National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam draws international attention

A ‘Genocide Watch’ alert has been issued for Assam, declared when early signs indicate that a genocidal process is underway. A US Congressional Commission too has issued a statement

National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam  draws international attention

NHS Bureau

Days before the final and updated National register of Citizens (NRC) is published on August 31, several international agencies have voiced their apprehension over what might follow. While Genocide Watch has flagged the NRC in the seventh of the 10 stages of Genocide, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also issued a statement saying that it feared persecution of Muslims in Assam after August 31. (The statements of the two organisations are appended at the end of this report).

The Assam government, apprehending violence, has sought more paramilitary forces to deal with the situation. But the preparations are clearly inadequate. While the state government is in the process of constructing 10 more detention centres, in addition to the existing six, each with a capacity to accommodate 3000 people, the centres together can hold even less than 100,000 ‘foreigners’ whereas the apprehension is that 30,00,000 or more are likely to be declared ‘foreigners’.

As many as four million people had been left out of the list provisionally put up in July this year, when the Supreme Court allowed time till August 31 to complete the process. Although nobody seems to be happy at the way the NRC is being compiled, with even the BJP government in Assam complaining and calling for a revision, all eyes are set on the Supreme Court of India which monitored the process.

It is not clear why the detention is necessary as all those left out of the NRC are being given the chance to challenge the decision and seek relief from tribunals. There is no clarity either on who would be detained and who will be left out. The Assam government claims that the process has been flawed and many Hindus have been left out of the NRC. It also says that over 72,000 ‘foreign nationals’ are untraceable. While there is widespread apprehension that the process is meant to disenfranchise Muslims and deny them political and civil rights, the governments in Delhi and Dispur have not clarified whether people left out of the NRC would be issued ‘work permits’ to continue with their vocations.

The exercise meanwhile has drawn international attention.

USCIRF is an independent, federal government entity established by the US Congress to monitor, analyse and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF Chairman Tony Perkins and Commissioner Arunima Bhargava in a statement said:

“…We remain concerned with the potential abuse of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the resulting introduction of a religious requirement for citizenship, which are contrary to the ideals of religious freedom in India…We remain troubled by any government policies or actions that have the effect, whether intentional or not, of undermining religious freedom for vulnerable religious minorities. The National Register of Citizens verification process must not become a means to target and render stateless the Muslim community in northeastern India. Proposed policies that suggest that Muslims – and Muslims alone – will face a higher burden for verification, along with worrisome rhetoric, create a negative and potentially dangerous climate for the Muslim community in northeastern India.”

Only individuals able to prove their citizenship prior to March 24, 1971, along with their descendants, will be included on the updated NRC list, with final determination of citizenship status provided by local “Foreigners Tribunals.”

Genocide Watch has issued a ‘Genocide Watch’ for Assam. A Genocide Watch is declared when early warning signs indicate that a genocidal process is underway.

Pointing out that Assam’s Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal has requested additional Indian government troops and police to arrest “foreigners” and Assam state is constructing ten new “foreigner” detention centers to add to the six prisons already in existence, the organization held that “ these are the classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, and polarization stages of the genocidal process.” The Chief Minister has declared that “[t]he people who are declared foreigners will be barred from all constitutional rights, including fundamental and electoral.”

Muslims classified as “illegal foreigners” can challenge their classification before Indian government administrators and, ultimately, special “foreigners’ tribunals” – but they will be denied due process and will have no right to legal counsel. Those adjudged to be “foreigners” will be imprisoned in special “foreigner” detention centers.

“This is a classic case of denial of citizenship in order to deprive a minority ethnic and religious group of its rights...Genocide Watch is issuing this Genocide Watch as an Early Warning of potential genocide. In Genocide Watch’s Ten Stages of Genocide the situation of Bengali Muslims in India’s Assam State is now at Stage Seven: Preparation. When Bengali Muslims in Assam are imprisoned in “foreigner” detention centers, the situation will move to Stage Eight: Persecution, the stage immediately preceding full genocide.” “In July 2018, Genocide Watch petitioned the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, who is overseeing the citizenship verification process, to order that lists of citizens and “non-citizens” be classified as State Secrets never to be released to the public. Despite this warning, the lists have been made public. “Genocide Watch calls upon the UN Secretary General, the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and key UN member states to warn India not to strip citizenship from, imprison, and forcibly displace millions of Bengali Muslims, many of whom have lived their entire lives in Assam.

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Published: 29 Aug 2019, 12:41 PM