The names of nearly 5 million Bengali-speaking Muslims have been struck off the National Citizenship Register in Assam. — File photo
The future of millions of Assam’s indigenous Muslims hangs by a thin thread as the Supreme Court of India takes up the issue of controversial Register of Citizenship issue . Manzar Bilal Qasmi examines the genesis of the Assam accord and the issue of the so-called Bangladeshi illegals.
MANZAR BILAL QASMI | Caravan Daily
Assam has been in turmoil since last four decade over wild allegations of large scale infiltration of Bangladeshi nationals, which is more a myth than a reality. There had been a 6-year long agitation which started in the year 1978-79 mainly led by All Assam Student Union (AASU) — now Assam Gana Parishad (AGP) — which later ruled the state for two terms and presently it is a partner of BJP-led Assam Government.
The Assam agitation had been launched initially against the outsiders (Hindi-speaking people), then it became anti-foreigners and later turned into anti-Bangladeshi and then anti-Muslim, being guided by communal forces. Thousands of people were killed, houses were burnt, the infamous pogrom at Nellie and Chaulkua took place, and lakhs of people were displaced and made homeless.
The Assam Accord
Ultimately, a consensus agreement was executed on August 15, 1985 between the agitating organisations, the Central Government under the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Government of Assam, which is known as the Assam Accord. It was agreed that those who came and settled in Assam till March 25, 1971 (before formation of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971), they will be treated as Indian citizens. Accordingly, the Citizenship Act 1955 was amended by the Parliament and section 6-A was inserted in to the Act.
But some vested interested groups like Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, Assam Public Works and others had filed cases in the Supreme Court being WP(C) No. 274/2009 and WP(C) No. 562/2012 claiming that instead of that cut-off date i.e. March 25, 1971, the base year should be 1951, to decide the citizenship of people in Assam. It also challenged the validity of Assam Accord-1985 claiming it as unconstitutional and demanded that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) should be updated with 1951 on the base year.
As the issue involved the lives of lakhs of people, rather 1/3rd population of Assam, the Assam unit of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind headed by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal under the guidance of national president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind Maulana Syed Mohammed Usman Mansoorpuri and General Secretary Maulana Syed Mahmood Asad Madani filed the petition against these cases filed by vested interested organizations in Supreme Court to defend the Assam Accord-1985 and Section 6-A of the Citizenship Act-1955.
Meantime, All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) and Citizens Rights Preservation Committee (CRPC) also filed the petition in Supreme Court to defend Assam Accord of 1985. Now these three organisations – the Assam Jamiat led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, AAMSU and CRPC are defendants of Assam Accord, 1985 in SC. The case is being heard by a five-member constitutional bench of Supreme Court.
The positive part of the story is that in first week of May, 2017, the Central Government as well as the state government of Assam (both led by the BJP) also filed affidavits in the Supreme Court in support to Assam Accord, 1985 and advocated for making 25, March 1971 as cut-off date for determination of citizenship in Assam which has also been clear stand of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind and likeminded groups. However, the judgment of apex court will seal the fate of lakhs of Muslims residing in Assam. (The earlier Assam Govt led by Congress also was in favour of Assam Accord-1985)
National Register of Citizenship
On August 20th, 2014 while hearing on WP(C) No. 274/2009 and WP(C) No. 562/, A Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R.K. Agrawal passed the order to the then Central Government and the Assam government (both led by Congress) to complete the entire process to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) within three years, which will help weed out illegal migrants from the state.
An IAS officer Prateek Hajela was appointed as state coordinator and nodal officer for completion of NRC project in Assam within the prescribed time. Now the Supreme Court has fixed 31 December 2017 as deadline for completion of works regarding publication of NRC draft.
The Supreme Court also directed to state government of Assam to prepare a modality and list of documents for enrolment to NRC. The then state government led by the Congress Party formed a cabinet subcommittee for the purpose and the committee after discussion with all political parties and other stakeholders prepared a modality and list of documents for enrolment to NRC which was accepted by the Supreme Court of India and the Registrar General of India. The process for updating and preparation of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has been underway under the supervision of Supreme Court of India since 2014.
The acceptable documents for enrolment into the NRC were divided into two categories A and B. Anyone can see the list at official website of NRC at http://nrcassam.nic.in/admin-documents.html .
The list of documents in ‘A’ category
- (1) 1951 NRC OR
- (2) Electoral Roll(s) up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) OR
- (3) Land & Tenancy Records OR
- (4) Citizenship Certificate OR
- (5) Permanent Residential Certificate OR
- (6) Refugee Registration Certificate OR
- (7) Passport OR
- (8) LIC OR
- (9) Any Govt. issued License/Certificate OR
- (10) Govt. Service/ Employment Certificate OR
- (11) Bank/Post Office Accounts OR
- (12) Birth Certificate OR
- (13) Board/University Educational Certificate OR
- (14) Court Records/Processes.
At the official website of NRC the following paragraph is written which cleared many points of doubts.
“The Second requirement arises if name in any of the documents of List ‘A’ is not of the applicant himself/herself but that of an ancestor, namely, father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother (and so on) of the applicant. In such cases, the applicant shall have to submit documents as in List ‘B’ below to establish relationship with such ancestor, i.e., father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother etc. whose name appears in List A. Such documents shall have to be legally acceptable document which clearly proves such relationship” written on NRC website.
The list of documents in ‘B’ category
- (1) Birth Certificate OR
- (2) Land document OR
- (3) Board/University Certificate OR
- (4) Bank/LIC/Post Office records OR
- (5) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in case of married women OR
- (6) Electoral Roll OR
- (7) Ration Card OR
- (8) Any other legally acceptable document
In view of the above, the Gaon Panchayat (GP) secretaries were authorised to issue linkage certificates to identify the women migrated from one Gaon Panchayat (GP) to another Gaon Panchayat (GP) or any other places for marital purpose and to those children who do not have birth certificate or any other documents as that was not compulsory before 1989. The certificates were countersigned by the concerned Circle Officers of revenue circle and Block Development officers.
This decision was taken by the Cabinet sub-committee of Assam Govt and the circular was served by the NRC Coordinator and Apex Court as well as registrar General of India were informed about the same. Accordingly the G.P. Secretaries issued more than 48 lakhs certificates in favour of the married women and children as linkage document. According to that modality and following the Supreme Court instruction, about 80% works of NRC has already been completed in Assam.
Guwahati HC Order Complicated the Issue
But a division bench of Guwahati High Court by its order dated 28/2/2017 in WPC No. 2634/2016, declared the issuance and use of linkage certificates issued by Gaon Panchayats/revenue authorities in Assam for enrolment into NRC as null and void. As a result, 48 lakhs of such link certificates have been declared invalid. In view of the same, the apex court, vide its order dated March 8, 2017 directed the state coordinator of the NRC to publish the draft NRC keeping aside those whose enrolment depends on those linkage certificates.
Keeping the dire consequence of the order affecting about 48 lakhs of citizens (mostly women married from other villages) in mind, Assam State Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind under the leadership of its president Maulana Badruddin Ajmal along with some other groups filed Special Writ Petition in Supreme Court against the Guwahati High Court’s order. The case being heard by a bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha.
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A team of prominent advocates including senior advocate B.H. Marlapalle, senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, senior advocate Ejaz Maqbool, senior advocate Shakeel Ahmed, senior advocate N.H. Majarbhya and advocate A.S. Tapader are appearing in the Supreme Court on behalf of Assam State Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal.
In addition to Assam state Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (Mahmood Madani Group) led by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, other groups who are fighting on behalf of victims include Jamita Ulema-i-Hind (Arshad Madani group) and All Assam Minority Student Union (AAMSU). They also engaged a team of advocates for this vital case of Assam. In this case Jamiat Ulama both groups and AAMSU are petitioners.
New turn in case on October 12th, 2017
On October 12th, 2017, the Special Leave Petition(Civil) filed against Guwahati High Court’s order dated February 28, 2017 invalidating linkage Certificate issued by Panchayat Secretary/ revenue officer for enrolment to National Register of Citizens (NRC) affecting 48 lakh people of Assam came before a bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha.
Appearing in the matter, Prateek Hajela , Co-ordinator of NRC in Assam informed the Court that the number of people whose citizenship is depend on linkage certificate are 47.9 lakh and not 48 lakh as it was said earlier. He also said that about 17.40 lakh people were identified as original inhabitants while, rest of them including 26.13 lakh married women and 1.24 unmarried women while 2.32 lakh men are under examination (all together about 29 lakh).
However, countering the figure given by Prateek Hajela, advocates appeared on behalf of petitioners asked that what was the criteria and definition to identify the original inhabitant on the basis of which you have prepared the report. They demanded that the criteria and definition for identifying the original inhabitant should be laid down. However, the judges recorded the statement of Prateek Hajela, Project Co-ordinator, NRC and directed that the cases of 17.04 lakhs of people be proceeded with accordingly. The case was listed for next hearing in November 2017.
The order of the Apex court delivered on 12 Oct 2017 reads:
“We have perused the report of the learned Coordinator, Shri Prateek Hajela, filed on 10.10.2017. In the said report the learned Coordinator has stated that the total number of applicants who claim inclusion in the NRC on the basis of certificates issued by the Gram Panchayat Secretary is 47 lakhs approximately and not 48 lakhs as informed earlier. In the said report it has been further stated that out of the aforesaid figure of 47 lakhs approximately 17.40 lakhs persons are original inhabitants and on the basis of a detailed field verification the Registering Authority is satisfied that with regard to the citizenship status of the aforesaid 17.40 lakhs applicants. The said statement is taken on record with a direction that the claims of the aforesaid persons i.e. 17.40 lakhs for inclusion in the NRC be now processed accordingly.”
Another twist on November 9th, 2017
On November 9, 2017, while hearing on case related to NRC updation, the two member bench of Supreme Court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Nareman expressed their anguish on interference in process of NRC by State Government as well as Union Government.
“Who is Assam Government and who is Union Government to decide about whose names should be included in NRC and whose should not be? We know Assam Chief Secretary, Assam DIG, Union Home Secretary and Registrar General of India are holding meetings after meetings to decide the number of people to be included in NRC while this is none of them business because updation of NRC is going on under SC supervision and not governments” said Justice Ranjan Gogoi.
The judges were also not happy with the performance of NRC Coordinator. While referring to the new affidavit filed by NRC coordinator, judges said: You have stated in your report that total 3.21 crore people applied for enrolment into NRC, out of which, about 2 crore were verified and 1.21 crore are to be verified. You were never said it before at any date of hearing that this huge number people are yet to be verified. This is totally surprising, you are not doing well for this serious issue. How can you publish NRC draft while keeping aside 1.21 crore people?” Judges remarked.
However, NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela said that he would try to finish his work as soon as possible.
Actually, earlier it was understood that only 48 lakh people mostly women who applied for NRC enrolment and submitted panchayat certificates as linkage certificate were needed to be verified. Out of the, about 17 lakh were already verified (as affidavit of NRC coordinator submitted on 12 Oct 2017 says) and only the case of 29 lakh remained for verification. Therefore, Court ordered that NRC draft should be published before 31st Dec 2017 and verification works should be continued. But the new data and theory given by Hajela on 9th Nov 2017 surprised everyone including judges.
New bench constituted on November 10th 2017
On 10th Nov 2017, while hearing the case Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha instructed that draft of NRC should be completed before 31st Dec 2017, and related works should be expedited.
Advocate B.H. Marlapalle, counsel of Jamiat Ulema, requested Court that the matter related to panchayat certificates and original inhabitant issue should be solved before publication of NRC to avoid complication. Acting upon the request, justice Ranjan Gogoi proposed for a new bench comprising Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta to hear the matter related to panchayat certificate (panchayat certificate is valid for NRC enrolment or not) and original inhabitant issue (to decide who are original inhabitant of Assam and what is the criteria for it). The new bench will hear the case on 22 Nov 2017.
The fact is that any judgement of Supreme Court will seal the fate of lakhs of people of Assam, especially Muslims because those of them would be proved Indians would enjoy all the rights enshrined by constitution of India for its citizens while whoever would fail to prove their citizenship, they will lose their rights and face severe situation.
The author is a Delhi-based writer and political affairs secretary of Assam MP to Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. He can be reached at [email protected]