By Tara Hebbar and Naina Sharma
When Assam released the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list on 31st August, many people in Assam were given the title “stateless” since they might have no state to belong to. The NRC included around 31.1 million people, excluding around 1.9 million. These 1.9 million people are now somewhere between Assam and India, with potentially no place to go, not sure where to call home.
India has created the NRC list to remove illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who migrated to India in 1971 and onwards, as well as their descendants, living illegally in India. As for those not included in the NRC, according to the government, nobody knows if they will be deported immediately. These excluded will have to convince the judges in ‘foreign tribunals’, that they are able to come back to live in India.
To accommodate the “stateless,” detention camps have been set up across Assam. Currently, these camps are in Goalpara, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar, and Tezpur, where local jails have been converted to camps. Nearly 1,000 people are currently held in detention centres unable to go home.
The earlier draft of the NRC, which was released in 2018, had excluded 4.1 million of the Assam residents. The government of India had given those excluded from the NRC, a chance to prove their citizenship of India. Similarly, the 1.9 million “stateless” people can prove their citizenship in a foreign tribunal. This will be a long process that could possibly stretch over two or three years.
As stated by the Assam Accord, any foreign person who migrated to India after the day of December 24th 1971, would be thought of as an illegal migrant and would be liable to be deported out of India. People who had come into India between January 1966 and December 1971 were to be given citizenship after being a resident in India for 10 years. Those who came to India before the year of 1966, mostly because of the Partition in 1947, would automatically gain citizenship of India.
Some people are questioning if Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are using this issue to target the minority-Muslim community, as they are a third of Assam’s population. This has been denied over and over again by the BJP. But ideally speaking, this could be a possibility. There is still an invisible separation between Hindus and Muslims, because they do not share the same cultural and philosophical views and laws as Hindus, and we are all not entirely the same. But is that really a good enough reason to leave people stranded and imprisoned in district jail, with no place to go? Is that really what we’ve come to?
The big question is, what will happen to those who were not included in the NRC list? This is what Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry said “Exclusion from the NRC has no implication on the rights of an individual resident in Assam. Those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law. It does not make the excluded person “stateless”. It also does not make him a foreigner.”
But when will that happen? When will they be able to go home, and not be held in a ‘detention centre’? Will they be welcomed back into Assam? Will they have to fight their case in a tribunal? What will really happen to them? Are the government able to assure the “stateless” of their safety?
The government has not raised a solution yet. But they have promised the stateless will live with rights in Assam? Will they be able to keep that promise?