Restless Beings

Citizenship Rights: Assam

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Human Rights Violations

Risk of mass deprivation of nationality and arbitrary detention of linguistic and religious minorities in Assam, India.

This is a clear violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that provides that "everyone has the right to a nationality" and that "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality."

From as early as the 1940’s, Assamese nationalism and Hindu fascism have fueled xenophobia leading to massacres targeting the Bengali Hindu and Muslim community within Assam.

As of 25th September 2018, 1,037 persons declared foreigners were being detained in detention centres in Assam. The centres have been referred to as concentration camps due to inhumane conditions.

Investigation by Amnesty India International[^] and Genocide Watch[^] have found the following:

Overview

Assam has always been an ethnically diverse region in India, neighboring Bangladesh and Bhutan. Migration between Bengal and Assam was a norm as the British Empire had declared Eastern Bengal and Assam one province. The majority of the Sylhet district (now in Bangladesh) was a part of Assam up until 1947.

Under the British Empire, colonial authorities including of local elites, decided that in order to maximise revenues they would move and resettle Muslim peasants from Bengal.

Ethnic tensions between the Assamese (Asamiya-speaking) and Bengalis escalated into calculated violence. The Assamese saw the Bengalis as a threat to their land and culture and vilified the community. In order to dehumanise the people they labelled them “Bangladeshis” - they saw them as belonging to Bangladesh even if they had lived in Assam for centuries.

Since the 1940’s there have been multiple pogroms targeting Bengalis. From the ‘Prevention of Infiltration from Pakistan’ scheme that forcibly deported millions of Bengali Muslims into East Pakistan, to ‘Bongal Kheda’ - an organised campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting Bengali Hindus, to the several massacres such as Nellie, Silapathar and Khoirabari - all targeting Bengalis.

In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War brought along a few Bengali Hindu refugees which escalated ethnic tensions further, even though data showed that only 3% of total Bangladeshi refugees (85% of whom were Hindu) took shelter in Assam.

After a six-year movement led by Assamese nationalist groups against “illegal immigrants”, the controversial Assam Accord was signed In 1985, providing the “detection, deletion and deportation” of foreigners. The Assam Accord made the government commit to systematically identifying people who entered Assam from Bangladesh after 1971.

Since then an atmosphere of violence and fear has swept Assam, with many migrant communities living under the consequences of the Assam Accord. In 1997, the Election Commission, ordered the letter “D”, meaning doubtful voter, be placed next to the names of 2.3 million voters from Assam, calling their citizenship into question.

Foreign Tribunals and Detention centres were created in order to combat the supposed illegal immigration problem within Assam.

In 2005, the burden to prove the legality of a citizenship claim was shifted from the state to the individual, creating new problems for the Bengali community.

The National Register of Citizens was ordered to be updated, which in 2013, started being monitored by the Supreme Court of India.

Violence escalated in 2012 and 2014, targeting the Bangla speaking community labelled as poor infiltrators from Bangladesh.

In 2016, the ruling BJP tried to pass the Citizenship Amendment Act, giving amnesty and citizenship to non-Muslim refugees.

The process of updating the NRC started in 2013 under the strict monitoring of the Supreme Court. On 30th July 2018, the Complete Draft of the NRC was released and 4 million people were rendered non-citizens and their futures in the country they called home, became uncertain.

The 4 million had a few months to appeal, however this was problematic as many of those left off the list were poor, uneducated and women that could not afford the legal help they needed.

In February 2018, after countless protests by Assamese nationalists over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, it was not passed.

On the 31st August 2019, the final list of the NRC was published. Around 1.9 million people have not been included. They have 120 days to appeal, another 200 tribunals will be added to the existing 100 tribunals by December to hear the appeals.

TIMELINE

Restless Beings Work

So far

The RB Assam team went to India in November 2018, to liaise with local activists and organisations on the ground. We met with academics, committees, lawyers and local communities affected by the NRC. We visited foreign tribunals to understand the legal procedures more deeply. Together with support from affected communities we devised a campaign to launch in the UK.

Proposal

Restless Beings aims to champion the rights of those from the affected communities which have overwhelmingly been Bengali via an international advocacy campaign. We intend to encourage the Indian government to follow international law, by overseeing a fairer NRC process, to close all detention centres, and to end deportations. We also aim to facilitate organisations that are already working on the ground to help affected communities financially, legally, politically and socially.

We wish to work alongside communities in the hope of healing decades worth of xenophobia and systematic violence against Bengalis and other minority communities within Assam. We have seen the results of this kind violence in Burma against the Rohingya, and want to do all we can to avoid another genocide.

We wish to apply pressure and outrage to the NRC process so the Indian government does not replicate this in other states in India which is on their agenda.

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Restless Beings

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helping support marginalised communities

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