Millennium Post

Nightmare for Bengalis in Assam

National Register of Citizens puts at risk the citizenship of four million people

Nightmare for Bengalis in Assam

For the Bengalis in Assam–both Hindu and Muslim–the year 2019 is proving to be a veritable annus horibilis, a terrible year. The final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC) is going to be published on July 31. In two lists–the second was an addition to the first and main one–nearly 41.09 lakh Bengali citizens have been left out of the NRC.

They will be eventually declared Bangladeshis but Bangladesh will not accept any of them. So they, along with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, born in India (Assam) will never get Indian citizenship and virtually become stateless with no citizenship rights, no admission to schools, no jobs and not even admission to hospitals when they fall ill. This inhuman situation is being created by the present dispensation in its holy mission of making India ghuspetia-free. As many as fifty persons have committed suicide so far after they found their names omitted from the NRC. Ironically, there are more Hindus among those who committed suicide than Muslims.

How many ghuspetias (illegal infiltrators) can be actually deported is anybody's guess, but there is no doubt that the desperate attempt to get one's name included in the NRC has created a highly lucrative ghush (bribe) industry. Corrupt officials are charging a 'fee' of anything between one and three thousand rupees (according to his estimate of the payer's capacity) for inclusion of a name in the NRC.

Apart from those whose names have not appeared in the NRC, there are several thousand "doubtful" voters who have been kept in detention camps. There are six detention camps now. The number will soon go up to ten as more 'doubtful' voters are being caught and herded into the camps. The 'doubtful' or 'D" voters cannot vote till their citizenship right has been conclusively proved.

Another dirty game is going on side by side with omitting genuine Indian citizens' names from the NRC. Some senior BJP leaders are nudging local people to file objections against suspected 'Bangladeshis' names being included in the NRC. The persons in whose names the objections are being filed are themselves blissfully unaware of the fact that in their names objections are being filed against persons whom they never knew, whose names they never heard. But those against whom objections have been made now have to prove their Indian nationality. There is no end to their harassment. Non-official sources claim that about two to three lakh objections have been filed. But after verification, most objections have been rejected.

Indiscriminate filing of objections sometimes causes embarrassment to the objector. Take, for example, the case of an objection which was filed by the secretary of a local unit of the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) in Udalguri district. He filed about a hundred odd objections against 'Bangladeshis', one of whom turned out to be none other than a former president of the Kalaigaon unit of the AASU and the son of a freedom fighter, Siddique Ali!

The witch-hunting for the ghuspetias has raked up the old Assamese-Bengali conflict which had become dormant and not being felt in day-to-day life. To the surprise of many, some eminent Assamese intellectuals with impeccable Left credentials have come out in support of NRC with strange arguments that smack of plain sophistry. Take, for example, Dr. Hiren Gohain's argument in defence of NRC: "It is a pity that some people are going all-out to dismiss the National Register of Citizens in Assam with thin arguments, apparently armed with selective history and socio-economic criteria divorced from the concrete social and political history of India's Northeast.

"Western liberal theories must not be borrowed for application in a decontextualised manner to explain issues of the Indian Subcontinent, and, specifically, those of the Northeast. A tactical ploy colouring this kind of narrative is a flat denial of the role of colonialism in shaping the circumstances that still keep the region subject to periodic convulsions." Pray, what is the "role of colonialism" today in driving out tens of thousands of Indian citizens–Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims–more than seventy years after India became Independent?

The NRC issue is dividing not only Assamese and Bengalis but Bengali Hindus and Muslims as well because the BJP Government's policy is to treat the Bengali Hindus coming from Bangladesh as "refugees" and Bengali Muslims as illegal entrants. The Citizenship Act was sought to be amended to give effect to this policy but it could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha. As the Lok Sabha was dissolved, the Bill lapsed. Now, the BJP is expected to secure a majority in the Rajya Sabha as well. Then the Amending Act may be reintroduced. Now, all Bengalis are being served with notices, irrespective of their religion. But the situation may change tomorrow and become more heavily loaded against the Muslims.

In the era of fake news and fake photographs, fake objections have also been reported. The All Assam Minority Students' Union (AAMSU) has alleged that "certain organisations" have filed false objections against people belonging to linguistic and religious minorities. AAMSU has claimd that certain organisations of the Bodos (a Scheduled Tribe) have taken signatures of villagers in blank forms and filed objections in their names. In one case, a Bodo villager of Bhalukjhora complained that activists of a Bodo students' organisation forced him to sign ten blank forms of objection. He has now sought to withdraw his objections. There are dozens of such cases going unreported.

Over four million Bengalis in Assam are passing sleepless nights and wondering what July 31 will bring for them. Will the country they were born and brought up in for generations disown them, and either drive them out or deprive them of their Indian identity?

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Barun Das Gupta

Barun Das Gupta

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