Today activist Harsh Mander has written an article on Indian Express which is another attempt at scaremongering about the ongoing NRC update process in Assam. The trigger of the article is a recent notification by Home Minister, which had detailed the process to be adopted by the Foreigners Tribunals to deal with appeals that may arise after the final NRC is released. In the order amending the Foreigners Act, the government has now also allowed governments of states and union territories to set up Foreigner Tribunals, which at present can be set up by Union government only.
According to Mander, this simple order has the potential to alter India forever, as he says that an Assam specific act has been extended to entire India. He alleges that this will crush the fundamental rights of millions of vulnerable people in the country. But the fact is, as the home ministry has already clarified, the Foreigners Act applies to the entire nation, not just the state of Assam. Therefore, to allege that union government is extending an Assam specific act to the entire country is completely false.
The government anticipates that after the final National Register of Citizens is published, lots of people will be unhappy with the same. To provide an opportunity to appeal against the decision of NRC authorities, the government has made the provision to appeal at a Foreigners Tribunal. This means even if someone’s name does not appear in the final NRC, it is not the end of road for them, they can appeal at the Foreigners Tribunals, which are special courts set up to deal with citizenship issues. The Home Ministry order only provides direction on how to deal with such appeals. Therefore, there is nothing in the order that will alter India.
Coming to the point of authorising states to set up Tribunals, it is anticipated that a large number of such judicial bodies will be required in the state of Assam post publication of final NRC. To ensure that, the union government has taken this decision so that the Government of Assam can set up Foreigners Tribunal as per requirement in a timely manner. But as the Foreigners Act applies to the whole of India and not just Assam, the order has mentioned governments of states and union territories, as it is not possible to empower only one state to do that. But this does not mean that other states in India will automatically start setting up Foreigners Tribunals where there is no need for such a body. The same has also been clarified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which says that the order is applicable only to Assam as on date for all practical purposes.
Harsh Mander also repeats many lies about the NRC update process. Entire left-liberal ecosystem opposes it, terming it a BJP conspiracy. They hide the fact that the original NRC was published in 1951, when the Bharatiya Janata Party didn’t even exist. After the massive illegal migration of Bangladeshis to India and specifically Assam, people of after Assam had launched a huge agitation for detection and deportation of illegal immigrants. The agitation was called off after the historic Assam Act signed by the Congress Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It was decided that people who came to Assam before 25 March 1971 will be citizens of India. But those who came after that cut off date will be detected and deported, and their names will be deleted from the voter list. To implement this provision of the Assam Act, the NRC was required to be updated.
It was a demand during Assam Agitation, and the demand continued after 1985. So, it entirely false to say that NRC updation is being done at the behest of BJP. Although demand for updating the register was being made since 1985, successive governments kept deferring it due to various reasons, but primarily due to opposition by minority organisations. Finally, in 2013 the Supreme Court of India had directed the central and state government to update the NRC. After that, the work on the same was started, which is done under the supervision of the Supreme Court itself.
Harsh Mander also says that the NRC process reverses the burden of proof, as in most crimes the state has to prove the crime, not the accused. That is a blatant lie as the matter of citizenship is different and it is not dealt with common criminal laws anywhere in the world. The burden of proof of identity always lies with the individual, not the state. If a person ends up in a foreign country without valid identity and travel documents, they will be put in jail or deported to their country of origin. The individuals themselves have to furnish the necessary documents to prove that they entered that country legally, or that they belong to that country, the state will not work on its own to prove the citizenship of the individuals.
In fact, and earlier act related to illegal foreigners in Assam, the IMDT act [Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act], brought by Indira Gandhi government in 1983, had actually reversed this normal burden of proof and said that the complainant has to prove that a person is an illegal immigrant. This had proved to be the biggest hurdle in the deportation of illegal immigrants, and the Supreme Court had struck down this act in 2005 for this reason.
Moreover, section 9 of the Foreigners Act, 1946 clearly states that the burden of proof lies on the person who is suspected of being a foreigner. Therefore, Mander is making a totally false allegation by saying that India’s highest court itself ordered the reversal of burden of proof. The Supreme Court was in fact enforcing what was already in the law, which was made decades before BJP came into existence.
In another blatant lie, Harsh Mander says that people are having to pay huge amounts in lawyers’ fee to deal with the NRC process. That is completely untrue, as lawyers have no role in the entire NRC updation process. Persons have to approach the NRC offices set up for hearing appeals and objections directly, there is no need of any lawyer, and there is no evidence to suggest that people are appointing lawyers for the same. Lawyers are needed in Foreigners Tribunals as they are courts, but certainly not in the NRC process.
Liberals in India would like to keep illegal immigrants, Bangladeshis to Rohingyas, in India. But the fact is, the general public don’t want them. People don’t want to share limited resources, they don’t want farm and forest lands taken over by aliens, and most importantly, they don’t want to become minorities in their own land. The demographic profile of several districts in Assam has already changed drastically, and there is a need to stop that. Of course, liberals will say there is nothing wrong if one religion becomes majority and other goes extinct, but unfortunately for them, most people who vote governments to power do not subscribe to that viewpoint. People of Assam want to protect the identity of the land, and the process of updating the NRC is an important part of the same.