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.
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.
Partition of India. Formation of the new state of Pakistan, including East Bengal. Assam became a province of North Eastern India. There were no set restrictions on the migration of people from Pakistan and India after partition.
The Central Government of India issued that any person, who had entered India unlawfully in contravention of the rules, could be removed leading to communal issues in 1950’s. Immigrants Expulsion Act for Assam leads to around 400,000 Bengalis being pushed over the border into East Pakistan. Leaders of India and Pakistan sign the Nehru – Liaqat Pact for displaced persons.
First census of independent India is conducted. Based on this the National Register of Citizens was prepared which recorded the particulars of those who belonged to Assam. Many communities living on the border or near the rivers were left out due to accessibility issues (most are Bengalis).
The Citizenship Act comes into effect, which regulated Indian citizenship by birth, descent and registration.
Assamese becomes the official language of the state. Several months later the Bangla Language Movement was launched in the Barak Valley (which has a majority Sylheti population) to protest Assamese becoming the official language. 11 Bengalis were killed by the state police during these protests.
The PIP Scheme (Pakistani Infiltrator Prevention Scheme) began deporting any Bengali Muslims without any legal jurisprudence – this scheme runs until 1966 driving out approximately 250,000 Bengali Muslims.
Bangladesh Liberation War sees 400-500,000 Bengali refugees enter Assam. This group was largely made up of persecuted Hindus. Muslims who crossed the border very soon self-repatriated once the state of Bangladesh was established.
Start of the Assam Agitation – a student led movement which lasts for 6 years until 1985. This was a radical violent movement which sought to disrupt Bengali populations in Assam.
Nellie Massacre takes place in the backdrop of a violent election. The Assamese community refused to take part and boycotted elections arguing that the state was overrun and controlled by Bengali Hindus and Muslims. Approximately six thousand Bengali Muslims were killed within hours by nationalist and militant forces.
Illegal Migrants Act was passed, stating that those who came to Assam between 1966 and 1971 would automatically lose any voting rights. Foreigner Tribunals were set up and those who could not provide any evidence that they had entered before midnight on March 24th 1971 were to be declared as ‘foreigners’ and deported.
All Assam Students Union (AASU) who were leading the six-year Assam Agitation oversaw the signing of the Assam Accord – The Accord is signed on August 15th 1985 by AASU, other nationalist groups and the state. The Assam Accord clarifies that the cut-off date for Bengalis entering Assam to be recognised as Indian Citizens is 24th March 1971 (the end of Bangladesh Liberation War).
Detection and Deportation begins. This is an intensive voter list verification process and occurs in 1989, 1993 and 1997.
The introduction of the term ‘D’ voter (Doubtful or Disputed voter) is introduced by the Election Commission. 2.3 million voters in Assam are declared ‘D’ voters following voter list verifications and these are almost all due to not being able to provide proper documentation.
State Govt, Central Govt and AASU form tripartite meeting on implementation of the 1985 Assam Accord. Decision to update the 1951 NRC is taken.
Methodology for NRC verification is set up through various sub-committees. It is agreed that Legacy documents are to be used as well as Link documents.
Assam Public Works files a petition to the Supreme Court calling for the deletion of any undocumented migrants from the voter polls and the updating of the citizen’s list.
Supreme Court takes up the petition filed by Assam Public Works and begins the process of updating of the NRC.
Applications for the NRC open (following the Assam Accord) while being monitored by the Supreme Court. Around 33 million applications received – 4,700,000 are rejected based on no matching legacy data.
The BJP introduces the Citizenship Amendment Bill, proposing to grant citizenship to Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and followers of every other religion except Muslim minorities from the subcontinent.
On 31st Dec the first Draft of the NRC accepts 10.9M as citizens rejecting 23.8M others.
May - Violent protests led by Assamese Nationalists against the Citizenship Amendment Bill begin.
July – Final NRC list is published leaving out the names of 4 million people.
Those left out are given until December 2018 to provide the claims and objections form. Final version of the NRC is expected in 2019.
Final NRC list has been published, excluding 1.9 million people from citizenship leaving them stateless, with their fate undecided.
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.
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.