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Assam citizenship imbroglio: Guwahati HC order a setback to siblings, family members of "declared foreigners"

By Our Representative
In what is being viewed as a major setback to those who have been fighting against the decision of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam seeking to qualify names of siblings and other members of family as kept pending, the Guwahati High Court has upheld the NRC State coordinator’s controversial order in this regard.
The order was issued by on May 2, 2018 by NRC state coordinator, Prateek Hajela, who said, the names of siblings and other family members of DFs be “kept pending” from NRC. Human rights activists say, the order had made “entire families vulnerable only because one person in their family has been declared a foreigner.”
Following the HC order, siblings and other family members of Declared Foreigners (DFs) would now have to submit documents proving their citizenship before a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT), even as proving the authenticity of these documents. They are unlikely to see their name in the NRC draft that is expected to be out on July 30, 2018.
The Citizens for Peace and Justice (CPJ), led by well-known human rights activist Teesta Setalvad, has said in a statement, “There is also the fear that this would render section 3 (1) (a) of the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 meaningless. According to this section, every person born in India on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1, 1987 shall be a citizen of India by birth.”
CPJ says, “Now, even if a person is declared as ‘foreigner’, his siblings might have born in India before July 1, 1987, which makes them a citizen of India by birth. Moreover, say a person actually illegally infiltrated in to India post-March 25, 1971 and finally declared a ‘foreigner’ by the Tribunal, his siblings might have entered before the cut-off date as per Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, that does not make them a foreigner.”
The controversial NRC order of May 2, 2018 stems from a Guwahati High Court order from exactly a year ago. In 2017, the court passed a common order on two interrelated writ petitions pertaining to the citizenship status of one Aktara Khatoon. The petitioner in the first case (360/2017) had been declared a foreigner by the Foreigners’ Tribunal at Nagaon on October 31, 2016.
While passing the order the Tribunal directed the Superintendent of Border (Hojai), to conduct a fresh inquiry into the brothers and sisters of Aktara Khatun, stating that if she was a foreigner, her brothers and sister from the same father also cannot be citizens of India. These siblings Abdul Motin, Abdul Kadir and Sahara Khatun became the petitioners in the second case (1610/2017).
The HC disposed of both the cases by passing a common order that stated, “…Once a proceedee is declared to be a foreigner it would only be a logical corollary to such declaration that his brothers, sisters and other family members would also be foreigners.”
It added, “Therefore, it becomes the duty of the jurisdictional Superintendent of Police (B) to cause enquiry in respect of the brothers, sisters and other family members of the declared foreigners and thereafter, to make a reference to the competent Foreigners’ Tribunal against such brothers, sisters and other family members.”
Following the High Court directive, the NRC state coordinator on May 2, 2018 said that the names of brothers, sisters and other family members of DFs ‘pending’. The order was issued by the state coordinator, NRC, to all Deputy Commissioner and District Registrar of Citizen Registration (DRCR) of all districts.
The order said, “As per this judgment, the Superintendent of Police (B) are required to make references of such persons, namely, brothers, sisters and other family members of Declared Foreigners (DF) to the Foreigners Tribunals and their names are accordingly not be included in the NRC until finalization of such references.”
According to CPJ, “There is a mechanism in place to address claims and objections even if someone’s name does not appear in the final draft; however, given the complications that have already cropped up, many fear that the provision might just be yet another futile bureaucratic exercise making proving citizenship an insurmountable challenge.”

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