personality who has been chronicled in official historical records, the situation of the common man in that state can only be imagined. The officials of the Foreign Tribunal have visited more than 150 houses in that village and demanded to proved their citizenship. The people of Morigaon village have been clamouring to the authorities 'we are Indians'. But their names do not appear in the second and final draft of the Assam citizens register (National Register of Citizens -NRC) published on Monday. In the citizen register prepared by authorities, the details of only 2.89 crore people in Assam, which has a population of 3.29 crore, have been documented. The remaining, numbering over 40 lakh, have been considered as 'illegal immigrants'. The government has so far not clarified regarding the future of these people who have been kicked out.

There has been bloodshed many a time over these 'illegal immigrants'. There have also been several attempts to resolve the disputes between the 'Assamese' and the 'Bengalis'. One among them is the treaty signed by Rajiv Gandhi with the All Assam Students Union (AASU) in 1985. It was during the first UPA government that on the basis of signing another agreement, it was decided to use the citizenship record prepared in connection with the first census (1951) as basic document, and to grant citizenship to those who arrived here before the formation of Bangladesh (1971) and their descendants. A separate agency called Foreigners Tribunal was formed for this. More than hundreds of tribunals function in Assam. With the tribunal denying citizenship for many, even after submitting the required documents, the matter reached the High Court and later the Supreme Court. It was following this, that the Supreme Court in December 2014 asked the state government to prepare a citizenship register immediately. And when the citizenship register renewed after three and a half years is published, it gives a clear picture of how the nation creates refugees on its own.

Foreign Tribunal and other government systems have already classified the citizens in the state into several categories. A category called 'D-Voters' (Doubtful/Dubious voters) is one among them. These are people who are denied their right to vote in the name of suspicions and mostly destined to spend their lives in prisons despite having clear documents. There are examples of the authorities placing those who refuse to succumb to their demands in this category. A few years ago, Santosh Shabdakar and his brother were expelled after classifying them as 'D Voters'. Does the same miserable fate await the 40 lakh people excluded from the list? Although Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that there is nothing to fear and that nobody would be imprisoned, there is little room to rule out apprehensions. According to the government, those who are excluded from the register have the opportunity to submit their documents again starting from August 30 for a month. It should be kept in mind that this opportunity is only for those who have got registered in NRC in 2015. Those who failed to register in the four months that have been allowed, will still remain excluded. In other words, only a few thousands out of the 40 lakh will find a place in the list.

Instead of viewing the Assam 'immigration' issue realistically, all the national political parties have been trying to make it an instrument of political exploitation. Although there were some attempts for solution from the part of the Congress, they did not succeed beyond a stage of a political move. It was an electoral promise of NDA that they would grant citizenship to the Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh. Pinning hopes on that, non-Muslims are still crossing borders into India. It should be borne in mind that that such people form at least 10 per cent of the 40 lakhs. It was again with an eye on votes that during the state elections of 2016, Modi went a step further and said Bangladeshis - evidently implying Muslim 'immigrants' - will have to leave the country. When the NRC figured as a topic of discussion in Parliament, it was only Trinamool Congress that viewed the issue with concern and hit out against the Central Government. Mamata Banerjee's statement that Modi government was creating refugees in the country, has to be seen with seriousness. The moment one is excluded from the list of citizens, one becomes a refugee. The so created refugees now number 40 lakh. The Rohingyan refugees are a product of such a ding dong around citizenship issue between Myanmar and Bangladesh . And remember, this stranded population of 40 lakhs is not that far from Rohingyans.

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