A month after NRC, no one has an answer to what happens next
Lives Are Put On Hold Due To Uncertainty Over Appeals Process For Those Left Out Of Citizens’ List Even As Work Progresses On A Massive Detention Centre
Goalpara: For four years, Shajahan Ali Ahmed helped illiterate Muslim families put their NRC papers in order. A document accepted as proof one day could suddenly be inadmissible the next. Rules kept changing. But Shajahan kept up, and made sure these families did too. When NRC was published a month ago on August 31, Ahmed found he hadn’t made it to the list.
“I’m a citizen. I had all documents. But I’m not on NRC,” said Ahmed. “How is one to put together new evidence of citizenship? I don’t know what will happen next.” No one can say for sure. Not yet.
About 90 km away, Renu Bala Hajong, aged 64, has a clearer view of what could happen if a tribunal decided someone was a “foreigner”. Renu was eight when her family fled strife-torn East Pakistan to settle at little-known Matia in Goalpara district. That was in 1964. In recent days, she has seen Matia turn into a metonymic extension of the fear and anxiety surrounding Assam’s citizenship tests. It’s where a mega detention centre is coming up and should be ready by this year-end.
It’s in this structure’s shadow that Renu lives. Like many who entered India from East Pakistan in the 1960s, Renu had submitted her refugee certificate for inclusion in NRC. That didn’t cut it. “The refugee certificate is all I have. Every time I step out, I wonder if I’ll end up in the detention centre that’s coming up,” she said.
Renu has urgent questions, like hundreds of thousands now do. If a higher court were to clear them now, would they be able to apply for NRC again? What about those born after 2015, when applications were closed? Will those excluded from NRC and subsequently declared foreigners by a tribunal be placed in detention right away? Or will officials wait while they file appeals in higher courts before taking action? Guidelines are still to be framed. There are gaps in the process that need to be plugged.
Until now, detention centres operated
A childhood friend (picture left) holds up a photo of Subrata Dey, 37, who died last year of a heart attack at a detention centre. (Right) Dey’s mother Anima and widow Kamini at their home. Anima, Kamini and Dey’s son have their names in the NRC
They sent my son’s body to Ashudubi (where they live). They should have sent it to Bangladesh. But how could they? I am here, his family is here, he was here all his life
out of jails: in Goalpara, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Silchar, Kokrajhar. Families got separated, there was no support for the elderly or those with mental health issues and barely any access to legal aid existed. These centres do not meet any globally accepted norms. After years of outrage over “sub-human” conditions there, as CJI Ranjan Gogoi put it, the Centre came up with two solutions — a standalone facility and conditional release of those who have completed a fixed term at such centres.
Several issues crop up again: what happens to those who’ve completed their term, are released on bail but, subsequently, not held to be Indian citizens by higher courts? Or to convicted non-nationals who’ve adDREAD PLACE: A massive detention centre coming up in Goalpara district. Renu Bala Hajong, 64, whose name doesn’t figure in the final NRC, says she worries if she’ll ‘end up in the centre’
mitted to entering India illegally and are ready to go back?
Five days before NRC’s publication, nine detainees were released after Supreme Court allowed those who have completed three years in camps to be freed on bail after furnishing surety of Rs 1 lakh each from two Indian citizens and biometric details. They have to report to police regularly while they fight the legal battle to prove their citizenship in higher courts.
“The address authorities had was of my residence at Krishnai. I don’t have a Bangladesh address, though the tribunal verdict would imply so. Why didn’t they send me to Bangladesh then?” asked Rabi Dey, 54, who was one of them.
This irony of belonging frames all citizenship debates. In March last year, police picked up Subrata Dey, then 37, after he was declared a non-national. Two months later, he died of a heart attack at a detention centre. His death hit headlines.
Subrata’s widow Kamini, 35, makes Rs 60 a day by stitching plastic bags. Their son Vicky, 18, has dropped out of school and works at a garment shop for Rs 5,000 a month. In death, Subrata was no more a “Bangladeshi”. His 68-year-old mother Anima said, “They sent my son’s body to Ashudubi. They should have sent it to Bangladesh. But how could they? I am here, his family is here, he was here all his life.” Anima, Kamini and Vicky all figure in the NRC.
There’s been a clamour to deport “illegal” migrants but India and Bangladesh don’t have a repatriation treaty. Besides, for removal from state, a person has to be acknowledged as a citizen by the purported country of origin. Logistical challenges vis-a-vis NRC and absence of a clear guideline on detainees are not lost on anyone.
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