Skip to main content

"Solving" Assam's foreigners problem: Why not issue work permit visas to doubtful voters, declared foreigners?

By Sandeep Pandey*
Through the National Register of Citizens (NRC) update and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party government is trying to communally polarise a state, which doesn't have a history of any major communal incidents except for the 1983 Nellie massacre. The six years agitation launched by All Assam Students' Union (AASU) demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants which culminated in the 1985 Assam Accord with Rajiv Gandhi was against all Bangladeshis, not just Muslims.
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has been running a campaign even in other parts of country for deportation of Bangladeshis, targeting only the Muslims, for long and BJP came to power in Assam on this promise. But what people of Assam were not prepared for was the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which provides for Hindus from Bangladesh to obtain Indian citizenship.
The popular Assamese grassroots leader Akhil Gogoi held a big protest against the Bill on the eve of Amit Shah's recent visit to Assam. If BJP loses the next election in Assam this will be an important factor. The Assamese resent the historical attempts at cultural and linguistic dominance by Bengalis, mainly Hindus.
As many as 3,29,91,384 people had applied for citizenship of which 2,89,83,677 made it to the second draft list published on July 31, 2018. Of the 40.07 lakh left out include 2.48 lakh who have been put in the category of 'doubtful voters.' The excluded list contains both Muslims and Hindus.
To be eligible for inclusion in NRC it was required to produce either a proof from 1951 NRC or one of the twelve forms of identity documents dated before 24 March, 1971, a date decided by Assam Accord. Those left out are presumably mostly poor as it is quite unlikely that people would have been able to preserve documents for 48 years in a state prone to frequent floods.

Akhil Gogoi speaks at a rally against NRC
It is well known that to get a residence proof certificate from the local administration, especially for the poor who have migrated in search of employment even within states is a nightmare. It usually requires a bribe or a clever advocate or middleman to get the job done.
Assam is the only Indian state, which is carrying out an updation of NRC after 1951. Otherwise, normally it is part of Indian culture that foreigners have been accepted. Throughout history, whether as aggressors or persecuted, people have come from outside and have assimilated in the local culture.
The Hindus from East Pakistan who came to Assam at the time of partition and were promised rehabilitation found it difficult. The Angarkata satyagrah is just one of their documented struggles. Later Bangladeshis came in search of employment and they still continue to cross the border, some only for temporary period regularly with no desire to settle in India.
Bengali speaking Muslims with Assamese identity cards can be found in other parts of India mostly picking up garbage. They are fulfilling a need of Indian cities because the traditional sanitation workers have either moved up the ladder to obtain government jobs or are pursuing other non-demeaning vocations.
Mamta Banerjee
Bangladeshis coming to India seeking employment are no different from Indians going to Dubai or United States, sometimes illegally, to eke out a living. Indians have been to all over the world since ages and most of them have not only settled in their respective chosen countries of employment but some of the adventurous ones are even holding or have held high positions in governments. Imagine the tragedy if all these countries decided to deport the illegal immigrants from India.
The more sad case is that of Rohingyas. They are a persecuted lot and unlike Bangladeshis, their decision to leave their motherland, Myanmar, was not voluntary.
To even treat Bangladeshis or Rohingyas as security threat is making a mockery of their abject poverty. There are more well to do citizens of India who are engaged in activities, like committing financial fraud or provoking violent incidents, detrimental to the interest of country.
So, being a citizen or not has no relation to how much of a security threat one can pose to a nation. We are also witness to how little the rich like Mehul Choksi care about Indian citizenship, in order to escape the law of the land. Vijay Mallaya and Subrata Roy, before they ran foul with the government, used to project themselves as great patriots.
However, Assamese have a genuine fear of being demographically overtaken by outsiders. There is a provision for Bangladeshis who came to India before 1971 to register themselves with Foreigners’ Regional Registration Officer with no voting rights for ten years since registration.
If the people of Assam feel that they have more than their share of foreigners, they could be distributed among other states of India. Mamta Banerjee has already made an offer to accept the Bengalis. In any case, a number of them are working outside Assam in other states.
Instead of putting people, who'll not find a place in NRC after objections and claims have been entertained, in the doubtful voter category or 'declared foreigners', they could be issued work permit visas without voting rights, as is the vogue in United States, so that they don't live under the fear of deportation or have to spend time in detention camps, which are actually jails, and can lead a respectable life with their families like other India citizens with equal access to benefits of education, health care, public distribution system and housing.
After all, whether a citizen or not, everybody has a human right. Similar to the present rule for people who came to India before 1971, such people should be reconsidered for voting rights after a period of ten years. This is the only humane way of solving Assam's problem.
---
*Well-known Magsaysay award winning scholar-activist

Comments

Uma Sheth said…
Good idea, but who is listening?

TRENDING

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Now, top Gujarat "litterateur" close to Modi says: Godse was patriot, so was Gandhi

By Rajiv Shah
A little over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Thakur for calling Nathuram Godse a patriot saying he would never forgive her for the remark, a top Sangh Parivar ideologue, known to close to Modi in Gujarat, has supported her, saying her statement should be seen “within a context.” Thakur won from Bhopal by more than 3.5 lakh votes defeating her nearest rival, veteran Congressman and ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Opposition refuses to legally challenge EVMs amidst plans of "back to ballot" protest

Counterview Desk
Even as opposition to the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) allegedly to rig polls is growing, a group of prominent citizens who have come together to form the EVM Virodhi Rashtriya Jan Andolan has controversially called for a national protest against EVMs on May 30, demanding future elections should be held only on ballot paper.

When a Pak scribe said Modi has 'proved' Jinnah’s two nation theory right...

By Zafar Agha*
It was around nine in the morning on May 24, 2019, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed the Lok Sabha with 300-plus MPs. It was a call from a journalist friend, Muzamal Suhrawardy, from Lahore, Pakistan. I ignored the call. We liberals had a depressing day the previous evening as the opposition to Modi and BJP collapsed. The results belied reports from the ground and even assessments made by colleagues.

It's now official: Akshay Kumar has not been conferred honorary Canadian citizenship

By Our Representative
It is now official. Super-star Akshay Kumar has not been conferred any honorary citizenship by Canadian authorities, as claimed by him ahead of the 2019 elections. In reply to a query by Roshan Shah, who is a Canadian citizen living in Waterloo, Ontario, and belongs to Ahmedabad, the country’s authorities dealing with issues related with immigration, refugees and citizenship in Canada have said that only six persons have so far been granted honorary citizenship.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

If EC's credibility is under question, shouldn't one "assume" EVMs might be tampered?

Counterview Desk
Gauhar Raza, scientist, documentary film maker and poet; senior human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi of the Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD); military veteran Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury (retd); and Sucheta De and Sandeep Saurav of the All India Students' Association (AISA), have asked “individuals, organisations and people's movements” to send their endorsement to an appeal they have prepared on Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Govt of India overestimated GDP by 2.5%, must restore reputational damage: Ex-CEA

By Rajiv Shah
Top economist Arvind Subramanian has said that changes brought about by the Government of India in data sources and methodology for estimating the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 “has led to a significant overestimation of growth”. While official estimates place annual average GDP growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at about 7 percent, the actual growth may have been 4½ percent, ranging from 3 ½ to 5 ½ percent during the period, he adds.

Common thread of Modi, political Hinduism, nationalism? 'Contest' of ideas isn't over

By Salman Khurshid*
Losing the 2019 election and that too in a somewhat extreme manner has confronted us with unexpected challenges: Our leadership has naturally taken it very hard and to heart but with suggested options that we cannot imagine or contemplate. Hopefully the emotions will settle soon and give us the direction to pick up the pieces and march again.

Will minorities in India be 2nd class citizens? Wake up call: Be a 'communicating' Church

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
India today is at a defining moment of her history. There is so much that has taken place in the past five years (and particularly in the last ten days)- that several citizens of the country are genuinely concerned about the future of the country! Will democracy survive? Will key elements of the Constitution be changed?