Citizenship Bill in Assam: Harsh Mander’s report raises doubts over NRC

A report by Harsh Mander, who resigned as the Special Monitor for Minorities of the NHRC two days back, highlights the plight of the so-called ‘foreigners’ in the detention centres of Assam

Photo credit: Anuwar Ali Hazarika / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Photo credit: Anuwar Ali Hazarika / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images
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Bhasha Singh

The report by human rights activist Harsh Mander on the National Register for Citizens (NRC) in Assam clearly indicates that by the implementation of NRC, displacement of Muslims in large numbers from the state may take place and they may be targeted in the name of ambiguous citizenship. Harsh Mander has resigned from his role as the Special Monitor for minorities of the National Human Rights Commission(NHRC). He cited the commission’s refusal to act on a report he submitted on the state of detention centres that house people declared as “foreigners” in Assam as the primary reason for his decision.

Thus, he has once again raised question on the functioning of various organisations and commissions under Modi government.

Harsh Mander shared his report with National Herald which the NHRC should have sent to the government. The 37-page long report highlights how the basic human rights are being violated in the detention centres going on in Assam’s Goalpara and Kokrajhar for the so called illegal migrants. These people in the detention centres are forced to live in miserable conditions.

As the special monitor of the NHRC, Harsh Mander had visited these detention centres from January 22 to January 24. He was accompanied by two officials of the NHRC and one researcher. He found out that even married couples and their children are kept separately and they have no information about each other for years. Women are kept in Goalpara detention centre while men are kept in Kokrajhar. People living in these centres have no legal right to get in touch with their family members. It completely depends on the benevolence of the Jail officials to allow them to talk to their family members.

A prisoner named Subhash Roy asked the NHRC special monitor, in which country does the constitution grant this right to the government to keep parents away from their children.

Harsh Mander said half of the prisoners at these detention centres are Muslims, though there are some Hindus too. The most significant issue is that of the prisoners’ children. They stay with their parents till they are six-years old and then they are sent to some distant relatives. Because these prisoners are considered foreigners and Bangladeshis, and both India and Bangladesh refuse to accept them as their citizens, their condition is very precarious. Many of them belong to Myanmar too.

The report says, in Goalpara, out of total 62 convicted foreign nationals, 54 are from Bangladesh, including 4 Hindus. All the 54 Bangladeshi nationals have completed their term of punishment and all want to go back to their country. But they don’t have any contact with family members in Bangladesh. Most of their families even don’t know that they are detained in Indian detention centre. One Muslim woman is from Myanmar, she told that she is married to an Assamese Muslim and had a child from him. Both Mother and Child were detained. Her husband visited her for some time, but then stopped. She doesn’t have any communication with her family in Myanmar now.

Harsh Mander told NH that half of the prisoners of these detention centres are Muslims, though there are some Hindus too. The most significant issue is that of the prisoners’ children. They stay with their parents till they are six-years old and then they are sent to some distant relatives. Because these prisoners are considered foreigners and Bangladeshis, and both India and Bangladesh refuse to accept them as their citizens, their condition is very precarious

The four special UN envoys have highlighted the same questions in their letter to the Government of India on June 11, as were raised by Harsh Mander in his report. In this letter they have mentioned that there are doubts that the Muslims and Bengali speaking people will be discriminated against under the National Register for Citizen. The letter quotes a minister of Assam saying “The NRC is being done to identify illegal Bangladeshis residing in Assam” and “all those whose names do not figure in the NRC will have to be deported”.

The letter says, “local authorities in Assam, which are deemed to be particularly hostile towards Muslims and people of Bengali descent, may manipulate the verification system in an attempt to exclude many genuine Indian citizens from the updated NRC”. They further said, “members of the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam have experienced discrimination in access to and enjoyment of citizenship status on the basis of their ethnic and religious minority status. We are particularly concerned that this discrimination is predicted to escalate as a result.

Harsh Mander said the way NHRC overlooked his report submitted in March 2018 and did not send it to the government makes it clear that it was done with a political motive. It was for the first time that someone went to these detention centres to monitor the entire situation. It took a lot of time for Harsh Mander to make NHRC concede to this. But when NHRC forwarded the report by the two officials accompanying him and stopped his report, then Harsh resigned and made his report public.

In the end of his report Harsh Mander has made some important recommendations to the government which include: Establishing and following provisions of International Law and Article 21, do not separate families, ensure due process, ensure policies for early deportation/repatrition of foreigners who don’t contest, apply juvenile justice laws, special care of patients with mental health issues and older patients, detention should be the last resort and cannot be indefinite, clarifying respective jurisdiction s of foreigners tribunals and NHC.

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