The Hindu – In the name of a majority

The NRC in Assam has given us an indication of risks involved in such exercises of inclusion and exclusion

Anupama Roy

Op/Ed, 13 December 2019. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), passed in both Houses this week, promises to give the protection of citizenship to non-Muslims who fled to India to escape religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

While religious persecution is a reasonable ground for protection, the problem with the CAB is that it does not include all communities that suffered religious persecution, and explicitly excludes Muslims who suffered persecution in the specified countries and other non-Muslim majority countries like Myanmar.

This majoritarian notion of religion-based citizenship, although intrinsic to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s idea of India, is not shared by the majority of people in this country. In addition, such a view is alien to the constitutional consensus which emerged in 1950, embodying the idea of a people who committed themselves, and those governing on their behalf, to a constitutional order.

Those in support of the CAB have rallied around the argument that it is non-discriminatory and its objectives are justifiable. In doing so, they have often invoked the moral imperative of correcting a perceived past wrong, in this case the Partition. In the process, the CAB changes completely the idea of equal and inclusive citizenship promised in the Constitution.

Changes in citizenship law

The CAB cannot, however, be seen in isolation. It must be seen in tandem with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and other changes in the citizenship law, which have preceded it. The Home Minister and the Law Minister have clarified that the CAB and the NRC are distinct, the NRC protects the country against illegal migrants and the CAB protects refugees.

This, however, is incommensurate with the election speeches made by BJP leaders. For instance, speaking in Kolkata earlier this year, Amit Shah had promised an NRC in West Bengal, but only after the passage of the CAB to ensure that no Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and Christian refugee is denied citizenship for being an illegal immigrant.

In a triumphal note after the passage of the CAB in Lok Sabha, Mr Shah declared that a nationwide NRC would follow soon.

Despite their seemingly disparate and adversarial political imperatives, the CAB and the NRC have become conjoined in their articulation of citizenship. Indeed, the two represent the tendency towards ‘jus sanguinis’ in the citizenship law in India, which commenced in 1986, became definitive in 2003, and has reached its culmination in the contemporary moment.

In 2003, the insertion of the category ‘illegal migrants’ in the provision of citizenship by birth became the hinge from which the NRC and the CAB later emerged.

The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules of 2003 made the registration of all citizens of India, issue of national identity cards, the maintenance of a national population register, and the establishment of an NRC by the Central government compulsory.

Under these rules, the Registrar General of Citizen Registration is to collect particulars of individuals and families, including their citizenship status, through a ‘house-to-house enumeration’.

In an exception to the general rule, Assam has followed a different procedure of ‘inviting applications’ with particulars of each family and individual and their citizenship status based on the NRC 1951 and electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971.

The purpose of the NRC is to sift out ‘foreigners’ and ‘illegal migrants’, who were referred to at different points as ‘infiltrators’ and ‘aggressors’, and a threat to the territory and people of India.

Exempting minority groups

The second strand emerging from the 2003 amendment has taken the form of the CAB, which exempts ‘minority communities’, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians, from three countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, from the category of ‘illegal migrants’.

The CAB brings the citizenship law in line with exemptions already made in the Passport Act 1920 and Foreigners Act 1946 through executive orders in September 2015 and July 2016. It sets a cut-off date of December 31, 2014 as the date of eligibility of illegal migrants for exemption.

It must be noted that a PIL filed by the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha pending before the Supreme Court has contested the deviation in the cut-off date set for Assam by the Citizenship Amendment Act 1986, March 24, 1971, from the date specified in Article 6 of the Constitution, i.e., July 19, 1948, which applies to the rest of the country.

The CAB is applicable to entire India, and takes the cut-off date forward by several years.

The claim that the CAB does not violate the Constitution is reflective of the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The JPC was advised by constitutional experts to use a broader category, ‘persecuted minorities’, to protect the Bill from the charge of violating the right to equality in Article 14.

The CAB uses the category ‘minority communities’ and goes on to identify them on the ground of religion. The notifications of September 2015 and July 2016, which changed the Passport and Foreigners Acts, had mentioned the term ‘religious persecution’.

The consideration of religious persecution for making a distinction among persons, the JPC argued, could not be discriminatory, because the distinction was both intelligible and reasonable, satisfying the standards laid down in the Supreme Court judgment in State of West Bengal vs. Anwar Ali Sarkarhabib (1952) to affirm adherence to Article 14.

Test of reasonableness

The JPC appears, however, to have overlooked the substantive conditions that the Supreme Court laid down in the same verdict. These require that the criteria of intelligibility of the differentia and the reasonableness of classification, must satisfy both grounds of protection guaranteed by Article 14, i.e., protection against discrimination and protection against the arbitrary exercise of state power.

In 2009, the Delhi High Court judgement in Naz Foundation vs Government of NCT of Delhi referred to “a catena of decisions” to lay down a further test of reasonableness, requiring that the objective for such classification in any law must also be subjected to judicial scrutiny.

The restraint on state arbitrariness, according to the judgment, was to come from constitutional morality, which as B R Ambdkar declared in the Constituent Assembly, was the responsibility of the state to protect.

It remains a puzzle as to why the government wishes to change the citizenship law to address the problem of refugees. The JPC refers to standard operating procedures for addressing the concerns of refugees from neighbouring countries.

In the case of refugees from the erstwhile West Pakistan who deposed before the JPC in favour of a CAB, the standard operating procedure was the grant of long-term visas leading to citizenship.

One wonders how these refugees will benefit from a law which will put them through an arduous process of proving religious persecution. Immediately after Partition, ‘displaced persons’ constituted an administrative category, and citizenship files of 1950s tell us how district officials expedited their citizenship in the process of preparation of electoral rolls.

The focus in the recent parliamentary debates, for various reasons, was the eastern borders. States in the region have resisted the CAB, and simultaneously asked for an NRC. West Bengal has been an exception. The reality of imposing a national order of things, through a CAB and an NRC, in non-national spaces will unfold in future but Assam has given us adequate evidence of the risks involved.

It can only be hoped that the judiciary and civil society are able to restore constitutional and democratic politics through an exercise of counter-majoritarian power in a context where electoral gains have determined political choices.

Anupama Roy teaches at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/in-the-name-of-a-majority/article30289562.ece?homepage=true

BBC News – Citizenship Amendment Bill: Are India’s claims about minorities in other countries true?

Reality Check team BBC News

New Delhi – India, 12 December 2019. The Indian government has introduced a controversial bill offering citizenship to illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries if they belong to non-Muslim minority groups.

Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have entered India illegally can apply for citizenship if they can prove they originate from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

The government argues that minorities in those countries are dwindling, and that they face persecution on the grounds of their faith.

The legislation has been criticised as discriminatory in India because it excludes Muslims seeking citizenship as well.

So what is the situation facing non-Muslims in those three neighbouring states?

How many non-Muslims?

Amit Shah, India’s Home Minister, says Pakistan’s non-Muslim population has dwindled dramatically since 1951. This follows the mass exodus of non-Muslims from Pakistan after partition in 1947 and the flight of Muslims from India to Pakistan.

Mr Shah cited a remaining minority population in Pakistan of 23% in 1951, and he says this has shrunk over the decades due to persecution.

But Mr Shah’s figures need to be challenged as he appears to have combined the data for what is now the state of Pakistan (formerly west Pakistan) with what is now Bangladesh (formerly east Pakistan).

Census data for 1998 shows that the Hindu population of Pakistan (which was formerly west Pakistan) had not really changed significantly from its 1951 level of around 1.5 to 2%.

But the data also suggests that the Hindu population of Bangladesh did fall, from around 22% or 23% in 1951 to around 8% in 2011.

There are other non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, such as Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Parsis. And in Pakistan, there are also Ahmadis, who were declared non-Muslim by the government in the 1970s, and are estimated to be around four million strong, making them the largest religious minority in the country.

In Afghanistan, non-Muslim groups include Hindus, Sikhs, Bahais and Christians, and make up less than 0.3% of the population. In 2018, there were just 700 Sikhs and Hindus left in Afghanistan as families had been leaving because of the conflict there, according to a report for the US State Department.

What’s the official status of non-Muslims?

The Indian government’s citizenship bill states: “The constitutions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh provide for a specific state religion. As a result, many persons belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities have faced persecution on grounds of religion in those countries”.

It’s true that the state religion of Pakistan is Islam. Afghanistan is also an Islamic state.

In Bangladesh the situation is more complicated. The country came into being in 1971 with a secular constitution, but in 1988 Islam was made the official state religion.

A lengthy legal battle to get that reversed ended in 2016 when Bangladesh’s top court ruled that Islam should remain the state religion.

However, all these countries have constitutional provisions stating that non-Muslims have rights and are free to practise their faith. And individual Hindus have risen to prominent positions in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, notably as chief justices in the two countries.

Do the minorities face discrimination?

In practice, non-Muslim minorities do face discrimination and persecution.

What are Pakistan’s blasphemy laws?

Human rights group Amnesty International has pointed to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which it says “are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities”.

Pakistani Hindus who moved to India in recent years told the BBC they face social and religious discrimination, with a particular issue being the targeting of Hindu girls in Sindh province.

But it’s also true that Ahmadis, who are not covered by India’s citizenship bill, face discrimination for their beliefs as they are regarded as heretical by the Muslim majority.

And the majority of blasphemy cases up to 2018 had been filed against other Muslims and Ahmadis, not against Christians or Hindus.

In Bangladesh, there are various reasons for the decline in the proportion of Hindus over the years. The better-off Hindu population have had their homes and businesses targeted, sometimes in attempts to get them to leave so their land or assets can be taken over. Hindus have also been the targets of attacks by religious militants.

The Bangladesh government has rejected India’s claims about minorities being targeted. Foreign Minister Abdul Monem told the BBC: “We don’t have examples of minorities being persecuted in this country.”

According to UN data, the number of refugees in India went up by 17% between 2016-19. As of August this year, the biggest numbers registered with the UN were actually from Tibet and Sri Lanka.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50720273

The Print – Over 1,000 scientists oppose citizenship bill, say it violates spirit of Constitution

Read full text of statement signed by more than 1,000 scientists & scholars who say they find it troubling that bill uses    religion as a criterion to determine citizenship.

Bengaluru -Karnataka – India, 09 December 2019. In a statement circulated online, more than 1,000 Indian scientists and scholars from the country and abroad have released a statement opposing the Citizenship Amendment Bill tabled Lok Sabha by the Narendra Modi government Monday.

The 2019 bill, which was approved by the Union cabinet on 4 December, seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan if they faced religious persecution there.

In the statement, the scientists have argued that the “use of religion as a criterion for citizenship” would be a “radical break” with the idea of independent, post-colonial India. The bill is a proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 and would reduce the residence period in India from 11 years to six years to obtain citizenship.

Drafted over the weekend, tT. These include scientists and research scholars from institutions such as various IITs, the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences (ICTS, Bengaluru), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR, Mumbai), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Indian Statistical Institute, and different IISERs as well as international institutes such as Harvard University, University of Chicago, University of Toronto, Nikhef Amsterdam, and Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics.

Signatories also include directors of major research institutions, such as Rajesh Gopakumar of ICTS, Sandip Trivedi of TIFR, and Atish Dabholkar of International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Italy.

We are a group of Indian scientists and scholars

We are issuing this statement in our personal capacity as concerned citizens to express our dismay at the reported plans to table the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in the parliament. We do not have access to the exact text of the current version of the Bill.

Our statement is based on media reports and the text of the previous version of the Bill that was passed by the Lok Sabha in January 2019. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to issue this statement already at this point of time in view of the reports that the Bill may be tabled in parliament early next week and may be taken up for voting in both houses soon after.

We understand that the Bill seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The stated intent of the Bill is to provide refuge to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries.

While we support this laudable objective, we find it deeply troubling that the Bill uses religion as a legal criterion for determining Indian citizenship.

The idea of India that emerged from the independence movement, and as enshrined in our constitution, is that of a country that aspires to treat people of all faiths equally. The use of religion as a criterion for citizenship in the proposed bill would mark a radical break with this history and would be inconsistent with the basic structure of the constitution.

We fear, in particular, that the careful exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the Bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country.

We note that article 14 of the Indian constitution prohibits the State from denying “to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” While it is the job of legal experts to determine whether this draft bill violates the letter of the constitution, it seems certain to us that it violates its spirit.

For the reasons mentioned above, we call for the immediate withdrawal of this bill and as its replacement request for appropriate legislation that will address the concerns of refugees and minorities in a non-discriminatory manner.

Over 1,000 scientists oppose citizenship bill, say it violates spirit of Constitution

The Print – Modi’s new citizenship law will rip open the wounds of Partition

Muhammad Ali Jinnah would be proud of Narendra Modi.

Shivam Vij

New Delhi – India, 18 November 2019. Political language,” said George Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” That would be a fine description of how the Narendra Modi establishment sells its disastrous policies.

It is certainly the case with the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, likely to be a law in a few weeks. According to Prime Minister Modi, “There are many children of Maa Bharti who have faced persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. We will stand with those who were part of India at one time, but got separated from us.”

The claim is that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) will somehow finish the unfinished business of Partition. On the contrary, it will only rip open the wounds of Partition.

Maa Bharti’s disowned children

Partition became necessary because there were two different visions of what India should be like after independence. One vision was based on the two-nation theory, the idea that Hindus and Muslims are two separate “nations”. (Wonder why the two-nation theory never saw the Christians, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Bahai as separate “nations”. The logical end should be an eight-nation theory, if not more).

The other vision was that nationhood is not a religious construct. It is geographical. From Peshawar to Puducherry, we were one people united by shared geography and history. We were united in our diversity.

It was this difference of opinion that led to Partition. Pakistan saw itself as a Muslim nation. It didn’t matter that west and east Pakistanis would be separated by nearly 1,700 kilometres of Indian land mass. India saw itself as a secular country that respected all faiths equally. And the country itself did not have a state religion, unlike Pakistan.

This is why Mahatma Gandhi was busy stopping Hindu-Muslim riots that were meant to drive out Muslims into Pakistan on either side. The father of the nation, as also the government of India, was committed to ensuring that Muslims can stay peacefully as equal citizens.

In other words, all the people of this land were the children of “Maa Bharti”, no matter what religion they followed. But Narendra Modi now wants to separate some of “Maa Bharti’s” children from her: Muslims.

If you are a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian in present-day Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, you will soon be able to walk into India illegally, or overstay your visa, and become an Indian citizen in six years.

To exclude Muslims from this privilege, just because they are the “majority” community in these countries, is to say that Muslims are not the children of “Maa Bharti”.

What about Ahmadis whom Pakistan considers part of a separate sect and who are possibly far more persecuted than Christians and Hindus? Given that the founding place of the Ahmadiyya sect is in Indian Punjab, Ahmadis make a good case to be included in CAB.

Making Jinnah proud

Defenders of the CAB say it does not make India a Hindu state, because it also welcomes Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. Yet, it does exclude the religion of the majority in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. PM Modi must explain why Muslims in these countries are not the children of “Maa Bharti”.

In practice, the new idea of religion-based citizenship will encourage large-scale migration of people from these three countries into India, reminding us of the wounds of Partition. Since the largest religious minority in Pakistan and Bangladesh are Hindus, most beneficiaries of the CAB will be Hindus.

Simultaneously, the so-called, pan-India National Register of Citizens will target Muslims who are unable to prove their grandfathers were Indian. They will be stripped off their citizenship and put in detention camps. This is worse than the two-nation theory. This is a systematic legal design for the persecution of just one religious minority in India, Muslims.

Hindus come in, Muslims get out. That is the message of CAB and pan-India NRC, when seen together.

After all the Orwellian trickery, CAB and NRC are basically a way of accepting the two-nation theory. The 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is the perfect time to do this. Muhammad Ali Jinnah would be proud of Narendra Modi. It is as if the Partition is still taking place.

Some more Orwellian trickery

Incidentally, the text of the proposed CAB does not say anything about Partition, persecution, leave alone “Maa Bharti”.

If the idea is that someone should be given citizenship because they are facing religious persecution, then they should be asked to prove they were facing persecution. That is how, often with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, western countries grant citizenship to refugees.

For instance, after CAB becomes law, the Bhandara family in Pakistan, who happen to be Parsis, could walk into India and become Indian citizens. Are they “persecuted” in Pakistan? Not at all. They are part of the Pakistani high society, owners of the Murree Brewery.

Wouldn’t they love it if one of their family members could become an Indian citizen and start Murree Brewery’s operations in India?

So, the idea that CAB is for “persecuted” religious minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh is media spin meant to fool us. The text of the law says no such thing, because the real intention is perhaps not to help persecuted minorities in the three countries. The real intention is to import lakhs of Hindus so that the BJP may play vote-bank politics with them.

On another note, can anyone explain what Afghanistan has to do with Partition? It was not a part of India in 1947. It was never a part of British India. We have always been told that Partition divided India into two countries, India and Pakistan, and a part of Pakistan later became a third country, Bangladesh. So, if CAB is about Partition, what is Afghanistan doing here?

And if Afghanistan can randomly qualify, why not Myanmar? Myanmar (then Burma) was a part of British Indian Empire until 1937. How about giving Indian citizenship to persecuted minorities in Myanmar?

Over 7 lakh Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee to Bangladesh due to ethnic and religious persecution. If an Afghan-Christian from Herat is the offspring of “Maa Bharti”, why is a Rohingya Muslim from Arakan not a child of “Maa Bharti”?

If Afghanistan is included because of the RSS’ idea of Akhand Bharat, why not Sri Lanka? Just because Tamil-speaking Hindus from Sri Lanka aren’t really going to help the BJP win elections in Tamil Nadu?

There are other issues with CAB. Does India really need more people, given it is already one of the world’s most populous countries? And what about security issues? CAB offers a very convenient route for agencies to send spies to India and get them Indian citizenship in just six years.

None of this means India should not give citizenship to refugees. What we need is a comprehensive refugee law that determines how many refugees India can absorb as citizens every year, and the basis for such citizenship should not be religion or nationality. It should be humanity, in keeping with the spirit of the Indian Constitution.

Modi’s new citizenship law will rip open the wounds of Partition

The Hindu – India is the top source of immigrants across the globe

A UN report reveals that one-third of all immigrants come from 10 countries

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 19 September 2019. India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world, with 17.5 million international migrants in 2019 coming from India, up from 15.9 million in 2015, according to a dataset released by the Union Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York on Tuesday.

Sharp increase

The International Migrant Stock 2019, released by the UN DESA’s Population Division, said the number of international migrants in the world had reached an estimated 272 million 2019 — 51 million more than in 2010. The percentage of international migrants of the total global population has increased to 3.5% from 2.8% in 2000.

While India remained as the top source of international migrants, the number of migrants living in India saw a slight decline from 5.24 million in 2015 to an estimated 5.15 million in 2019 – both 0.4% of the total population of the country.

Bangladesh was the leading country of origin for migrants in India, the report stated. India is the top source of immigrants across the globe

From 10 countries

In a statement, the UN DESA Population Division said that one-third of all international migrants originated from 10 countries, after India, Mexico ranked second as the country of origin for 12 million migrants, followed by China (11 million), Russia (10 million) and Syria (8 million).

The European region hosted the highest number of the immigrants at 82 million in 2019, followed by North America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million). Among countries, the USA hosts the highest number of international migrants (51 million), about 19% of the global population.

The statement also said that around two-fifths of all international migrants had gone from one developing country to another.

The statement added that further, forced displacements continue to rise, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by about 13 million from 2010 to 2017, the statement added.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-is-the-top-source-of-immigrants-across-the-globe/article29452221.ece?homepage=true

The Hindu – Deprivation of citizenship must follow the most rigorous procedure available, says Justice Shah

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 08 September 2019. ‘The overriding concern must be fairness, not quickness or efficiency’

“In the context of Assam, as well as in the country, citizenship, as the right to have rights, is one of the most basic, fundamental human rights in modern societies.

Deprivation of citizenship must follow the most rigorous procedure available; the overriding concern must be fairness, not quickness or efficiency,” noted Justice (Retd.) A.P. Shah speaking at the concluding session of the two-day long “people’s tribunal” on ‘Contested Citizenship in Assam: People’s Tribunal on Constitutional Processes and Human Cost’.

‘Humanitarian crisis

“We have heard the views and experiences of people excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and of various leading experts, and we all agree that the NRC has spawned a humanitarian crisis. We worry because there are no signs of this crisis abating,” he added, reading from the “jury report” presented on Sunday.

Stating that a large number of minorities in Assam, whether religious, linguistic or ethnic, have lived with the fear of being told that they don’t belong to India, he said: “They may at any time be marked doubtful (D) voters, and prevented from exercising their franchise.

A local border police constable can again at any time accuse them of being a foreigner and refer the case to a detention centre. Even after the final NRC, there are many demands for selective re-verification of the NRC.”

Also present at the “people’s tribunal” were Justice (Retd.) Kurian Joseph, Justice (Retd.) Madan B. Lokur, Professor Faizan Mustafa and Dr. Syeda Hameed, among others.

Burden of proof

The panel noted that, after hearing the testimonies, they found that the “burden of proof was shifted to the residents to prove that they were citizens; documents such as those of birth, schooling and land-ownership, which impoverished and unlettered rural residents anywhere would find hard to muster, were insisted upon.

Even when documents were produced, they were refused for discrepancies in the English-language spelling of Bengali names, or in ages.”

Professor Mustafa said, “Two very fundamental ideas of India, Akhand Bharat and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, have been violated. How can we agree to treat individuals the way we are treating people in Assam? We have to understand that this is not about inclusion but exclusion and also, this is not about the people but the State.”

Stating that the implication of the human cost has to be considered in this case, Dr Hameed said that what she heard at the “public hearing” was like a stab in the heart.

Edge of razor

“Imagine if what is happening to Assam is extended to the rest of the country, what would it mean for us? I also have strong links with Kashmir and this makes me feel like I am on the edge of a razor. The idea of a nation-state has to be re-thought and we can’t over look the great human cost. The idea is not to exclude and divide,” she said.

“The fear of being excluded from the NRC, being declared as foreigner, and finally being sent to a detention centre, has created a situation of permanent paranoia among vulnerable communities, especially Bengal-origin Assamese Muslims and Bengali Hindus living in the State of Assam.

This fear has pushed the people to a snapping point and many are committing suicide. Women and their children bear a disproportionately higher burden of the process,” noted the group.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/deprivation-of-citizenship-must-follow-the-most-rigorous-procedure-available-says-justice-shah/article29368976.ece

Dawn – Growing humanitarian crisis

The scale of it is eye-watering: 1.9 million people excluded from the final list of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, published by the Indian government on Saturday.

Editorial, 03 September 2019. These are the people, mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims, that have been deemed to be ‘foreigners’ by virtue of being unable to prove that they or their forebears lived or entered India before March 1971, prior to which Bengalis were actively encouraged to migrate to India. Many have been living in Assam for decades, or have known no other home but India.

With the threshold for documentary proof high, and the appeals process long and murky, the process of updating the NRC has been mired in controversy given the BJP’s penchant for stoking anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment.

Narendra Modi’s home minister has gone as far as to promise that the NRC will be implemented across India, to root out those who he describes as ‘infiltrators’ and has likened to vermin.

Given that discrimination and dehumanisation are often precursors to a potential genocide, it is little wonder that human rights groups are so alarmed. Over 1,100 people are already imprisoned in Assam’s so-called foreigner detention centres. There are fears that mass internment is impending, or worse, such as forced displacements and genocidal massacres.

If the Rohingya crisis of 2017, when hundreds of thousands were stripped of Burmese citizenship and forced to flee Myanmar into Bangladesh, seemed a colossal human tragedy, what may occur in Assam might well be even more unimaginably catastrophic.

Rendering people stateless is an inhumane practice.

If an individual does not legally belong anywhere, then no nation is responsible for ensuring their rights, survival or even existence.

While the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons does ensure basic protections, denying individuals a national identity effectively denies them the right to have rights, and states have in fact used the revocation of citizenship as a political tool to punish opponents and critics, and even change demographics.

This is why even the handful of cases of Western-born IS fighters and collaborators being stripped of citizenship has been so contentious; though it is important to stress that, here, it is the lives of countless entirely innocent civilians that are at stake.

Rendering people of Bangladeshi-origin stateless, at risk of being alienated, killed or shunted about in internment centres and refugee camps, is an incalculable humanitarian crisis in the making.

India’s move in Assam will undoubtedly strain its ties with Bangladesh, which has shown no indication it will accept these ‘unwanted’ humans, but it is incumbent on both nations to negotiate a reasonable and humane settlement to this brewing crisis.

Bangladesh must come to some sort of an agreement with India, and soon, as well as reconsider its policies with regard to the status of the stateless Rohingya seeking refuge within its borders.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1503257/growing-humanitarian-crisis

Dawn – Genocide Watch issues alerts for occupied Kashmir and India’s Assam state

Genocide Watch, a global organisation dedicated to the prevention of genocide, has issued two warning alerts for India — one for the occupied territory of Kashmir and the other for Assam state.

Jammu & Kashmir – Assam – India, 22 August 2019. According to the website, a ‘Genocide Watch’ warning is declared by the NGO when there are signs of the early stages of a genocide in progress.

Founded by academic Dr Gregory Stanton in 1999, the organisation exists to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide, as defined in the Genocide Convention, and other forms of mass murder.

The most recent genocide alert issued by the organisation was for occupied Kashmir, in which it identified the genocidal process, based on Dr Stanton’s 10 Stages of Genocide, to be far advanced:

  • Classification: Hindu and Sikh Indian army “us” vs Kashmiri Muslim civilian “them”
  • Symbolisation: Muslims have Muslim names (on ID cards), Kashmiri language, dress, mosques
  • Discrimination: Hindu pandits were economically dominant until 1990; BJP reasserted Hindu power
  • Dehumanisation: Muslims are called “terrorists”, “separatists”, “criminals”, “insurgents”
  • Organisation: 600,000 heavily armed Indian army troops and police dominate occupied Kashmir
  • Polarisation: Modi and the BJP incite anti-Muslim hatred; social media spread falsehoods
  • Preparation: The Indian army occupies Kashmir; BJP leaders speak of the “Final Solution” for Kashmir
  • Persecution: Kashmiri Muslims are locked down, subject to arrest, torture, rape, and murder
  • Extermination: Since 1990, there have been at least 25 massacres by Indian troops as well as Muslim fighters with death tolls over 25
  • Denial: Modi and BJP say their goals are to “bring prosperity” and “end terrorism”; they deny any massacres. No Indian Army troops or police are ever tried for torture, rape or murder

In view of these developments, Genocide Watch has called upon the United Nations and its members to warn India not to commit genocide in occupied Kashmir.

At least 4,000 people, mostly young men, have been detained in Indian-occupied Kashmir since a security lockdown and communications blackout was imposed to curb unrest after New Delhi stripped the disputed region of statehood.

The crackdown began just before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government on August 5 stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and its statehood, creating two federal territories.

Thousands of additional Indian troops were sent to man checkpoints in the Kashmir Valley, already one of the world’s most militarised regions. Telephone communications, cellphone coverage, broadband internet and cable TV services were cut for the valley’s seven million people.

A report by a team of activists and scholars found that people living under the lockdown expressed “enormous anger and anguish” in response to the surprise move by Modi’s government to revoke autonomy.

Maimoona Mollah, an activist on the fact-finding team, likened the situation in the region to Israel’s security protocol in the Palestinian territories. “Kashmir is like an open jail,” said Vimal Bhai, another activist on the team.

Assam

Genocide Watch has also issued an alert for Assam state in India, where millions of Bengali Muslims face losing citizenship status.

Over seven million people in Assam State, mostly Muslims of Bengali descent, may lose their Indian citizenship and risk imprisonment in special “foreigner detention centers”. A process is now underway to “verify” the citizenship of all 32 million inhabitants of Assam state, which requires each person to affirmatively prove that they are Indian and not an “illegal migrant”.

“At the urging of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist central government, Assam is updating its master list of ‘citizens’. Anyone not on the final ‘citizen’ list will be presumptively declared a ‘foreigner’, subject to statelessness and indefinite detention.

“Assam’s Muslims are especially likely to be excluded from the ‘citizen’ list as part of a decades-long pattern of discrimination. The word ‘foreigners’ is a common term of dehumanization used to exclude targeted groups from citizenship and the exercise of their fundamental civil and human rights,” said Genocide Watch.

“The Home Minister of India has repeatedly referred to the Bengali Muslims as ‘termites’. Anti-Muslim propaganda has polarised the Assam population.

“Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has requested additional Indian government troops and police to arrest ‘foreigners’. The Assam state is constructing ten new ‘foreigner’ detention centers to add to the six prisons already in existence,” added Genocide Watch, concluding: “These are the classification, symbolisation, discrimination, dehumanisation, organisation, and polarisation stages of the genocidal process.”

Roundups of “foreigners” are likely to ignite genocidal massacres and a massive refugee crisis, the organisation highlighted.

“If India imprisons Bengali Muslims in Assam, it will be violating its obligations under the UN Refugee Conventions. If it expels them from India, it will be perpetrating ‘forced displacement’, a crime against humanity. If genocidal massacres occur, India will violate its obligations to prevent genocide under the Genocide Convention,” added the watchdog.

Genocide Watch called upon the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and key UN member states to warn India “not to strip citizenship from, imprison, and forcibly displace millions of Bengali Muslims, many of whom have lived their entire lives in Assam state”.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1501025/genocide-watch-issues-alerts-for-occupied-kashmir-and-indias-assam-state

The Tribune – Khalsa Aid serves ration to over 4,000 flood victims in Assam

Assam has been battling a severe flood crisis, and Khalsa Aid India are here to help.

Tribune Web Desk

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 24 July 2019. Assam has been battling a severe flood crisis, and Khalsa Aid India are here to help.

The good Samaritans of the non-profit aid and relief organisation have reached Assam and are trying to provide ration to at least 4,000 people. The team shared the incident on Twitter and have urged others to donate for the cause.

This isn’t the first time that the team of Khalsa Aid has come forward to provide selfless service to people in distress.

Khalsa Aid not only reached Maharashtra’s region that was going through a severe drought, but also reached Odisha following the devastation of cyclone Fani.

The team landed in Syria for a rescue operation and helped the refugees fleeing Myanmar or orphans in Haiti and garnered heaps of praise on social media.for their efforts.

Torrential rains have affected at least 27 of Assam’s 33 districts. At last count, 48.87 lakh people have been displaced from their homes.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/khalsa-aid-serves-ration-to-over-4-000-flood-victims-in-assam/807098.html

BBC News – India court releases army veteran detained as foreigner

Guwahati – Assam – India, 07 June 2019. A high court in India has ordered the release of a decorated Indian army veteran who was hauled off to a detention camp after being declared a “foreigner” under a controversial measure. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare reports on how the man’s arrest has outraged India.

It was the evening of 27 May and Mohamed Sanaullah, 52, had just reached his home in Guwahati in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, when he got a call from the local police superintendent’s office.

The man on the other end of the line told Mr Sanaullah that the state’s foreigners tribunal had declared him a “foreigner” four days ago and asked him to report there.

“He knew what lay ahead,” Mr Sanaullah’s lawyer and son-in-law, Shahidul Islam, who was with him in Guwahati at the time of his arrest, told the BBC.

He spent the night in police custody.

On Friday, the high court in Assam granted Mr Sanaullah bail. But his lawyer told the Indian Express newspaper that his appeal challenging his detention in the first place is still pending.

Mr Sanaullah is one of four million people who was left off the latest draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) published last year.

The NRC was first created in 1951 to determine who was born in India and who might be a migrant from neighbouring, Muslim-majority East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh.

The census, conducted only in the north-eastern state of Assam, counts as citizens those who can prove that they were residents of India before midnight on 24 March 1971, a day before Bangladesh declared its independence from Pakistan.

An army veteran with 30 years of service, Mr Sanaullah was working as an officer with the border police, GuwahatiGuwahatia unit of the state police service – when the call came.

Ironically, one of its main jobs is to stem illegal migration from Bangladesh.

Mr Sanaullah was dispatched to a detention centre the next day, where he has been ever since. There are hundreds of people, also declared foreigners, who are in six detention centres around the state.

Even though the most recent version of the NRC was only published in 2018, Assam has a history of trying people suspected to be foreigners. For decades, it did so under a 1983 law, until it was repealed in 2005. The detention centres were set up in 2009 because of fears that those declared “foreigners” would try and escape.

Many have been languishing there for years.

But Mr Sanaullah was luckier than most. His story caught the attention of national media, which began flashing headlines that a “war hero” in the state had been declared a foreigner.

Outrage quickly followed.

A leader from India’s main opposition Congress party said Mr Sanaullah’s detention was an “insult” to India’s armed forces, adding that it demonstrated that the NRC had been compiled in a “high-handed and flawed” manner.

Others asked if the purpose of the NRC was to identify illegal migrants or label all Muslims as illegal immigrants.

Officials are quick to point out that tens of thousands of Hindus were also left off the list. But critics cite the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

In fact the bill was shelved after people in Assam vehemently protested against it fearing that Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC would still get citizenship to stay on.

As news of Mr Sanaullah’s detention spread, the country’s top court also got involved, expressing its “serious concern”. It summoned the state’s co-ordinator of the NRC and asked him to ensure that the process by which people were deemed foreigners or not was carried out properly.

Mr Sanaullah’s case documents revealed that the case against him was built on the basis of “witness statements” questioning his nationality. These statements were made in 2008 and 2009 by three people in his home village.

The documents also contain an alleged “confession” where Mr Sanaullah reportedly said that he is actually from a village near the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

But these are all being questioned now.

For one, all three “witnesses” are flatly denying making any statement against Mr Sanaullah to the investigating officer, who has been identified as Chandramal Das.

“Sanaullah was like family to us. Why would I give a statement against him? I never met Chandramal Das or even heard his name until now,” Sobahan Ali told the BBC.

Another, Quran Ali, said he was mystified to learn his name was given as that of a witness because he had not even been living in the village at the time that he was supposed to have made this statement.

They say their names have been misused and their signatures forged on the document.

Mr Sanaullah’s family also deny he ever made any “confession” about his birthplace to anyone.

These revelations have now prompted police to register a case against Mr Das.

Mr Das, who retired last year, told the NDTV news channel that the entire thing was a “mix-up of reports”, and that he had meant to investigate another man whose name was Sanaulla (both names would be spelled the same in the local language).

“My father only heard of the probe in 2018 when his name didn’t figure in the NRC draft list,” Mr Sanaullah’s daughter Shehnaz Akhar told the BBC.

“It was only when he went to the NRC office that he found out that there was a 10-year-old case against him.”

Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhary, a senior lawyer at the Guwahati high court in Assam, says that this case is hardly unique and that there are hundreds of people like Mr Sanaullah who are languishing in detention camps.

“It’s happening because of lapses on the part of the agencies. Police officials lack knowledge and sometimes act in a biased manner. And the Foreigners Tribunals are manned by members who give verdicts but have little experience. The minimum experience to be a member is seven years.”

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48523963