Who are the ‘orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants’ of As­sam? The SC ver­dict could di­vide the state

India Today - - STATES - By Kaushik Deka

In the first week of Novem­ber, an au­dio clip of a lo­cal woman jour­nal­ist was do­ing the so­cial me­dia rounds in As­sam. She was heard seek­ing help from an un­known per­son on creat­ing a fo­rum to unite the state’s Mus­lims against the “heinous plot” to de­prive them of gov­ern­ment jobs and po­lit­i­cal rights in the next 10 years. The ba­sis of her sus­pi­cion—the term “orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tant”, men­tioned in the Supreme Court by Pra­teek Ha­jela, state co­or­di­na­tor of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Cit­i­zens (NRC), an ex­er­cise to weed out il­le­gal im­mi­grants from As­sam.

Though the NRC is sup­posed to be up­dated ev­ery 10 years, no state has done this since the first one was pre­pared in 1951. The Union gov­ern­ment had agreed to up­date the NRC in As­sam in ac­cor­dance with the As­sam Ac­cord in 1985 but the first pi­lot project started only in 2010. Fol­low­ing vi­o­lence dur­ing a protest by the All As­sam Mi­nor­ity Stu­dents Union (AAMSU), the project was aborted. The up­dat­ing ex­er­cise re­sumed in March 2013.

In Oc­to­ber 2014, the Supreme Court or­dered that work on the NRC be com­pleted by Jan­uary 31, 2016 but the NRC author­ity missed the dead­line and the apex court is now di­rectly mon­i­tor­ing the ex­er­cise. The process hit a road­block in March 2017 when the Gauhati High Court re­jected the res­i­dency cer­tifi­cates is­sued by gram pan­chay­ats as proof of cit­i­zen­ship (it was one of 11 doc­u­ments ap­proved by a state cab­i­net sub-com­mit­tee in 2010). On Au­gust 24, the Supreme Court directed Ha­jela to ready a “par­tial” draft NRC by De­cem­ber 31 not in­clud­ing the names of the 4.7 mil­lion peo­ple af­fected by the high court or­der. The court also asked him to seg­re­gate the ‘orig­i­nal

in­hab­i­tants’ from among these 4.7 mil­lion ap­pli­cants. The is­sue came up af­ter Ha­jela’s re­port to the court on Oc­to­ber 10 stated that only 1.7 mil­lion were “orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants” (OI) and the reg­is­ter­ing author­ity was sat­is­fied about the cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus of this lot.

The Op­po­si­tion Congress, AAMSU, All In­dia United Demo­cratic Front (AIUDF), CPI(M) and sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions from Barak val­ley in the state have ob­jected to iden­ti­fy­ing ap­pli­cants as ‘OI’ on the ground that the term is yet to be de­fined by con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­i­ties. So­cial me­dia is abuzz with re­ports that not a sin­gle Mus­lim has been iden­ti­fied as OI and that they would all be de­nied cit­i­zen­ship. The AAMSU claims that in the ab­sence of a clear def­i­ni­tion of ‘orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants’, names of many ap­pli­cants from re­li­gious or lin­guis­tic mi­nori­ties may be left out dur­ing the process of ver­i­fi­ca­tion. For­mer Congress chief min­is­ter Tarun Go­goi says this was a de­lib­er­ate move, which will leave mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties in the lurch. (The Congress and AAMSU, how­ever, failed to ex­plain their si­lence on the OI is­sue ever since the cri­te­ria was out­lined by a two-judge com­mit­tee on Jan­uary 7, 2016.)

Fol­low­ing the protests, Ha­jela is­sued a clar­i­fi­ca­tion stat­ing that in the draft and fi­nal NRC, no­body would be shown as OI or oth­er­wise; they would be iden­ti­fied un­der only one cat­e­gory—ci­ti­zen (or not). The fate of the 3 mil­lion peo­ple who sub­mit­ted pan­chayat cer­tifi­cates but are not in the OI list will be de­cided by the SC on Novem­ber 15. Mean­while, fear­ing a law-and-or­der break­down in the event of an ad­verse ver­dict, the state gov­ern­ment has ap­proached the Union home min­istry for ad­di­tional forces.


WRONG AD­DRESS? Peo­ple queue up to file ap­pli­ca­tion forms at an NRC cen­tre in Guwahati

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