Guwahati, Jan 23, 2020: Manju Debnath, a migrant and a Bengali Hindu from Nagaon is among the 19 lakh people excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Close to six months after the list was published, the 60-year-old is still anxiously waiting for the notification of the final list. "Earlier I was tensed as to what’s next but then I left it to my fate. I am not the only one. In Assam, lakhs have been excluded under the NRC. But now the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) gives us a hope to get citizenship," Ms Debnath tells NDTV.
Fate of over 19 lakh people is struck in limbo with Assam NRC process not moving an inch after the publication of the final list in August. Many of those excluded claim they are Indians, and they have the documents to prove it, but for that, the list has to be notified. Many of them, particularly Bengali Hindus, now hope to get citizenship under the controversial amended citizenship law. The citizenship law is the first time religion will be used to determine eligibility for Indian citizenship.
"My father fled from Bangladesh in the late 60s due to religious persecution but now I have no proof. CAA will be handy to get rid of Bangladeshi tag," said another man who does not wants to be identified.
For past two months Assam has seen massive protests against the citizenship law which would now allow citizenship to many of these Bengali Hindu migrants who entered India after 1971, the cut off that was set in Assam accord.
Under the Assam Accord of 1985 - signed in 1985 by the Congress government headed by Rajiv Gandhi -- illegal migrants who entered Assam after 1971 will be expelled. Those entering before 1966 will be given citizenship and voting rights. Illegal migrants who entered the state between 1966 and 1971 will have to stay for a decade before they are regularised, it adds.
Protesters argue that the citizenship law has extended the cut-off date of 1971 by 43 years, since it would allow citizenship to migrants who entered till 2014.
BJP had claimed that over 5 lakhs will benefit from the new law. Cornered by sustained protests against the citizenship law, the BJP-led Assam government has "suggested" the centre must have several "safeguards" and "checks" in the set of rules to be framed for implementation of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act. "In our government’s view one will definitely have to prove one entered India, and more so Assam, before 2014... to do this you will have to produce government account. Suppose bank account opened prior to 2014 or NRC application (was made) prior to 2014, applicant has to prove bonafide residency in Assam under CAA," Himanta Biswa Sarma, cabinet minister and a key BJP leader in the North East, said.
50 km away from Nagaon, in Neelbagan of Hojai district, a group of people from Muslim community who were excluded from the NRC are busy taking advice from activist of All Assam Minority student Union on the options left before them.
Aftab Ali, 64, was included in both part and full draft of NRC but surprisingly dropped in the final one. "I am an Indian citizen but I need to prove it again. Despite being included in both the draft, I was dropped in the final one. What was my fault? The Hindus will be protected by CAA but what will happen to Muslims excluded under NRC. We are also poor people. How will we earn a living or even fight in tribunals," asks Aftab Ali.
Few miles away from the Muslim village is a settlement of the Hajong tribe, which follows Hinduism. The tribe settled in Assam in 1964 after they migrated from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), but even they are not sure whether to wait for NRC or if they qualify under CAA.
"We are afraid which way to go. There is always possibility of facing further harrassment in the process. We have land documents and other documents yet the choice is difficult," says Aranya Hajong.
Assam government has notified setting up of 200 more appellate Foreigners’ Tribunals for hearing of appeals of people excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC). The facilities, to be set up in all the 33 districts of the state, will be in addition to the existing 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs), according to an official release.
The appeal against exclusion from the NRC must be filed within 120 days of the publication of the final NRC.