The Hindu – Assam’s NRC: law schools launch legal aid clinic for excluded people

Those left out are required to file appeals against their exclusion within 120 days of receiving their rejection order from the NRC authority

Special Correspondent

Guwahati – Assam – India, 01 October 2019. Law schools across India on Tuesday launched a collaborative legal aid clinic for people excluded from the updated National Register Citizens (NRC) in Assam.

More than 19 lakh out of a total of 3.3 crore applicants were left out of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC that was published on 31 August. Those who were left out are required to file appeals against their exclusion within 120 days of receiving their rejection order from the NRC authority.

The clinic, named Parichay (Identity) and to be headquartered in Guwahati, is envisaged to function as a “clearing house of litigation and research assistance for lawyers filing appeals against exclusion from the NRC”.

The institutes include Assam’s National Law University and Judicial Academy (NLUJA), the Kolkata-based West Bengal National University of Juridical Science, Hyderabad’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Delhi’s National Law University and National Law University of Odisha.

Other law schools are also in the process of formalising their collaboration with Parichay, a statement issued by the collaborative said.

“Parichay will assist lawyers in drafting appeals, conduct research on pertinent questions of the law, assist in training lawyers and paralegals, and generate documentation on the functioning of Foreigners’ Tribunals.

Law students will work with lawyers to ensure that they are able to file effective appeals before the Foreigners’ Tribunals. Parichay will also collaborate with civil society to provide legal aid to communities,” the statement said.

‘Unprecedented initiative’

NLUJA Vice-Chancellor J S Patil termed Parichay as an unprecedented collaboration among law schools in the country. “We believe that this is necessary to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to legal representation,” he said.

His NALSAR counterpart Faizan Mustafa said: “After the NRC, absence of effective legal aid would mean that many persons would be rendered Stateless without due process. An innovative collaboration like Parichay is essential to prevent such a humanitarian crisis.”

The founding team of the clinic includes National Law University’s assistant professor Anup Surendranath, Jindal Global Law School’s assistant professor M Mohsin Alam Bhat and Kolkata-based lawyer and research Darshana Mitra.

Parichay will work with teams of student volunteers across the country. Students will be selected through a selection process to constitute a core team and a pool of volunteers for research and drafting. The core team will work with the programme director to coordinate Parichay’s activities between lawyers and student volunteers, the statement said.

Each collaborating university has appointed a faculty adviser who will coordinate on behalf of the university with Parichay.

“Parichay is an extension of the commitment of the National University of Juridical Sciences to the provision of legal aid, to fulfil the constitutional mandate under Article 39A of the Constitution of India.

While the Assam government has assured that legal aid will be provided to all, an exercise of this scale requires the participation of law schools and civil society,” said N.K. Chakrabarti, Vice-Chancellor of National University of Juridical Sciences.

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/assams-nrc-law-schools-launch-legal-aid-clinic-for-excluded-people/article29564095.ece?homepage=true

The Telegraph – How a government and bureaucracy betrayed its people

No section of Assam’s population has been left unaffected by the overpowering, State-created tragedy of the NRC

Teesta Setalvad
Guwahati – Assam – India, 22 July 2019. So far, at least in ‘mainland’ India, we have been relatively insulated from the tortures and traumas caused by public authorities demanding proof of whether or not we are Indian. In the far corners of Assam, however, turmoil and anguish reign. Some of our most economically weak people have been ground down to desperation as a peculiarly callous and even motivated bureaucracy rules over their fate.

According to a meticulous list compiled by Citizens for Justice and Peace in Assam, there have been 58 citizenship related deaths as of July 18, 2019. Almost all of them hail from working class agrarian or urban backgrounds. Of these 28 are Hindus, 27 Muslims, one Boro, one Gorkha and one is a member of the Tea Tribes.

The numbers of those dead have so far not touched us in the rest of India. However, when 40 lakh plus of Indians were excluded from the provisional National Register of Citizens last July, a sense of the magnitude began to percolate through.

The NRC, a process both complex to understand and unique to Assam, was a consensual process arrived at after the tumultuous years that preceded the Assam Accord, when aggression, strife and violence marred a politics that was driven by real or imagined fears of the outsider.

The discourse has been twisted cleverly to now mean ‘foreigner’ and ‘infiltrator’. So it is these peculiar and seemingly parochial preconditions that have to be factored in to understand how and why a wide consensus developed around the process of a ‘free and fair’ NRC. Terms like ‘genuine Indian citizens’ have now emerged to form an integral part of the wider humanitarian discourse within the state.

Legally, the NRC in Assam is today being finalized under the Citizenship Act, 1955, which applies to all Indians (with a special amendment that relates to Assam) and under the special provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2003.

The ‘Modalities of NRC’ — under which this process has to be undertaken — are thorough. These Modalities (2003 onwards) were prepared on the basis of a common consensus arrived at with all stakeholders in the state. These included the supporters of the Assam Movement, various religious and linguistic minority organizations, and all the political parties of Assam. It was truly a hard earned consensus.

Thereafter, these Modalities were approved by a cabinet sub-committee of the government of Assam and then sent to the NRC authority. After the approval from the NRC authority, these were sent to the registrar general of India under the department of home, government of India.

Understanding these Modalities is to judge whether today’s process is fair. After elaborate discussions, the Modalities approved as many as 15 kinds of documents as legacy documents and another 10 sorts of documents known as ‘linkage documents’, which could and must be used during evaluating the applications of genuine Indian citizens for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC.

All these documents were approved by the RGI and subsequently by the Supreme Court of India. It was on the basis of any or all of these documents that the process was to be finalized.

However, perversions and manipulations have dogged the process of late. After 2016, the acceptability of some of the documents which were initially approved in the Modalities (for finalization of the NRC-Assam) were ‘diminished’, owing to the damaging intentions of various authorities.

When these were brought to the attention of the court, some of these were rectified. However, at the ground level, in spite of this disapproval by the court that is monitoring this mammoth process, the NRC authority continues with its questionable task of diminishing the acceptability of some of the ‘Legacy’ and ‘Linkage’ documents.

The motive appears to be not just to harass the common citizen but to perform to a ‘target’ set by political bosses.

To elaborate, the NRC authority has ‘diminished’ the acceptability of the citizenship certificate, migration certificate, refugee inmate certificate. Besides, all government documents including the voters list issued from Bengal and Tripura have been rejected.

All this has happened during the ongoing process of the finalization of the NRC. All birth certificates issued by the Nagaland government authority have been rejected without the minimum steps or any initiative to prove the documents’ authenticity being taken.

Further, within the NRC Modalities, there was a strong provision — well thought out — whereby an arrangement was put in place for a district magistrate investigation team to intervene. This provision ensured and assured any Indian citizen of a forum he or she could approach on the question. If, for instance, a genuine Indian citizen failed to submit proper documents, these could be investigated independently by the DMIT.

The team was empowered to meet local people, and after proper investigation, had the power to approve the inclusion of a name of an orphan, destitute or a person having no documents, especially the ‘linkage’ documents. This entire provision has been ignored, dropped from the on-going process.

Finally, there was a last, strong, fall-back provision, also within the Modalities, that laid down the DNA test as an ultimate arbiter for the finalization of a claim for the inclusion of a name while updating the NRC (when all else failed).

The provision was also struck down by the office of the RGI unilaterally. The highest court in the land has not been kept fully apprised of these deletions.

There is more. During the course of this finalization process, large numbers of applications have been rejected because of minor discrepancies in the names, titles, age differences in the legacy documents and the user of such legacy documents.

This in spite of the fact that ‘Modalities of NRC’ state otherwise: that minor discrepancies of the names, ages, titles will not affect the legitimate demand for inclusion of a name in the updated NRC. However, on the ground, at the 1,200 plus Nagrik Seva Kendras, this specific assurance is being given the go-by, causing injustice and mass exclusions.

There is no section of the population in Assam that has been left unaffected by this overpowering, State-created tragedy. Bengali-speaking Hindus, Muslims, the Gorkhas, Hindi-speaking people of north and west India have all been caught up in this, equally.

There is no way to describe what this unfolding trauma has meant, for women and men to attend hearings scheduled in places far away from home, spending significant amounts of money filling in applications. Worse, they are summoned to appear not once, but repeatedly, along with ‘legacy persons’.

This means that, in some cases, many people have even had to attend hearings as many as seven to 14 times along with their entire troupe of family tree members. This means a batch of 40-80 persons from an extended family having to travel up to hundreds of kilometres from their place of residence.

Not too far back, a professor from a prominent university of Delhi had to rush three times from Delhi to Lakhimpur in Upper Assam, which is about 3,000 kilometres, along with all his family members .

What is the legal recourse for persons unfairly or otherwise left out of the final NRC? The courts? An executive order of the ministry of home affairs (May 2019), now under challenge in the court, tries to diminish due process and an Indian citizen’s right to citizenship by compelling those excluded from the NRC to approach Foreigners Tribunals.

What are these bodies? Created specially in Assam under the pre-Independence Act of 1946, they are non-transparent bodies, about 100 in number. Fair adjudication of citizenship under the 1955 Citizenship Act needs to be undertaken under the Citizenship Tribunals constituted under that law. Confusions abound as injustice persists.

With inputs from Nandu Ghosh, Bijni and Zamser Ali.

Teesta Setalvad is secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace

https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/nrc-how-a-government-and-bureaucracy-betrayed-its-people/cid/1694949

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

The Telegraph – Hiren Gohain plea to vote against BJP in Lok Sabha poll

Assam and the Northeast urged by Forum against Citizenship Amendment Bill to vote against ruling party

Abinash Kalita

Guwahati – Assam – India, 14 February 2019. The Forum against Citizenship Amendment Bill has urged masses to vote against the ruling BJP for pushing the bill.

Following the non-tabling of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, the forum thanked the people of Assam and the Northeast for their supporting the organisations and political parties fighting against the bill.

The president of the forum, Hiren Gohain, in a news conference on Wednesday said, “It is the victory of the public. It is a temporary relief for us. It shall do more harm to our society if this government will come to power.

So, we urge the people of Assam and the Northeast to vote against the ruling party. This will only solve the various issues, being created by the ruling BJP during their tenure throughout the country.”

“With the Rajya Sabha being adjourned sine die on the last day of the budget session, the last parliamentary session before the Lok Sabha polls, there is no chance for the BJP now to amend the citizenship act,” he added.

The forum with the 70 other organisations had met Congress president Rahul Gandhi on February 4 and sought his co-operation to stall the bill in the Upper House.

Rahul had assured that his party would oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Convener of the forum, Manjit Mahanta said, “We want to thank all the political parties and students’ unions who opposed the bill from the beginning. Mostly, for the strong stand from the Congress, JDU and Shiv Sena against the bill in the Rajya Sabha, the ruling government unable to table the bill.”

The whole Northeast was united to scrap the bill and today (Wednesday) they have succeeded, he added.

Other members of the forum, Haidar Hussain, Udayaditya Bharali, Dinesh Baishya and Abdul Mannan and Deben Tamuli, were present in the news conference.

https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/north-east/hiren-plea-to-vote-against-bjp-in-ls-poll/cid/1684525?ref=more-from-india_india-page

The Hindustan Times – Citizenship Bill plunges Assam into political uncertainty ahead of LS polls

As protests rage in Assam against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the BJP insists there is no danger to its government.

Utpal Parashar

Guwahati – Assam – India, 13 January 2019. The Asom Gana Parishad’s (AGP) withdrawal of support BJP-led government in Assam last week in protest against the Bill has triggered political uncertainty and fuelled speculations about new political equations.

The BJP on Sunday played down an offer from the Congress to support Assam chief minister Sarbanabda Sonowal if he forms a breakaway government in the light of a massive public opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

The Congress sees an opportunity for a comeback in the current political turbulence and has urged Sonowal to quit the saffron party along with MLAs loyal to him.

“It’s an old offer. Sonowal himself and many BJP MLAs have said in the past that they will never support any cause which is detrimental to Assam or Assamese people.

Since a large section in Assam is opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, Sonowal along with his supporters should quit the BJP,” said senior Congress leader Debabrata Saikia.

“We are willing to support a Sonowal-led government, from within or outside, if the chief minister takes up our offer,” Saikia, who is leader of opposition in the Assam assembly, added.

The BJP has 62 seats in the 126-member assembly while coalition partner Bodo Peoples’ Front has 12. The AGP has 14 MLAs, the Congress 24 and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has 13.

The ruling party insists that Sonowal ditching the BJP is unthinkable.

“Saikia’s offer is completely hypothetical. Sonowal is a mass leader who knows that the Bill is going to benefit the people of Assam in the long run. He is not hungry for power and there’s no question of him leaving BJP to join hands with Congress,” said BJP’s Assam unit chief Ranjit Dass.

The Bill which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was passed in the Lok Sabha last week and is expected to come up for voting in Rajya Sabha in the next session beginning on January 31.

Fears of threat to indigenous populations from immigrants from Bangladesh due to passage of the Bill has led to protests in all seven states in the region and some BJP allies have threatened to follow the AGP if the amendment is passed in Rajya Sabha.

Amid the turbulence, the AGP on Saturday gave indications of joining hands with the BJP again if the saffron party withdraws the Bill in the interest of Assam.

“It seems highly improbable that the BJP would backtrack on its support to the Bill now. But if they do, we may reconsider our earlier stance. Otherwise there’s no question to supporting them again,” said AGP president Atul Bora.

The former minister in the Sonowal cabinet denied speculations that AGP might form an alliance with the Congress or AIUDF. Bora also refused to comment on whether his party will contest Lok Sabha polls alone or join an alliance.

“We are not thinking on those lines at all at the moment. Our aim now is to join forces with the people of Assam and those groups who are opposing the Bill,” he said.

The BJP said it is open to welcoming AGP if the regional party gives up its opposition to the Bill.

“Both BJP and AGP are united in our opposition to the Congress. Our party is committed to passing the CAB in parliament. But if AGP wants to join us again, without any pre-conditions, we will welcome them,” said Dass.

In another development, opposition by tribal groups in the state to the Centre’s move to grant scheduled tribe (ST) status to six more communities has turned a volatile situation even more fraught.

On Friday, the Coordination Committee of Tribal Organisations in Assam (CCTOA) had called a 12-hour shutdown across the state in protest against the Centre’s move to give ST status to Tai Ahoms, Muttocks, Morans, Adivasis, Koch Rajbongshis and Chutias.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is wrong because it is based on the religious or ethnic background of refugees. Hazaras from Balochistan and Afghanistan and Rohingiyas from Myanmar are genuine refugees, just like Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Man in Blue

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/citizenship-bill-plunges-assam-into-political-uncertainty-ahead-of-ls-polls/story-WaexZI6r2AboAPZ94dpp1K.html