Sunday 14 June 2015

National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Assam Accord

Why in news?
NRC update is among the most discussed and contentious issues in Assam today. The NRC of Assam is being upgraded as per Supreme Court orders. The draft NRC is to be completed by October 31 and the final NRC by January 31 2016. The entire process, overseen by the Registrar General of India, is being monitored by the Supreme Court of India.

Let's try and understand the background of the issue:

What is  National Register of Citizens - NRC?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the register containing details of all Indian citizens. After conducting the Census of 1951, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 Census. 

What is NRC 1951?
After the conduct of the Census of 1951, a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in respect of each village showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein, and in respect of each individual, the father’s name/mother’s name or husband’s name, nationality, sex, age, marital status, educational qualification, means of livelihood or occupation and visible identification mark. This was done by copying out in registers the particulars recorded during the Census done in 1951. This NRC was prepared under a directive from the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA)

These registers covered each and every person enumerated during the Census of 1951 and were kept in the offices of Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers according to instructions issued by the Government of India in 1951. Later these registers were transferred to the Police in the early 1960s. 

What is NRC Updation?National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of all citizens residing in Assam at the time of NRC updation. 

How will the NRC be updated?The NRC will be updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. 
As per the two statutes, the citizenship status would be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 and in their absence the other admissible documents of Pre-1971 period.

Entire Issue - In a Nutshell:

Source: Economic Times

PURPOSE: detection, detention and deportation of the illegal migrants who crossed over to Assam from Bangladesh on or after March 25, 1971.
MIGRATION: Started before Partition, then partition, communal carnage, bangaldesh war, internal political turmoil, coupled with communal riots first in East Pakistan, repeated redrawing of political map of Assam,

History of Assam Immigration till the Assam Accord 
(just read it once, no need to get scared of it!)

The history of Muslims in Assam dates back to the 8th century when, according to some scholars, Turks and Arab traders and sailors came to the Brahmaputra Valley and settled in the Darrang region.

After the British annexed Assam as part of the Bengal Presidency in 1826, migrant labourers were brought in from central India to work in tea plantations and this necessitated the production of more food, which the local population could not manage on its own. While there was a lot of cultivable wasteland in the region, recurring famines ravaged neighbouring Bengal.

Moreover, a spurt in demand in the jute market necessitated an increase in jute cultivation in Bengal, which again was not possible. Both these reasons were behind the migration of Muslim farmers of East Bengal to Assam, first in small numbers. But by the turn of the 20th century, there was a huge influx of migrants to the chars, or river islands, in lower Assam from Bengal. 
The 1911 Census showed that the number of migrants had shot up 

In the 1920s, the 'Line System' had been introduced, as part of the British divide and rule policy, under which an imaginary line was drawn to segregate immigrants from the indigenous tribals. But in 1939 the provincial government headed by Syed Muhammad Saadullah invited East Bengali Muslims to settle in Assam under a 'Grow More Food' scheme — to much opposition and criticism. 
The partition of India in 1947 had far-reaching ramifications in Assam and riots between 1947 and 1950 forced thousands of Muslims to move to East Pakistan. But the pact signed by prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, allowed refugees from both countries to return by December 31, 1950.

But many of the Muslims who had fled Assam could only return later, thereby not being included in the 1951 Census and NRC.

Muslims have been victims of several attacks over the years by local tribes, anti-immigrant organisations and Bodos (see Anti-Muslim Violence since Assam Movement). To a lesser extent, adivasis have also earned the wrath of local tribes. 

The years from 1979 to 1985 witnessed political instability in the stale, collapse of state governments, imposition of President's Rule, sustained, often violent, agitation, frequent general strikes, civil disobedience campaigns which paralyzed all normal life for prolonged periods, and unprecedented ethnic violence.

1983 Violence
The central government's effort to hold a constitutionally mandated election to the state assembly in 1983 led to its near total boycott, a complete breakdown of order, and the worst killings since 1947 on the basis of tribal linguistic and communal identities. Nearly 3,000 people died in statewide violence. The election proved to be a complete failure with less than 2 per cent of the voters casting their votes in the constituencies with Assamese majority.

Assam Accord
The 1983 violence had a traumatic effect on both sides, which once again resumed negotiations in earnest. Finally, the Rajiv Gandhi government was able to sign an accord with the leaders of the movement on 15 August 1985. 
  • 1951-61 ----> All those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship, including the right to vote; 
  • 1961-1971---> the entrants between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship
  • After 1971 ---> those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported; 
    • [That's why this exercise is on!!! ]
  • A parallel package for the economic development of Assam, including a second oil refinery, a paper mill and an institute of technology, was also worked out. 
  • The central government also promised to provide ‘legislative and administrative safeguards to protect the cultural, social, and linguistic identity and heritage’ of the Assamese people.

Now, the updation exercise is being carried out to implement this.

Concerns about NRC Updation

Source: Economic Times
  • The Indian government has decided to upgrade the NRC only for the State of Assam even though, ideally, the exercise should have covered the entire country. 
  • The stringent set of conditions attached to the process requires the Bengalis of Assam to prove their Indian citizenship solely on the basis of their or their ancestors’ names appearing on the electoral rolls published up to 25 March 1971 and the NRC of 1951, failing which they would be thrown out of the updated NRC.
    • To make things complicated for these people, such electoral rolls are found to be both incorrect and incomplete. 
    •  On the other hand, their Assamese and tribal counterparts would find easy inclusion, by virtue of being the ‘original inhabitants of Assam beyond reasonable doubt’. 
  •  The key question that confronts us now is: what would happen to these hapless Bengali settlers? In the absence of any bilateral arrangement between India and Bangladesh, the latter is not ready to take them back.
[Sources: NRC Assam Website, Wikipedia, The Hindu, Economic Times]

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