While the debate on citizenship in the country rages on with the ongoing protests against CAA, NPR and NRC, two completely opposite judgements have come from two courts in the country on proof of citizenship in the same week. While a court in Mumbai has said that the Voter Identity Card issued by the Election Commission is a proof of citizenship, the Gauhati High Court has said that it is not.
According to reports, a Magistrate court in Mumbai has said that Voter Identity Cards are valid proof of citizenship while acquitting a couple accused of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Ruling that the, Abbas Shaikh (45) and Rabiya Shaikh (40), who were arrested in 2017, were able to prove that they are Indian citizens, the court said, “the birth certificate, domicile certificate, bonafide certificate, passport, etc can be relied upon to establish the origin of any person.” The court then added that, “even the election card can be said to be a sufficient proof of citizenship as while applying for the election card or voting card, a person has to file declaration with the authority in view of Form 6 of Peoples Representation Act to the authority that he is citizen of India and if the declaration is found false, he is liable for punishment.” The court said that the couple had submitted original documents, and the prosecution could not prove that they were obtained fraudulently and they were not genuine.
Although the court clarified that Aadhaar card, PAN card, driving licence and Ration Card are not valid proofs of citizenship.
On the other hand, in an order issued on February 12, the Gauhati High Court has ruled that the Voter Identity Card is not a valid proof of citizenship. Saying that petitioner Munindra Biswas can’t be termed as Indian citizen based on Voter ID and name on Voter list, the High Court has said that supporting evidence is needed to prove citizenship.
Quoting an earlier judgement of the same court, the division bench of Justice Manojit Bhuyan and Justice Parthivjyoti Saikia said, “Regarding Electoral Photo Identity Card this court in the case of Md. Babul Islam Vs. State of Assam [WP(C) No. 3547 of 2016] has held that Electoral Photo Identity Card is not a proof of citizenship”.
The 2016 judgement had said that the Electoral Photo Identity Card is a post 25.03.1971 document. Besides, merely producing such an identity card in the absence of supporting evidence would not be proof of citizenship, the Gauhati High Court had ruled. Like the Mumbai Court, the Gauhati High Cort had also ruled that documents like PAN card, Driving licence are not proof of citizenship.
The petitioner had also submitted a voter list from 1997 containing his name and two sales deeds from 1964 and 1970, but the court said they are not enough evidence. The judgement said that the sale deeds are private documents, and their execution has to be proved by admissible evidence, which was not done. The court also ruled that a voter list from 1997 is not a proof that the petitioner has been staying in Assam prior to 1971, a requirement as per the Assam Accord 1985 for claiming citizenship in Assam.
Although both the judgements contradict each other completely, both have logic behind them. In general, the Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC) should be the proof of citizenship, as holding an EPIC and having the name listed in voter list means that one can vote in Indian elections, and only Indian citizens are allowed to vote in elections in India. While others like Aadhaar, PAN, driving licence etc can be issued to foreigners legally living in India, that is not the case for Voter ID, and that’s why it is a valid proof of citizenship.
But the Gauhati High Court is also correct that voter ID is not enough to prove citizenship in the context of Assam. Citizenship in Assam has separate criteria than the rest of the country. According to section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which was inserted as per the provisions of Assam Accord, those foreigners who came to Assam on or before 25th March 1971, will be considered Indian citizens. As the voter cards are issued after that date, and the voter list with the petitioner’s name was from 1997, they don’t prove that he came to Assam before the cut-off date.
Moreover, the Assam Accord was signed after the six-year-long agitation demanding the deportation of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The agitation was started after a large number of suspected voters were found to be included in voter lists for a byelection in 1978. The agitation had three Ds as the demands, detection, deletion and deportation. Means the illegal voters have to be detected, their name deleted from electoral rolls, and they should be deported. It is alleged that a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has managed to get themselves registered as voters in India, giving them the power to change political arithmetic in several constituencies in Assam. Due to that reason, having Voter Identity Card or having name listed on a voter list after 1971 is not enough to prove that on is Indian citizen in Assam.