The National Register of Citizens: All you need to know

By Malavika Mani

The National Register of Citizens (from here on will be referred to as NRC) — developed following the 1951 Census of India — is a register containing the names of all Indian citizens. Now it is being updated for the state of Assam, for the first time since 1951, to include the names of those individuals and their descendants who appeared in the original NRC, 1951, or those who were on the Electoral Rolls up to 24thMarch 1971.  The sole purpose of this Supreme Court-monitored exercise is to identify illegal migrants who entered Assam —a state that has witnessed a surge of migrants both as a colonial province and a border state in independent India — after midnight of 24th March 1971.

In 1979 — eight years after the Bangladesh War — Assam witnessed agitation and fierce protests initiated by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) against the influx of migrants from Bangladesh to Assamthat persisted for 6 years. They demanded the detention, disenfranchisement, and the deportation of illegal migrants from Assam. To end the prolonged agitation — the AASU, the Central and State Governments signed the Assam Accord in 1985. The Accord regularized all individuals who entered the state before 1st January 1966, following which migrants sought refuge in the country. All individuals who entered the country between 1966 and 1971 would be identified, deleted from the Electoral Rolls, and would be required to register themselves.Individuals who entered the country on or after the 25th of March 1971 would be detected and deported from the country.

Even though the Assam Accord has been in place since 1985, the detection and deportation of illegal migrants never took place until recently. The NRC —a bid to determine legal Indian citizens in Assam based on a cut-off date — is currently being updated in accordance with The Citizenship Act, 1955 and the rules of the Assam Accord. The first draft of the NRC, Assam was released on the 1st of January 2018 and had excluded 1.4 crore names out of 3.29 crore names who had filed to be registered. The final draft of the NRC, Assam was published on 31st of August 2018 and excluded 40.7 lakh individuals of the 3.29 crore applicants who had applied to be included in the register.

Individuals who applied to be included in the NRC had to prove that their ancestors lived in Assam before the 25th of March 1971 and also prove their relationship with their ancestor. Following the submission of the preliminary data, a family tree was designed to depict the applicant’s relations. To further verify and determine the authenticity of their claims, NRC officials canvassed the place, going door-to-door, conversing with the applicant’s neighbors and relatives.

For those individuals whose names have not been included in the final list, the next stage would be to present their case with the Foreigners’ Tribunals —  set up under the Illegal Migrants Act of 1983. The Act has been repealed, however the quasi-judicial body has been tasked with the mammoth task of determining whether the individuals are citizens or foreigners. The tribunal rulings can be further tried in the High Court and then the Supreme Court.

The final NRC is set to be published on the 31st of August 2019.  Numerous individuals have been wrongfully left out of the list, thus increasing the onerous task for Tribunals to hear the claims and determine the authenticity of the claims. The State Government is moving to set up 200 Foreigners’ Tribunals, in anticipation of the numerous cases by the excluded individuals. Certain groups — Bengali Hindus and Bengali-origin Muslims of Assam — have been the prime targets of this exercise and more than 80% of the 40 lakhs individuals left out belong to these two groups.
The individuals who are deemed as foreigners are transferred to detention centres — six of which are spread across Assam. A detention camp that can house 3,000 inmates has also been sanctioned by the Central Government. Whilst these individuals have been declared as foreigners and languishing in this legal battle to prove their citizenship, there exists no treaty under which these individuals can be deported to other neighboring countries — especially Bangladesh. Uncertainty looms for all those individuals who are deemed as foreigners as they contest their claims and stay separated from their families in detention centres.

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