‘Cit­i­zen­ship el­i­gi­bil­ity is not fam­ily­based’

FrontLine - - IMMIGRATION ISSUES - BY SUSHANTA TALUKDAR

Prateek Ha­jela, State Co­or­di­na­tor of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Cit­i­zens in As­sam, has be­come the fo­cus of at­ten­tion in con­nec­tion with the up­dat­ing of the cit­i­zens’ reg­is­ter. Ha­jela, a B.tech (Elec­tron­ics En­gi­neer­ing) grad­u­ate from In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Delhi and an of­fi­cer of the As­sam-megha­laya cadre of the In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice, has played a key role in shap­ing this gi­gan­tic tech­nol­o­gy­driven ex­er­cise. Ex­cerpts from an in­ter­view he gave Front­line:

What are the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of peo­ple whose names have been ex­cluded from the com­plete draft?

As you are aware, the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­rion is to be able to es­tab­lish a link­age of one’s own [self] with that of his or her an­ces­tors up to March 24, 1971, mid­night. That is, to prove that the an­ces­tor was re­sid­ing in any part of In­dia up to March 24, 1971. If peo­ple have not been able to es­tab­lish this so far based on the var­i­ous ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­cesses we have un­der­taken,

and cul­ture of As­samese and other eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties and that the up­dated NRC will be an im­por­tant le­gal doc­u­ment for safe­guard­ing them from il­le­gal mi­gra­tion of Bangladeshis into the State. The 2011 Lan­guage Data, which was re­leased in July, has bol­stered this dis­course with the data re­veal­ing a de­cline in As­samese lan­guage speak­ers from 48.80 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion in 2001 to 48.38 per cent in 2011. The per­cent­age of Ben­gali speak­ers in As­sam in­creased from 27.54 in 2001 to 28.91 in 2011. In 1991, the per­cent­age of As­samese speak­ers in As­sam was 57.81 per cent and that of Ben­gali speak­ers was 21.67 per cent.

The other dis­course is the Hindu na­tion­al­ist dis­course of the BJP and other con­stituents of the Sangh their names have not ap­peared. [Ei­ther] a valid pre-1971 doc­u­ment has not been sub­mit­ted or they have not been able to es­tab­lish re­la­tions with that per­son, or the per­son is cov­ered un­der the Supreme Court judg­ment of De­cem­ber 6, 2017, for pan­chayat sec­re­tary cer­tifi­cates and ex­haus­tive ver­i­fi­ca­tion that the court or­dered and they have not been able to prove their el­i­gi­bil­ity in that ex­haus­tive ver­i­fi­ca­tion.

Pari­var which sin­gles out Mus­lims from erst­while East Pak­istan, that is Bangladesh, as “in­fil­tra­tors” and pushes for their de­por­ta­tion while treat­ing Hin­dus com­ing to As­sam and other parts of In­dia as “refugees”. In a bid to push this dis­course, the Sangh Pari­var has been try­ing to build the nar­ra­tive that the As­sam Ac­cord is not sacro­sanct and that the cut-off year for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of il­le­gal im­mi­grants should be 1951 in­stead of 1971. At­tempt to di­lute the As­sam Ac­cord and the NRC up­dated on the ba­sis of the Ac­cord is seen as the Sangh Pari­var’s des­per­ate bid to push the Hindu na­tion­al­ist dis­course among As­samese and other eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties and re­place the iden­tity mark­ers of lan­guage and cul­ture with re­li­gion. Then if the per­son is a “D” voter or some­one whose ref­er­ence is pend­ing be­fore for­eign­ers tri­bunals, then the per­son and his or her de­scen­dants can­not be in­cluded.

There are ap­pre­hen­sions that er­rors in up­dat­ing the NRC may lead to the breakup of fam­i­lies be­cause in sev­eral fam­i­lies the names of some mem­bers have been ex­cluded in the com­plete draft. How do you al­lay such fears?

Cit­i­zen­ship el­i­gi­bil­ity is in­di­vid­ual. Each per­son must prove his or her own cit­i­zen­ship el­i­gi­bil­ity. It is not fam­ily based. Fam­ily is im­por­tant, but it is not fam­ily based. Now, the hus­band can be a pre-71 per­son and the wife may not be a pre-71 per­son. Sim­i­larly, the wife can be a pre-71 per­son and the hus­band may not be a pre-71 per­son. So, it is not based on mar­riage. It is based on de­scen­dance. The wife has to prove her de­scen­dance with her an­ces­tor sep­a­rately. The hus­band has to prove his de­scen­dance with

Amit Shah, BJP na­tional pres­i­dent, de­scribed the NRC as the “soul of the As­sam Ac­cord”. What he did not state is that the As­sam Ac­cord made no dis­tinc­tion of il­le­gal Bangladeshi im­mi­grants on the ba­sis of re­li­gion and that is why the peo­ple of As­sam over­whelm­ingly sup­ported the up­da­tion of the NRC on the ba­sis of the As­sam Ac­cord while they op­posed tooth and nail all moves of the Modi gov­ern­ment to make dis­tinc­tions among il­le­gal Bangladeshi im­mi­grants or to grant and de­cide cit­i­zen­ship on the ba­sis of re­li­gion.

‘D’ VOT­ERS EX­CLUDED

Among those ex­cluded are 2.48 lakh ‘D’ vot­ers (D stand­ing for doubt­ful or dis­puted) and their de­scen­dants and those whose ref­er­ences are pend­ing

In­ter­view with Prateek Ha­jela, State Co­or­di­na­tor of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Cit­i­zens in As­sam.

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