ASSAM CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS / India
What's Going On In Assam?
Human Rights Violations
The final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on 31st August 2019, stripping away the citizenship of 1.9 million people. Risk of mass deprivation of nationality and arbitrary detention of linguistic and religious minorities in Assam, India. This is a clear violation of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that provides that "everyone has the right to a nationality" and that "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. "As of 25th September 2018, 1,037 persons declared foreigners were being detained in detention centres in Assam. The centres have been referred to as concentration camps due to inhumane conditions. The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in December 2019, the Act amended the law to fast-track citizenship for religious minorities, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India prior to 2015, excluding Muslims.
- There is no statutory limit on the period for which individuals declared as foreigners can be detained.
- Individuals declared as foreigners are kept inside criminal prisons along with convicts and under trial prisoners.
- Circumstances and conditions of detention cause harm to individuals’ mental and physical health.
- Foreigners Tribunals, which adjudicate citizenship cases, follow flawed processes to identify irregular foreigners.
- Genocide Watch has issued a Genocide Watch alert for Assam where millions face losing citizenship status. Genocide Watch is declared when early warning signs indicate the danger of a genocidal process underway.
Ethnic Tension in Assam
Assam has always been an ethnically diverse region in India, neighbouring Bangladesh and Bhutan. Migration between Bengal and Assam was a norm as the British Empire had declared Eastern Bengal and Assam one province. Under the British Empire, colonial authorities including of local elites, decided that in order to maximise revenues they would move and resettle Muslim peasants from Bengal.
Ethnic tensions between the Assamese (Asamiya-speaking) and Bengalis escalated into calculated violence. In order to dehumanise the people they labelled them “Bangladeshis” - they saw them as belonging to Bangladesh even if they had lived in Assam for centuries.
Since the 1940’s there have been multiple pogroms targeting Bengalis. From the ‘Prevention of Infiltration from Pakistan’ scheme that forcibly deported millions of Bengali Muslims into East Pakistan, to ‘Bongal Kheda’ - an organised campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting Bengali Hindus, to the several massacres such as Nellie, Silapathar and Khoirabari - all targeting Bengalis.
Post Liberation War
In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War brought along a few Bengali Hindu refugees which escalated ethnic tensions further, even though data showed that only 3% of total Bangladeshi refugees (85% of whom were Hindu) took shelter in Assam.
After a six-year movement led by Assamese nationalist groups against “illegal immigrants”, the controversial Assam Accord was signed In 1985, providing the “detection, deletion and deportation” of foreigners. The Assam Accord made the government commit to systematically identifying people who entered Assam from Bangladesh after 1971.
Since then an atmosphere of violence and fear has swept Assam, with many migrant communities living under the consequences of the Assam Accord. Foreign Tribunals and Detention centres were created in order to combat the supposed illegal immigration problem within Assam.
The Update of the National Register of Citizens
The National Register of Citizens was ordered to be updated, which in 2013, started being monitored by the Supreme Court of India.
Violence escalated in 2012 and 2014, targeting the Bangla speaking community labelled as poor infiltrators from Bangladesh.
The process of updating the NRC started in 2013 under the strict monitoring of the Supreme Court. On 30th July 2018, the Complete Draft of the NRC was released and 4 million people were rendered non-citizens and their futures in the country they called home, became uncertain.
On the 31st August 2019, the final list of the NRC was published. Around 1.9 million people have not been included. They have 120 days to appeal, another 200 tribunals will be added to the existing 100 tribunals by December to hear the appeals.
In December 2019, the Indian parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), triggering mass nation wide protests around the country. The CAA fast-tracks citizenship of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who arrived in India before 2015. However, it excludes Muslims, a move that has been denounced for undermining India's secular constitution.
In 2020, Assam has been devoted by floods affecting the most marginalised communities living across the Brahmaputra, with Coronavirus steadily spreading across the state, ethnic tensions rising again after the CAA was passed, 2021 will be even testing for the Assamese state.
According to Professor Gregory Stanton, (President of Genocide Watch), there are eight stages of genocide: Classification, Symbolisation, Dehumanisation, Organisation, Polarisation, Preparation, Extermination and Denial. Within the context of Assam, the NRC list can be interpreted as number 6: Preparation. When the victims are identified and separated out due to their ethnic, linguistic, or religious identity.
Citizenship is an invented category, manipulated to serve state interests. How valid is the NRC list, when citizenship in Assam is being determined on the basis of the date you entered into the state?
The RB Assam team went to India in November 2018, to liaise with local activists and organisations on the ground. We met with academics, committees, lawyers and local communities affected by the NRC. We visited foreigner tribunals to understand the legal procedures more deeply.
Since 2018, we have started campaigns in order to raise awareness in the UK and support communities affected. In 2019 we continued to build campaigns targeted at UK elected officials about the 1.9 million persons who have had their citizenship stripped away. We listened to and supported individuals who had appeared on the list and connected them with local lawyers that would hear their case.
Restless Beings aims to champion the rights of those from the affected communities which have overwhelmingly been Bengali via an international advocacy campaign. We intend to encourage the Indian government to follow international law, by overseeing a fairer NRC process, to close all detention centres, and to end deportations. We also aim to facilitate organisations that are already working on the ground to help affected communities financially, legally, politically and socially.
We wish to work alongside communities in the hope of healing decades worth of xenophobia and systematic violence against Bengalis and other minority communities within Assam. We have seen the results of this kind violence in Burma against the Rohingya, and want to do all we can to avoid another genocide.
We wish to apply pressure and outrage to the NRC process so the Indian government does not replicate this in other states in India which is on their agenda. We continue to keep pushing this onto an international agenda, we wish to keep sharing their stories and keep the people of the UK informed.
Partition of India. Formation of the new state of Pakistan, including East Bengal. Assam became a province of North Eastern India. There were no set restrictions on the migration of people from Pakistan and India after partition.
The Central Government of India issued that any person, who had entered India unlawfully in contravention of the rules, could be removed leading to communal issues in 1950’s. Immigrants Expulsion Act for Assam leads to around 400,000 Bengalis being pushed over the border into East Pakistan. Leaders of India and Pakistan sign the Nehru – Liaqat Pact for displaced persons.
First census of independent India is conducted. Based on this the National Register of Citizens was prepared which recorded the particulars of those who belonged to Assam. Many communities living on the border or near the rivers were left out due to accessibility issues (most are Bengalis).
The Citizenship Act comes into effect, which regulated Indian citizenship by birth, descent and registration.
Assamese becomes the official language of the state. Several months later the Bangla Language Movement was launched in the Barak Valley (which has a majority Sylheti population) to protest Assamese becoming the official language. 11 Bengalis were killed by the state police during these protests.
The PIP Scheme (Pakistani Infiltrator Prevention Scheme) began deporting any Bengali Muslims without any legal jurisprudence – this scheme runs until 1966 driving out approximately 250,000 Bengali Muslims.
Bangladesh Liberation War sees 400-500,000 Bengali refugees enter Assam. This group was largely made up of persecuted Hindus. Muslims who crossed the border very soon self-repatriated once the state of Bangladesh was established.
Start of the Assam Agitation – a student led movement which lasts for 6 years until 1985. This was a radical violent movement which sought to disrupt Bengali populations in Assam.
Nellie Massacre takes place in the backdrop of a violent election. The Assamese community refused to take part and boycotted elections arguing that the state was overrun and controlled by Bengali Hindus and Muslims. Approximately six thousand Bengali Muslims were killed within hours by nationalist and militant forces. Illegal Migrants Act was passed, stating that those who came to Assam between 1966 and 1971 would automatically lose any voting rights. Foreigner Tribunals were set up and those who could not provide any evidence that they had entered before midnight on March 24th 1971 were to be declared as ‘foreigners’ and deported.
All Assam Students Union (AASU) who were leading the six-year Assam Agitation oversaw the signing of the Assam Accord – The Accord is signed on August 15th 1985 by AASU, other nationalist groups and the state. The Assam Accord clarifies that the cut-off date for Bengalis entering Assam to be recognised as Indian Citizens is 24th March 1971 (the end of Bangladesh Liberation War).
Detection and Deportation begins. This is an intensive voter list verification process and occurs in 1989, 1993 and 1997.
The introduction of the term ‘D’ voter (Doubtful or Disputed voter) is introduced by the Election Commission. 2.3 million voters in Assam are declared ‘D’ voters following voter list verifications and these are almost all due to not being able to provide proper documentation.
State Govt, Central Govt and AASU form tripartite meeting on implementation of the 1985 Assam Accord. Decision to update the 1951 NRC is taken.
Methodology for NRC verification is set up through various sub-committees. It is agreed that Legacy documents are to be used as well as Link documents.
Assam Public Works files a petition to the Supreme Court calling for the deletion of any undocumented migrants from the voter polls and the updating of the citizen’s list.
Supreme Court takes up the petition filed by Assam Public Works and begins the process of updating of the NRC.
Applications for the NRC open (following the Assam Accord) while being monitored by the Supreme Court. Around 33 million applications received – 4,700,000 are rejected based on no matching legacy data.
The BJP introduces the Citizenship Amendment Bill, proposing to grant citizenship to Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and followers of every other religion except Muslim minorities from the subcontinent. On 31st Dec the first Draft of the NRC accepts 10.9M as citizens rejecting 23.8M others.
May - Violent protests led by Assamese Nationalists against the Citizenship Amendment Bill begin. July – Final NRC list is published leaving out the names of 4 million people. Those left out are given until December 2018 to provide the claims and objections form. Final version of the NRC is expected in 2019.
Final NRC list has been published, excluding 1.9 million people from citizenship leaving them stateless, with their fate undecided. In December the Indian government passed the CAA, mass nation wide protests erupt. Many muslim students and activists targeted by state and police.
First case of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Indian state of Assam was reported in March, construction of detention centres halted.Heavy flooding in Assam begins in May, displaces millions of people, 200 +villages have been submerged in water, hundreds have been killed.With the pandemic, construction on detention centres was seized.