Assam is on the edge. Some four million of its residents have been effectively deemed illegal immigrants.
On Monday (July 30), the final and updated draft list of the National Registry of Citizens (NRC), a repository of names and documentation of the country’s legal citizens, was released to determine which of the northeastern Indian state’s 15 million migrants are citizens of the country.
The exercise to update the list in Assam was meant to identify migrant individuals who were part of the original NRC of 1951 or those who have proved that they were residents of the state before March 24, 1971, or are descendants of such residents. Those who have not proved this will be deemed illegal migrants.
The exercise was expected to impact scores of residents of the state, potentially fuelling much anger as many in this disqualified group are feared to lose out only due to faulty documentation and procedural anomalies. So the police are bracing for outbreaks of violence across the state, and the central government has rushed up to 22,000 central paramilitary personnel to manage the situation.
The NRC was drafted in 1951 following India’s first population census. It is a log of all citizens of India.
However, Assam has witnessed migration from neighbouring areas for decades, thanks to the largely porous borders. A good section of these settlers were Bengali-speaking Muslims from the region to Assam’s south that went on to become Bangladesh in 1971.
This ethnic mixing has led to frequent clashes between native Assamese speakers and the migrants. The reasons for such violence include the allocation of state and natural resources, employment opportunities, and fears of cultural dilution. One of the worst instances of such violence occurred in 1983 in which over 3,000 people were killed.
The updating of NRC has, thus, been a long-standing demand of original residents of the region. It was in 2014, that the supreme court of India fixed Dec. 31, 2017, as the deadline for such an exercise.
Now, those eligible to be part of the list include those who were in the electoral rolls till March 24, 1971, and those who migrated to the state between Jan. 01, 1966, and March 25, 1971, and got themselves registered with local authorities.
The new list is being updated by the Assamese government with help from the Registrar General of India. The documents being accepted as valid for citizenship claims include property papers, Life Insurance Corporation of India policy, passport, birth certificate, college degree certificate, etc.
The first draft of the updated NRC was released in January 2018. It counted as citizens only about half of the 39 million people who had applied. Those left out after the second draft published today can re-apply till Sept. 28.