Posts Tagged ‘Illegal immigration’

Supreme Court remarks on illegal detention fly in face of India’s constitutional and international obligations: CHRI

May 5, 2019
Supreme Court of India. Photo The Hindu

Supreme Court of India. Image: The Hindu

New Delhi, May 1

The Supreme Court needs to reaffirm India’s constitutional and international obligations to rights on complex issues of nationality, detention and deportation and not be unmindful of its own commitment to these duties, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has urged.

The following is the text of the statement, issued today, and signed by a group of eminent citizens including former Supreme Court Justice Madan Lokur, Wajahat Habibullah, CHRI’s Chair and former Chief Information Commissioner, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, and a number of senior former officials and civil society leaders:

As concerned citizens, we look to the Supreme Court to reaffirm India’s constitutional and international obligations to rights on sensitive issues.  That is why we are disappointed by recent statements by the Chief Justice of India on a complex matter relating to illegal detention and deportation, without heeding India’s own constitutional and international obligations.

While advocating greater detention of suspected ‘foreigners’, the Chief Justice brushed aside the Assam Chief Secretary with a stinging admonition for proposing a methodology for the release of a handful of foreign prisoners who had been in detention beyond their term of sentence for illegal entry. This was especially of concern for the case concerned the wilful violation of the human rights of hundreds of detainees who were languishing in what the court itself accepts are “inhuman conditions”.

We regard these remarks as unfortunate.

Article 21 is very clear in its intent, ambit and process. It binds all duty-holders and citizens with the ringing affirmation that no person in India (and we emphasize that there no special privileges here for Indian citizens) can be deprived of her/his right to life and liberty without due process.

NRC

NRC Official Logo

There is no deportation agreement with Bangladesh. International law lays down that such deportations can take place only with the consent of the country of origin. Bangladesh has consistently refused to accept that its citizens migrate in large numbers to India. Indeed, Bangladesh regards such unilateral efforts as harmful to a bilateral relationship that is critical for the security and stability of both countries and especially of our eastern region.

We cannot place ourselves in a situation where we are seen as forcing people out at gunpoint; it would be ethically unjust, wrong in law and draw international condemnation.

We are acutely sensitive to concerns in Assam and other parts of the North-east and across the country about the problem of illegal migration from Bangladesh, a long-standing issue that has defied official proclamations and pledges of “push back”, “deportation” and “detection”.

Whatever methods are used they must be undertaken within the rule of law frame, be just and fair and designed to minimise individual hardship and tragedy. We believe there is a need that this is a tragedy of growing intensity which is gathering momentum as a result of the current National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam.

Accounts from Assam indicate that often arbitrariness not rule of law is used to define those who have come post-1971 from Bangladesh (of whatever religious denomination) and those who are Indian nationals.

NRC-FORMS, SABRANG INDIA

People submitting NRC applications, Photo: Sabrang India

Lakhs are in limbo and now fear that they may become “stateless” because of a process that is mired in a mix of complexity, confusion, lack of precision and prejudice.

Many of those at risk are from the bottom of the economic pyramid, unable to sustain the complex adjudication process needed to establish their citizenship. Large numbers are already in detention camps.

Although the Supreme Court mandated deadline for a ‘final’ list is July 2019, we understand that not less than 38 lakh persons out of the 40 lakh (four million) who had found themselves off the NRC last year have filed applications for inclusion.  Such a huge number of requests cannot be processed in two months and we urge that this not be hurried as the consequences are too devastating to contemplate. The efforts need to be steady and methodical so that the charges of arbitrariness, prejudice and poor record keeping, which have plagued the NRC process, do not stick.

It must be pointed out here that India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which its representatives played a stellar part in developing the language that all of us are familiar with in regard to equality, non-discrimination and gender.  Our international commitments are clear as to the rights of people affected in such situations.

It would also be unacceptable if any Indian of any religious denomination is harmed by negligence, wilful prejudice, wrongful confinement and prosecution.

Failure to address this critical situation adequately and justly would be seen internationally as a gross violation of human rights and a blot on India’s traditional record.  What is also of concern to us are social fault lines that could be exacerbated by insensitive handling that could leave many people desperate, particularly youth, with the potential of radicalization.

As concerned citizens, we appeal to the judicial system and the government to explore a solution that addresses the human dimension. The situation in Assam and inter alia other parts of the North-east represent unprecedented challenges and conditions that cannot be resolved by application of a routine legal framework which is designed to deal with individual cases.

Wajahat Habibullah, Chairperson, CHRI

Members:
Justice Madan Lokur

Justice AP Shah

Ms. Vineeta Rai (IAS, retd, former Revenue Secretary  to the Government of India)

Nitin Desai, former Under Secretary, United Nations)

Jacob Punnoose (IPS, retd)

Poonam Muttreja (Member, Executive Committee, CHRI)

Kamal Kumar (IPS, retd)

Ms. Maja Daruwala (Adviser, CHRI)

Jayanto N. Choudhury (IPS, retd)

Dr. BK Chandrashekar (ex MLC, Karnataka)

Sanjoy Hazarika (International Director)

——————————————————————————————————————The statement is a verbatim reproduction from CHRI website at http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/press-releases/supreme-court-remarks-on-illegal-detention-fly-in-face-of-indias-constitutional-and-international-obligations-chri

BHRPC representation to JPC on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

May 10, 2018

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) submitted its views and suggestions on the proposed bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on 9 May 2018 at camp at National Institute of Technology, Silchar in Cachar, Assam. The representation supporting the object sought to be achieved by the bill argued that the language employed defeats that very object and renders the bill violative of the constitution of India as well as international human rights laws as expressed through different United Nations negotiated multinational treaties.

The text of the representation:

To

The Hon’ble Chairperson Sri Rajendra Agrawal and his companion Hon’ble members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955

At Camp at NIT, Silchar

Cachar, Assam

Subject: Recommendations for amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955 vis-à-vis the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Hon’ble sir,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) expresses heartfelt gratitude for your visit to Silchar and particularly for holding this consultation with the people of Barak valley who are facing threats to their citizenship

BHRPC is a human rights group that endeavours to generate awareness of human rights among  all  stakeholders,  monitors  and  documents  cases  of  violations including cases of decitizenisation. Geographically  its  works  mainly  focus on  the  southern  part of  the  state  of  Assam  comprised of the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. However, this self-funded voluntary group of human rights defenders also does its best to address cases of violation happening elsewhere in the state.

BHRPC presents its views and recommendations on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on behalf of the people of Assam from the human rights point of view as follows:

  1. The statement of objects and reasons attached to the abovementioned bill states that “under the  existing  provisions  of  the  Act,  persons  belonging  to  the  minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired are regarded as illegal migrants and hence ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship. It is proposed to make them eligible for applying for Indian citizenship.” Though it is not stated expressly in the bill, the underlying reason for making the abovementioned persons eligible for Indian citizenship is understood to be their victimization in sectarian violence in their countries.

  1. Of course, it is a humanitarian response to the suffering, the members of vulnerable groups of people in India’s neighbouring countries are made subject to, worthy of the largest democracy in the world. It is informed by Indian constitutional ideals of humanitarianism and respect to human rights as well as India’s legal and moral obligations under the international humanitarian and human rights laws.

  1. The modern international law relating to the issue at hand is based on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that reads, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This has been elaborated in several international conventions including the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and its 1967 Protocol[1].

  1. The international laws relating to the issue also find place in the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961.

  1. The honoured principle of non-refoulement is also reiterated in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[2].

  1. BHRPC is aware that India is not a party to the international conventions mentioned above. However, these are the documents containing laws of the civilized nations regarding the issue under consideration[3]. India, therefore, should ratify these conventions and frame a uniform immigration policy in conformity with the norms promulgated there.

  1. Coming to the bill under consideration, the clause 2 fails to live up to the principle of international law and also runs afoul to the cardinal constitutional principle of secularism that forms the basic structure[4] and principle of equality of treatment as enshrined in Article 14 by naming certain religious demonination while excluding others by implication. The bill also does not mention that the persons to be made eligible for citizenship should come in India owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion as provided in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 as amended its 1967 Protocol. In fact, the bill does not provide any basis for according them citizenship other than their being member of the named religious groups, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. Thus it excludes other minorities who are often persecuted in the neighbouring countries such as Shias, Ahmadias, Atheists, Sexual minorities, political dissenters etc. and Muslims in Myanmar[5]. The classification has no reasonable basis and there is no nexus between the object sought to be achieved and the legislation. Therefore, the bill is in its present form unconstitutional as it is hit by Article 14[6].

  1. The wording of the clause goes against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 to which India is a State Party. Article 1 of the Convention defines the term “racial discrimination” to mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. The bill excludes people who otherwise should be included on the basis of religious and ethnic identity.

  1. To save the bill from unconstitutionality and to bring it in line with India’s obligation under international human rights law, the clause should provide that any person who comes to India from any neighbouring country for being victimized in sectarian violence or for fear of such victimization irrespective of their religions shall not be treated as illegal migrants.

  1. The immediate trigger for presenting the bill came, it is understood, from fear of decitizenisation of people belonging to linguistic minorities, though the bill does not address this issue directly. This needs to be addressed to prevent gross violation of human rights of a large section of people belonging to a number of ethnic/linguistic groups including Bengalis and Nepalis. The threat comes from the arbitrary procedure of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

  1. The NRC rules[7] provides that only the name of person whose name appear in any of the electoral rolls prior to the year 1971, or in National Register of Citizens, 1951 and descendants of the persons mentioned above should be entered in the updated NRC.

  1. This rule is in breach of sub-section 7 of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955.[8]

  1. According to the Representation of Peoples Act[9], 1950 as interpreted by the Supreme Court[10] those whose names are there in a final electoral roll must be presumed to be entered after due scrutiny giving rise to a presumption of their citizenship.

  1. The NRC updation rules referred to above is also in breach of this law as laid down by the apex court of the land.

  1. Moreover, the said illegal procedure certainly falls under the rubric of arbitrary procedure within the meaning of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

  1. The basis of modern international law regarding right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that provides that everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

  1. It is, therefore, necessary to add a subsection to section 6A clearly providing that the person whose names appear in any electoral roll as voters shall be presumed to be citizen of India.

  1. BHRPC, therefore, recommends to the JPC that the bill should be re-written in the following terms:

  1. In subsection (1) of section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the Act), the following proviso shall be inserted after clause (b), namely:

“Provided that persons who migrated to India from the neighbouring countries, namely, Afganistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Srilanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar for being victimized in sectarian violence or for fear of such victimization irrespective of their religions shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act.”

  1. In the Act, in section 6A, after sub-section 7 the following subsection shall be inserted, namely:

“7A:  The person whose name appears in any electoral roll as voters shall be presumed to be citizen of India.”

  1. In clause 3 in the Third Schedule of the Act, the following proviso shall be inserted, namely:

“Provided that for the persons mentioned in proviso to clause (b) of subsection (1) of section 2, the aggregate period of residence or service of a Government in India as required under this clause shall be read as “not less than six months” in place of “not less than eleven years”.”

Clause 3 of the bill may be retained verbatim.

  1. BHRPC further recommends that:

  • India should ratify the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1952 and its protocol, namely, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967.

  • India should ratify the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954 and the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961.

  • India should ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
  • India should formulate a uniform immigration policy in line with the above international treaties.

  • India should take proper actions in appropriate international forums on cases of atrocities on minorities and vulnerable groups and gross violations of their human rights happening in neighbouring countries.

 

Looking forward to a report from your end that incorporates the above recommendations leading to a non-discriminatory law according citizenship of persons migrated to India from neighbouring countries owing to persecution for their identity or belief or views, or for fear of such persecution and protecting citizenship of genuine Indian citizens.

 

With warm regards

Taniya Sultana Laskar

Secretary General,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee

Silchar, Assam


[1]  Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as this:  “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”

[2] Article 3 of the Convention provides that no State shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

[3] India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

[4]  Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461 and S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 1918 and several other judgments of the Supreme Court.

[5] Whereas the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is described by the United Nations as facing the risk of ethnic cleansing, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/more-than-120000-rohingya-flee-myanmar-violence-un-says

[6] State of Madras v. V. G. Row 1952 AIR 196

[7] Sub-clause (a) and (b) of clause 2 of the Schedule framed under Rule 4A (4) of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of Identity Cards) Rule 2003 titled Special Provisions as to Manner of Preparation of National Register of Citizens in the State of Assam.

[8] Sub-section 7 of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 provides that who were citizens of India before 1985 are exempted from the operation of section 6A that enacts the rule about 1966 and 1971.

[9] Section 16 of the Representation of People Act, 1950 provides for disqualification for registration in an electoral roll and it it includes not being a citizen of India meaning that those whose names are there in a final electoral roll are found to be citizens after due scrutiny as prescribed by law.

[10] Lal Babu Hussein & Others v. Electrol Registration Officer  and Others 1995 AIR 1189

CJP Urgent Appeal: Stop Move to Make Assamese Muslims Homeless & Stateless Sign our Petition NOW!

April 26, 2018

(BHRPC forwards this Citizens for Justice and Peace petition to protect bonafide Indian citizens from enforced statelessness)

A humanitarian crisis is underway in Assam as you read this. The National Register for Citizens (NRC), a record of ‘legitimate’ Indian citizens living in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The ostensible objective is to weed out ‘Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. However, the numbers tell a chilling story… one of a conspiracy of ‘othering’ and exclusion.

NRC Appeal

Representational image by CJP

3.29 crore people from 68.27 lakh families in Assam have submitted over 6.5 crore documents with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to prove their Indian citizenship. But the NRC recently published a list of only 1.9 crores as legal citizens.

A huge number of 1.39 crore Assamese, almost all Muslim, are under threat of having their legitimate citizenship revoked. CJP believes this is discriminatory. Join us and raise your voice against this injustice. Sign our Petition NOW!

  • We demand an immediate halt to this anti-constitutional and potentially polarizing move.
  • We demand an end to this attempt to brand all Muslims as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
  • We demand that corrupt local officials are NOT empowered with coercive powers to unilaterally decide fates of entire families.
  • We demand a stop to dividing Assam for narrow political gains.

Raise your voice against this now. Sign our petition.

The appeal was published on CJP website and reproduced here for wider dissemination.

Assam: Creating a ‘state of exception’ in a space which itself is a ‘state of exception’ to the Indian state

March 24, 2018

Assam against itself: a reply to Sanjib Baruah

In response to Professor Sanjib Baruah‘s article ‘Stateless in Assam‘ which discussed a new focus on detention camps for ‘stateless citizens’, Suraj Gogoi, Gorky Chakraborty and Parag Jyoti Saikia reflect on the implications of reducing people to ‘bare life’.

The Concentration camps that came to the fore during the Holocaust, left a deep impact on human history. It showed us that hate can be nurtured to humiliate, torture, and reduce people to ‘bare life’. The concept of the ‘exception’ used by Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben has been articulated in the context of Northeast India by Professor Bimol Akoijam, as to how the Indian state through the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) inhumanely treats its own citizens and the whole region as a ‘different minority’. However, the manner in which Prof. Sanjib Baruah used this example in his article ‘Stateless in Assam’, in invoking the idea of camps sends chills down the spine, as he presents enforced settlements as normal human condition, a fate to be endured for some. His views on camps have been lauded by a number of caste Assamese intellectuals, amongst others. It has thus created a ‘state of exception’ in a space which itself is a ‘state of exception’ to the Indian state. This double exceptionality makes the lives of Hanif Khan, who killed himself over fears he was excluded from a list that identified ‘legitimate’ Assamese citizens, and a host of others extremely precarious.

Since Professor Baruah has invoked this idea of exception, let us in return, invoke the idea of love and solidarity. Martha Nussbaum notes that cultivating love instead of hate would make the world a better place to live in. The lack of love, in the public and in our emotions, should be an area of great concern. Hanif Khan and his family needed love and solidarity, not a reminder of Arendt’s work, which indeed became a mockery of his life. Such an injunction creates what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘twoness’ or even a stranger. It is the worst form of alienation where you see yourself through the eyes of the other. Being poor is hard, but to be despised by the society, the state, and its institutions estranges an individual in everyday life. Becoming a ‘problem’ is a ‘strange experience’ itself, no one needs to reiterate the point that one is a stranger. Such things only amplify the distance and distinction. What does such a position from a senior writer on the Northeast inform us?

Hanif Khan

Hanif Khan. Photo (C) The Gaurdian

Professor Baruah’s article also misses out on certain fundamental issues associated with National Register of Citizens (NRC). The idea of an ‘original inhabitants’ state in NRC is contrary to equal citizenship, as arbitrariness and suspicion loom large around the identification process. The legacy data of 1951 and 1971 was taken as the basis on which the citizenship of the people living in Assam was to be determined. However, there was hardly any question raised about these legacy documents, since they were considered sacrosanct. The legacy documents were no census documents. Rather, they were rough notes books of census enumerators which lack official validity.

NRC is using majoritarianism in the worst possible manner. It misuses law in making minorities stateless. As a form of identification, non-inclusion reduces an individual to a lesser human being. Deportation is perhaps a bilateral issue, while death isn’t. A matter of life and death, fear and pain, should not be an issue of ‘business’ and ‘watching’.  His position ignores the reduction of people’s lives to a mere piece of document, the resultant alienation and social pain. His belief placed on public officials to ensure ‘accuracy’, leaves no space to question the process of preparing NRC. An argument such as this is surprising, since, for many students of our generation who became interested in studying the Northeast, his India against Itself taught us to question the state in the Northeast. It presented the rhetoric of state making, mired in violence. However, the rhetoric of suicide and a text on Holocaust is the last thing one should compare, particularly when it lacks sensitivity and love, which was evident the manner in which Professor Baruah ended his article.

Youngest son of late Hanif Khan, his mother in law and Raksha Khan (from left) by Taniya Laskar

Son, mother in law and wife of Hanif Khan. Photo: BHRPC

Professor Baruah’s assertion also suffers from taking a linear view of a very complex bureaucratic and social process. In this light, sharing an account written by Dr. Debarshi Das, a faculty in IIT Guwahati, of his own family.

My aunt Putul was born in Pandu in 1950s. Her parents came to Assam as East-Bengali migrants. She got married to a muffasil town and after her marriage, her name no more remained the same. In her in-laws family there were two other people with the same name, Putul and following from this her name was changed from Putul Guha to Kabita Das. In 2016, when police came to enquire about the citizenship status, they noticed the differences in her pre- and post-nuptial documents. Without any delay she was sent to detention camp at the age of sixty”.

One of the first proponents of detention or concentration camps in the context of Northeast was S.K.Sinha. One can read his letter to the President of India dated 8th of November 1998. His sentiments echoed a large group of ethno-nationalist that identified a common enemy in Assam—the Bangladeshi. Upamanyu Hazarika, a Supreme Court lawyer and convener of the Prabajan Virodhi Manch, is another leading voice in this thread of safeguarding the son of the soil by creating imagined victimhood which suppresses the actual victims as Prof. Prasenjit Biswas argues. Even Hiren Gohain voiced his agreement to the NRC and speaks of ‘legitimacy’ of citizenship. Hence, what we also wished to highlight through this reply is that Prof. Sanjib Baruah’s lack of a moral position is not an aberration, as we all know that even Hiren Gohain sympathises with the legitimate objective of the Assam movement, but not its method. They are just echoing sentimentalities that carry possibilities of violence, othering, and mob lynching. Will there be ever any room for human security or it’s a linear pre-determined march towards a state and thereafter region (NEI) consisting of a number of concentration camps by different names?

To conclude, we want to reiterate what Professor Ashis Nandy argued about the master-slave dialectic. One should stand with the marginalised or the slave, not because suffering is a superior experience or for they work or are oppressed, but because the slave represents a higher order cognition who treats the master as ‘human’, as opposed to the master who treats the slave as a ‘thing’. Arguing for camps is to become players in moral and cognitive ventures of oppression, or at the very least, a passive complicit.

This article is reproduced from The London School of Economics and Political Science’s South Asia blog in public interest.

About the Authors

Suraj Gogoi is a doctoral student in Sociology, National University of Singapore.

Gorky Chakraborty is a faculty member of Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK).

Parag Jyoti Saikia teaches at Asian University for Women, Chittagong.

Assam NRC process drives citizens to death: Case of Hanif Khan

January 15, 2018

This new year a sad news has shaken the people of Barak Valley, the southern part of North East Indian state of Assam comprising of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts. Mr Hanif Khan, young man of about 37 years of age, committed suicide hours after first part of the draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is in the process of being updated in Assam was published at midnight on 31 December 2017. The draft did not have his name as he feared. He was terrified that he lost his citizenship and as a result he would be sent to jail and would be subjected to torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment.  All the local vernacular media as well as a section of the national media reported the incident. There is an atmosphere of fear and terror.

After learning from the media reports, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) decided to visit the family and gather first hand information of the incident and accordingly a team led by Dr Prasenjit Biswas  and comprised of Mr Oliullah Laskar, Mr Raju Barbhuiya and Ms Taniya Laskar went to late Mr. Hanif Khan’s house on 6 January 2018. The team talked with the wife of the deceased, their children, other family members and neighbors and gathered information as follows:

Youngest son of late Hanif Khan, his mother in law and Raksha Khan (from left) by Taniya Laskar

Youngest son of late Hanif Khan, his mother in law and Raksha Khan (from left) by Taniya Laskar

Mr Hanif Khan was a man of about 37 years. Neighbors said he was law abiding citizen and very mild and gentle in his manners. He had in his family his wife Ms Ruksa Khan, their three sons and a foster daughter. He used to serve as a hired driver to a family.

The illegal immigration issue has been a long standing, vexatious and a burning political issue in Assam for several decades. In 1983 near about 3000 people were massacred in Nellie area of present day Morigaon district. In the following three decades the people of Assam have come across many shifts in the political as well as social paradigms. Recently after Supreme Court’s directions, almost all the political parties and pressure groups agreed upon a correct and error-free NRC. But the process followed by the government to publish the same made most of the common people concerned. The modalities prescribed by the authorities required the citizens to submit a prescribed application form with specified documents issued before 1971 showing their or their ancestors’ citizenship and having link with the said ancestors in case the applicants did not have the pre 1971 documents due to being born later.

Later the modalities got modified and a family tree was required to be submitted by the applicants. Family tree was a documentation of the extended family giving names of all cousins and their family members. The authorities again sought to change the rules and declared that certificate issued by Panchayat (local civic body) secretaries as earlier prescribed would not considered valid. However, the intervention of the Supreme Court retained the validity of such certificates. The admissibility of the pre 1971 documents submitted as proof of citizenship and/or link documents were made subject to the verification of the records of the issuing authorities. The authorities would also conduct physical verification of the applicant citizens and their families in many cases. This made the people, irrespective of ethnicity and religious identity, enraged. People came out in the street and held protests in many places all over the state. Questions were raised as to how the authorities got the power to ask the citizens to prove their citizenship by producing documents. In a petition the Supreme Court directed the authorities to exempt the “original inhabitants” of the state from this rigorous test of citizenship. But the term was nowhere defined and no criteria were given to determine the originality of inhabitation. This created deep apprehension of racial discrimination and arbitrary procedure of updation of NRC among the people of Barak valley.

There has always been a perception among the people of Barak valley that they have been being discriminated by the linguistically aggressive politics of Brahmaputra valley of the state. In 1960 a bill was passed by the Assam state legislature making the Assamese language as the official language of the entire state of Assam including Barak valley. People came out in protest in unprecedented large numbers. During those protests, 11 people were killed in Silchar Railway Station on 19 May 1961. The government was forced to amend the bill and to make Bengali the official language for Barak valley. Ever since the 11 martyrs have been revered by the people and the 19th May observed as Language Martyrs Day in Barak valley every year. This perception of discrimination has again been reinforced by the supply of a Bengali application form with clearly visible Assamese linguistic influence.

There is also another phenomenon known as D-voters. Citizens’ names are arbitrarily tagged with D (dubious or doubtful) in electoral rolls. Their cases are referred to the Foreigners’ Tribunal. In Tribunal such a person has to prove his citizenship. The burden of proof is put on the suspect. In many cases the Tribunals declare such people foreigners based on minor discrepancy and spelling errors in the names of ancestors or the suspect, as the case may be, in pre-1966 documents. Moreover, in many cases notice are not served properly and the tribunals pass decision ex parte. Most of the people don’t have wherewithal to take recourse to higher courts. After the declaration as a foreigner by the Tribunal, police pick the persons up and put them in detention camps which are in fact regular jails. In the absence of a deportation treaty with Bangladesh or any other supposed country of nationality of the persons concerned, they are kept in jails with other convicted criminals for indefinite period. The reports of such midnight knocks are regularly published in newspapers.

Though it is not yet clear what will be the policy for the people whose names are not included in final NRC, to people it is a question between whether they would be sent to the dreaded detention camps directly or through tribunals.

The resultant apprehension of discrimination and fear of losing citizenship that gripped the people of Barak valley also got to Mr Hanif Khan. He was in a constant fear of losing his citizenship. Moreover, in Assam, there are incessant reports in newspapers related to arrest and detention of person belonging to the lower income-strata by the police, after the Foreigners’ Tribunals declare them as the foreigner. Moreover, recently nearly 45000 police personals and 50 army troops were deployed in different “sensitive areas” of the state. This was in addition to fact that the area was declared as part of “disturbed area” under the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958. This draconian law empowers even the non-commissioned members of the armed forces to use force even to the extent of killing against anyone who is suspected to have breached or about to breach law and order. The Act also bars the court to take cognizance of any case against the armed forces without sanction from the government of India. All this went to create an environment of reign of terror and an eerie silence among the people. Mr Hanif Khan got more terrified that pushed him to take such an irreversible step to end his life.

Mr Hanif Khan submitted NRC application in due time. A copy of the application is with the BHRPC. The application appears to be according to the prescribed rules. He established his citizenship with the prescribed documents beyond doubt. He claimed the inclusion of his and his family members’ name in the  NRC on the basis of voters list of 1971. He had shown his linkage with his father late Mr. Raj Mohammad Khan and mother late Ms Sahera Khan through voter list of 1971. He submitted the school  certificates of the children to establish linkage with himself. His wife Ruksa Khan’s inclusion is claimed on the basis of linkage with her parents Mr. Rahim Khan and Afushi Bibi through the same voter list of 1971.

Ms Ruksa Khan told the BHRPC team that since the time the verification process of NRC began Mr Hanif Khan was in a constant fear of police torture in case he loses his citizenship. As day of the publication of the first of draft NRC neared, he often hid himself if any police van passed through the high way near his house. Three months ago when he was still in his job he went to a place around 15 kilometres away from his house known as Udharbond. There he found an army vehicle behind his vehicle and he started running instantly and came to his house crossing 15 kilometres of distance right on his foot. Learning this, his employer released him temporarily from his service. Since then he stayed in his house and watched televisions for news and read newspapers and otherwise also tried to collect information about the NRC updation process. He would go on asking everyone about the rules and modalities of NRC and consequences of non-inclusion of his name. He was very concerned about the minor discrepancy regarding his age in one of the voters-list. The neighbours tried to allay his fears by telling him what they knew. But that did not seem to have assured him. His wife tried to take him to the doctor but he didn’t agree. She then asked help of the neighbours and had planned to take him to the hospital forcibly if necessary. But before that he went on missing since 7 pm on Sunday, 31st December 2017 the day when the draft NRC was going to be published. Ms. Raksha Khan stated that at irst she thought he came to watch news on tv but when he did not come back after midnight she started to search for him and was unable to find him thourghout the night. She first saw the body around 6.50 am next morning. Police officials reached the spot around 8.30 am and sent the body to Silchar Medical College and Hospital for post-mortem.

According to Mr Toibur Rehman, one of the neighbour present there, Hanif Khan was perfectly healthy and a well- mannered man. And never had any serious quarrel with anyone. But since the NRC updation process began he appeared to be very worried about it. He also added that another person in the locality namely Mr. Nur Jamal Laskar was also showing similar symptoms and he was under treatment and in strict care of the neighbours. Mr Tapu Das one of the member of the local Panchayat also confirmed the same information. On being asked he said that the NRC process is totally carried on by the Seva Kendras and local Panchayat was never involved in it and he was never informed about the modalities or any other thing. The Panchayat only carries out the duty of issuing Gaon Panchayat Certificates to those who apply for it.

It is to be noted here that this is not the only incident of NRC related suicide. Before that on 6 December 2017, a man aged about 56 years named Mr Akram Uddin Barbhuiya of New Ramnagar area in Cachar district  ended his life by hanging himself on the ceiling of his own room. He was also reported to have been worried over inclusion of his name in the updated NRC. .According to his family members he also went on asking everyone about the procedure adopted in updating NRC and NRC related documents were laying in the floor of the room where he hanged himself. Even two days before that, on 3 December 2017, another man Mr Anwar Hussain, a resident of Bahmura, of Goalpara district also committed suicide for the same reaon under the similar circumstances. According to newspapers reports, Anwar Hussain’s daughter Jahabnara Khatun was served with a notice for verification of the documents submitted for inclusion of her name in theNRC. Following that notice he was much tensed and in a constant fear that his daughter’s citizenship could be taken away.

The BHRPC believes that Mr.Hanif Khan was a victim of a clumsy, erroneous and arbitrary procedure of updation of NRC adopted by the state couple with the xenophobic rhetoric of politicians including members of the council of ministers. The state machinery failed to take the citizens in confidence that they are not going to be discriminated or not going to be victims of any kind of arbitrariness.

BHRPC filed a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission praying for:

  1. An interim compensation to the next of kin of the deceased pending the disposal of the case.
  1. A compensation of Rs. 10 lakh  to the next of kin of the deceased.
  1. and for conducting a study of the procedure of updation of NRC in Assam and to make recommendations so that human rights of the people are not violated in the process.

For further details, please contact:

Taniya Laskar, Secretary General, Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC)

Silchar, Assam. Email: bhrpc.ne@gmail.com, Mobile:+919401616763

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2016, reactions in Assam and the way ahead

October 17, 2016

Burst of immigration hysteria

Prasenjit Biswas

citizenship

Courtesy The Statesman

A caucus of noted Assam intellectuals representing those concerned about the granting of citizenship to hundreds of thousands of immigrant Bangladeshi Hindus has expressed concern over the Centre’s bulldozing public opinion, through a parliamentary standing committee, to propose amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1955. 

It has noted that, if an estimated three million Bengali Hindus who entered Assam after the 1971 civil war from erstwhile East Pakistan  are granted citizenship, it will jeopardise the very existence of Axomiya as a linguistic community and will  permanently alter Assam’s land holding, employment and demography.

The groups is also concerned that indigenous peoples’ lives and identity will be endangered by further legitimising Bengali Hindu immigrants. Also that this will merely complicate the matter caused by an already alarming presence of Muslims in Assam. From the point of view of the indigenous activists, dominance of  any plainsman over hill communities is looked upon as a marginalising factor.

Writing in the late 1960s, noted social scientist Roderick A. Church pointed out that “separatism” of the tribals in Assam and North-east is a potent factor to destabilise any dominant community’s hold over the state power.

The present Citizenship Amendment Bill controversy raises the fear of the Axomiya and the tribal communities together, albeit in very different ways and thereby adding up to the concerns of land alienation and demographic marginalisation.

What turns out to be a queer outcome of the BJP’s victory in Assam is its pre-poll commitment to grant citizenship to Hindus displaced from former East Pakistan and present Bangladesh due to religious persecution. Indeed, this pre-poll promise won them most of the nearly  6.5 million Bengali Hindu votes, making them and their allies win big in this year’s assembly election.

Prior to the election, the Centre, by a circular from the Union home ministry,  regularised the entry and stay of religious minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh if they had entered India by 31 December 2014.

Indeed, such a circular, based on relevant provisions of rules and orders made under the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, has created jubilation among Bengali Hindus and other Hindu minorities such as Koch Rajbongshis, Hajongs, Moghs, Chakmas and such other late and persecuted refugee migrants, as they see in it a humanitarian response from the government of India in treating them with compassion and fairness.

In continuation to this circular, the Centre has proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act of 1955, especially section 6A, that presently limits the grant of citizenship to a cut-off date of 25 March 1971. In its proposal, the Centre suggested the cut-off date up to 31 December 2014, for persecuted religious minorities that include every religious group except Muslims, who migrated to India from neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the amendment and inclusion of Hindus and others have made the proposed amendment seem painted with a religious brush that alters the secular basis of citizenship within the Constitution to the basis of religious persecution. One can understand the BJP’s political compulsions to keep its Hindu vote bank consolidated for future election that made them parry important constitutional questions.

Concerns raised in Assam about a possible fallout on land and demography is also not backed up with hard evidence and correct statistical facts. Vani Kanta Boorooah, a social scientist with the University of Ulster, UK, in a richly-documented paper entitled “The Killing Fields of Assam: Myth and Reality of Its Muslim Immigration” published in the Economic and Political Weekly, 26 January 2013, demonstrated with much statistical elan that  “between 1971 and 2011, the net migration into Assam was virtually zero: 730,000 persons entered Assam in the 20 years between 1971 and 1991 (502,000 Muslims and 228,000 non-Muslims) but there was a net outflow of 452,000 between 1991 and 2001 (209,000 Muslims and 243,000 non-Muslims) and a further net outflow of 283,000 between 2001 and 2011 (168,000 Muslims and 115,000 non-Muslims), leaving a net outflow between 1971 and 2011 of just 5,000.”

Imaginary statistics and numbers are regularly floated to build up a picture of native and indigenous population losing land to immigrants, be it Bengali, Hindu or Muslim, and an entire Muslim community is particularly dubbed  “illegal” by a motley combination of ethno-nationalists and indigenous activist groups.

To complicate matters further, there is an existing legal mechanism of identifying “suspected illegal immigrants” by tagging them “doubtful” beside their names in the voters’ list and by subjecting them to a legally tortuous process of proving their bona fides and, in the process, many have died in detention camps.

Retired chief justice of the Supreme Court of India Altamas Kabir once pointed out that suspected “D” voters’  human rights were violated in Assam as they were kept with criminals and were deprived of access to legal assistance. The Hindu legal cell of Assam has filed a petition before the National Human Rights Commission against the Assam government’s policy of keeping suspected foreigners in ordinary jails with common criminals.

The BJP is at an interesting crossroad in dealing with the situation. Its chief spokesman, Himanta Biswa Sarma, now minister in the Assam BJP cabinet, mooted the idea of 1951 as the cut-off date for deciding citizenship in Assam during his election speeches, which apparently garnered a huge chunk of caste Hindu Assamese votes to the BJP combine’s accounts.

Right now he argues that granting citizenship to Bengali Hindus of the post-1971 period will ensure a Hindu majority in Assam, which will be a combine of Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu that would keep Assam safe from being turned into a Muslim majority state.

Intellectuals, social activists and civil society in the Brahmaputra valley have found this argument flawed as they feel it is divisive and throws  Assam’s plural society into a vertical division between Hindus and Muslims.

In the Barak Valley, Bengali Hindus expect big bonus from the BJP by granting citizenship to all Bengali Hindus, and by particularly checking their regular harassment by the state administration to prove their citizenship and being often pushed into a detention camp or prison.

Noted civil rights activists Hafiz Rasheed Choudhury, who hails from the Barak Valley and heads the Citizens Rights Protection Committee, sees a double danger in proposing religious identity as the basis for amendment to the  Citizenship Act, 1955, as it will not grant citizenship to hundreds of thousands of refugee Hindus but endanger the status of Muslim citizens as “suspects”, or illegal trespassers into India. Citizens, in the Barak Valley, being concerned at this diabolic situation, remain clueless about the fate of the proposed amendment, but they remain divided along religious lines. Large segments of Bengali Hindus still pin their hopes on the BJP to establish the rights of Hindus in India, while they are silent about the plight of Bengali Muslims.

The situation is extremely fluid and uncertain as the parliamentary standing committee is yet to make its stand clear on whether it is ready to grant citizenship to displaced people from neighbouring countries on the basis of religion or whether the matter needs to be viewed in a larger humanitarian perspective that does not discriminate on religious lines. Concerns in the Brahmaputra valley about illegal immigration that is then politicised in the name of religious minorities prevent an easy solution to the controversy over citizenship to persecuted religious minorities.

Multiple political colours and positions attributed to this very important Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016, make it extremely relevant to facilitate an end to dilemmas of a democratic and inclusive notion of citizenship that is above the dichotomies of native versus migrant, legal versus illegal, etc, that are the remnants of  the 1980s anti-immigrant agitation.

In this context, some of Assam’s intellectuals hailing the BJP’s coming to power as a victory of Assamese regionalism over Hindutva can be seen as the conceit of self-deception, as much of the Asomiya intellectuals are worried at the prospect of the BJP’s Hindutva agenda of granting only Hindus citizenship at the moment.

It is also ironical that the preservation of local and indigenous languages and culture clashes with a notion of democratic citizenship are seen as a source of crisis in land, employment and livelihood. Seemingly, there is a perception trap that has created a quagmire for all of Assam and its various segments of people, as it is not able to come to terms with the presence of others who are different. This also marks a regressive hardening of linguistic and cultural boundaries that imply greater ethnic and religious distrust and conflict over authenticity, which is not good for a democratic polity based on the principle of peaceful co-existence and communal harmony.

The writer is associate professor at the North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and vice chairperson of Barak Human Rights Protection Committe, Silchar.

Originally published in The Statesman at is availaable at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/north-east-page/burst-of-immigration-hysteria/171231.html#guTR9QqqC6d0O6hC.99

Assam: After violence, anxieties of land and identity are still haunting the people

October 18, 2012

The Times of India

Harsh Mander

Although Assam has disappeared from the front pages of national newspapers, large populations still live in makeshift, underserved camps, racked by memory, fear and uncertainty, with little prospect of an early return to their homelands. Legitimate anxieties of land and identity have acquired an urgent grammar of violence and hate, and irreconcilable divisions have grown further between estranged communities.

Photo: thenational.ae

Photo: thenational.ae

During my journey to relief camps in Dhubri, Chirang and Kokrajhar, housed in the classrooms and courtyards of schools, I found that government had ensured basic food rations and primary healthcare services. For the rest, people mainly had to fend for themselves. There was no bedding, no mosquito nets, toilets were scant and choked, and there was little water for drinking and bathing. People who had fled their burning villages or rampaging mobs had few clothes or utensils. Children were the worst hit. There were no child care services, or temporary schooling. Everywhere i found a longing to return home.

The stories we heard in both Bodo and Bengali Muslim camps were disturbingly similar, of neighbours turning into murderous mobs, of torched and ransacked homes, of looted livestock, and of fearful flight. Many escaped only in fear, even though their settlements were not attacked, and in these villages, men return to guard their homes and fields, leaving the women and children in camps.

There are legitimate anxieties and grievances on both sides of the dispute. Udoyon Misra writes eloquently of the ‘ever so heavy’ burdens of history of indigenous Assamese peoples like the Bodos, of ‘land, immigration, demographic change and identity’. He describes massive land alienation of the Bodo plains tribal people who were shifting cultivators with few land records, by industrious and aggressive Bengali Muslim immigrant cultivators.

Successive governments in both the state and the Centre have failed to effectively seal borders, and to identify and repatriate illegal immigrants. The Bodos worry also about being culturally swamped in their traditional homelands, not just by Bengali Muslims but also other communities such as the caste Hindu Assamese, Koch-rajbanshis, Santhals and Bengali Hindus.

Photo: samaylive.com

Photo: samaylive.com

The Bodo accord of 1993, which belatedly gave administrative autonomy to the Bodo people in their traditional homelands in which they already were reduced to a minority, unfortunately also created an incentive for driving out people of other communities and ethnicities. The first attacks by armed Bodo militants on Bengali Muslims occurred in 1993 itself, and these have recurred sporadically against also Santhal adivasis, who are descendants of tea garden workers who migrated centuries back. Clashes occurred in 1994, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Around one and a half lakh people displaced by these clashes – both Bengali Muslim and Santhal – continue to live in camps up to the present day, an entire generation of forgotten internal refugees with no home. The government took no decisive steps to help these refugees return to their homelands.

This remains a festering wound on the psyche of the Bengali Muslim, as also the fact that not a single person has been persecuted for the gruesome slaughter mounted in Nellie in 1983. They complain that all Bengali Muslims are tainted as Bangladeshi illegal immigrants, whereas demographers confirm that only a small fraction of the immigrants are actually illegal settlers who slipped into the state after the agreed cut-off date of 1973. Many have learnt Assamese, and wish to be accepted as legitimate Assamese citizens.

This already fraught environment, of legitimate competing anxieties and grievances of diverse communities, has deteriorated sharply because of the implicit legitimisation of violence as a means to resolve these competing claims. People sympathetic to the concern of Bodos and other indigenous tribal communities suggest that the violence to which they have resorted in recent decades is unfortunate but understandable. This is rendered more dangerous because of the easy availability of sophisticated arms among the surrendered Bodo militants, who were never effectively disarmed.

On the other hand, apologists for the Bengali Muslim violence justify it as being ‘only retaliatory’. This is slippery ethical territory, because the same argument was used to justify the post-Godhra massacre, as well as the slaughter of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. There is disturbing evidence of growing radicalisation of a small section of the Assamese Bengali Muslim, of a kind which was remarkably absent among the victims of the Gujarat violence. The latter have remained unshakably committed to the democratic, legal and non-violent resolution of their grievances, despite the brutal slaughter and systematic subversion of justice and reconciliation by the leadership thereafter.

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

BTAD Assam (Courtesy IDSA)

There are wide demands today that only those Bengali Muslims in relief camps should be allowed to return home who can first prove their legal status. The acceptance of this demand would further incentivise the mass violence which resulted in their displacement in the first place. There isno doubt that the rights of indigenous communities to their land, forests and culture need to be defended, and illegal immigration effectively blocked.

But there should be no compromise, even by implication, with violence as a means to achieve these demands. People in both new and old camps must first be res-tored to their homelands unconditionally, and assisted in rebuilding their houses and livelihoods. Only then should a just and caring state intervene to ensure that the legitimate concerns of both indigenous people and settlers are met, by processes which are lawful, humane and non-violent.

The writer is a social activist.


First published in the Times of India and is available herehttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Violence-in-Assam-has-subsided-but-anxieties-of-land-and-identity-are-still-haunting-the-people/articleshow/16855324.cms