When will PM pay attention to Muslim women in Assam?

With Maulana Syed Arshad Madani alleging that as many as 58,000 Muslim women in Assam have been imprisoned after being declared ‘foreigners’, will PM and the apex court look into the matter?

NH Photo by Vipin 
NH Photo by Vipin

Abid Shah

Muslim women who came to villages in Assam years ago after their marriages are being branded as “foreigners”, being taken into custody without an inquiry and then detained, forcing them to leave their husbands and children to an uncertain fate.

This draconian practice acquired legitimacy after the Gauhati High Court recently ruled that the domicile certificate given by the elected headman of the Panchayat or village Pradhan cannot be taken as conclusive proof of citizenship in case of married Muslim women.

This order has left more than 4.8 million married women belonging to the minority community vulnerable. As many as 58,000 such women have already been dragged out of their homes and detained in either jails or detention camps meant for foreigners.

These claims were made by the president of Jamiat Ulma-i-Hind (JUH), Maulana Syed Arshad Madani, at New Delhi on May 10, adding that the High Court order has been challenged by the Assam unit of JUH in the Supreme Court.

“We have also petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the High Court order. Additionally, an order has been issued to the state coordinator for National Register of Citizens by a bench constituting of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha asking for the official’s appearance before the division bench of the top court to show cause why injunction should not be granted,” remarked Madani.

The move to dub Muslims as foreigners in utter disregard to the Assam Accord reached by the India in 1985 with the All Assam Students Union amidst the feverish pitch attained by the movement against illegal migrants had put March 25, 1971, as the cutoff date for the citizenship rights to the settlers.

The accord meant that citizenship would be accorded to those who could offer proof of living in the state on or before March 24, 1971, pointed out Madani. He alleged that the provision in the Assam Accord is being changed through a series of petitions at the Supreme Court by “a host of sectarian, communal and racist organisations with the plea to change the cutoff date and follow the voters list prepared in 1951 for first polls that were to be held after Independence as the basis to determine citizenship rights. The sole motive behind this is to rob Muslims of their hearth and home.”

Muslim women are extremely vulnerable to these changes because most of them do not have birth certificates or school-leaving certificates due to traditionally low levels of literacy among them. Many of them have never been to school and thus the need for birth certificate was seldom felt. In such situations, the village Pradhan’s testimony has, often, been the main proof offered. And this was even more so after marriages that involved change of residence.

From 1978 to 1985, Muslims in Assam were victims of targeted violence and this came to an end only after the Assam Accord, which was followed up by passing an amendment to the law of citizenship by Parliament with support of the BJP and Left parties.

The work on this front has been progressing and when nearly 90% of the registration has been completed without detecting many Bangladeshi settlers, the officials have asked these married women to prove their birth and antecedents in an effort to break families despite this move having the potential to vitiate peace in the state, argues Madani.

Madani recalled that such vitriol had led to the Nellie massacre of 1983 in Assam leading to the death of about 3,000 Muslims, many among them women and children, who had been living in the state from the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

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Published: 11 May 2017, 5:09 PM