A Fact-Finding Team of United Against Hate (UAH) visited Assam recently to explore the aftermath of the final list of NRC which has declared 19 lakh people to be foreigners and are going to strip them of their citizenship. During the visit to the state, the Fact-Finding Team met several people who have been directly impacted by NRC, lawyers, members of civil society and other stakeholders to make their assessment.
The members of Fact-Finding team were Nadeem Khan from UAH, Prashant Tandon, senior journalist, Sanjay Kumar, journalist, and Afroz Ahmed Sahil, documentary filmmaker. The team addressed a Press Conference on 17 September in Press Club, New Delhi.
The team members briefed the press about the Fact Finding report. They talked about the horrors and trauma of people cutting across communities who had been deleted from the final NRC list. They also talked about the incompetence of the Foreign Tribunals that are going to re-examine the claim of the people who have been excluded. They also talked about the detention centers which are unfortunately being constructed by laborers who themselves have been excluded from NRC and could be jailed in those same centers in the future. The guest speakers in the Press Conference were Ravi Nair and Supreme Court Advocates Sanjay Hegde and Fuzail Ayyubi. All of them have been active against the draconian NRC project.
Ravi Nair said, “people migrate for jobs all over India. These poor labourers often lack documents but now they are thinking of making this project All India. India will have to face severe criticism in the upcoming sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. Universal declaration of human rights is being violated dreadfully by this NRC project. Right to nationality is after all non-negotiable.”
Fuzail Ayyubi said, “Foreign Tribunal (FT) takes away the basic identity of people. Facing FT itself is harassment. Moreover, the people sitting in the FT are not competent enough to take such major decisions about the lives of millions of people. No appellate authority is present within FT. There is no upper layer of appeal making this project more inhuman”.
A short documentary called “The state of Stateless in Assam” prepared by Afroz Ahmed Sahil, a member of the Fact-Finding Team was screened.
Video courtesy: United against Hate team.
Nadeem Khan also added that it is on record in Assam Assembly that the CM has met the FT members twice to give directions. This itself questions the unbiased judicial nature of the Foreign Tribunal.
Sanjay Hegde said, “when SC gives a final decision, it is often wrong. Citizenship is a right to have rights, which itself has been put into questions through NRC. Descendents over generations are now asked to show papers to prove their citizenship. Absence of someone from the NRC list does not prove that someone is not an Indian citizen. To the minds of many people in Assam, all Bengali speaking Muslims are Bangladeshis which is absolutely baseless. Behind the 20 lakh people mentioned in NRC, are 20 lakh families and many more lakh people going destitute paying lawyers. This will lead to disenfranchisement and a humongous humanitarian crisis which will put the entire democracy in jeopardy.
The fact-finding report reveals some startling details:
The way the whole exercise of the NRC was conducted in the last five years it smacks of a mindset. It was designed to fix certain targets. This becomes all the more clear when we look at the functioning of the NRC, the operation of the Foreigners Tribunals (FT), the composition of the FTs, biases of the judiciary and the administrative machinery.
The ruling BJP built up its anti-Muslim bogey on the back of infiltration from Bangladesh. It came to power promising sending all the illegal immigrants out of the country. But the final NRC figure belies the hope of the ruling party and busts a long-held myth that majority of the Bengali speaking Muslims living in Assam are foreigners.
Fact-Finding Team interacted with many people, mostly poor, across districts whose claims of citizenship has been rejected by Foreign Tribunals. Their testimonies give a clear indication that FTs are not functioning as independent tribunals and involving judicious and professional methods in disposing of cases brought before them.
Fact-Finding Team found that a large number of cases (55 percent) have been decided by FTs ex parte or in absentia. As per media reports over 60,000 people have been declared foreigners ex parte since 1985. There is a section of the floating population, mainly daily wagers, for employment-related reasons. There have been instances that notices are either being sent to old addresses (native places) whereas ‘opposite party’ – against whom case has been filed is residing in his\her place of work. Often cases have been filed far off places making it difficult for people against whom cases have been filed to appear in FTs and defend themselves
The big question that the NRC poses is: can India afford to have so many people as stateless citizens? Why a civil and democratic society needs a detention center to house so-called illegal immigrants?