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Aakar Patel makes fearmongering video against NRC, here is how his claims are baseless and wrong

If Aakar Patel has his name misspelt in his documents, he should get them corrected them using the respective prescribed procedure, and not use it to run baseless propaganda.

Journalist and Amnesty International India head Aakar Patel posted a video on Twitter today scaremongering about the proposal for nationwide implementation of NRC (National Register of Citizens). Aakar Patel claimed if a nationwide NRC is prepared, people will lose citizenship if the spellings of their names are wrong in their documents.

Aakar Patel claimed that his name is misspelt in his birth certificate, electricity bill and voter identity card, and his father’s name is misspelt on one of his passports. He said that such mistakes happen to many people, but if people in Assam face such mistakes, they may lose their citizenship, and the govt can send them to jail because of it.

He then goes on to narrate how around 19 lakh people’s names were not included in the National Register of Citizens in Assam which was updated in 2019, and said that now these people will have to prove their nationality in front of Foreigner’s Tribunals. Aakar Patel claimed that if there are inconsistencies in the spelling of their names, or they can’t answer questions regarding their nationality, they will be sent to detention centres.

“If this is the damage caused by 100 tribunals in one state, think what will when this goes nationwide across our country. The Foreigners Tribunals need to be held accountable and their proceedings need to be totally transparent. Else, we will face a situation where you and I will our citizenship because the spellings in the documents we have are wrong.”

At the end of the video, text appears claiming that 1.9 million people in Assam are fighting to prove their citizenship. It says that the fate of these people lies in the hands of 100 Foreigners Tribunals and alleged that the proceedings in the Tribunals are unfair and they are enabled by the court. It claimed that the system is designed to exclude.

Almost every claim made by Aakar Patel in the video are wrong, baseless, and aimed at fearmongering. There is no truth in the various claims that he made.

No evidence of exclusion from NRC just for misspelt name

There is no evidence that people’s names were not included in the NRC in Assam due to mismatches of spellings in various documents. People were excluded from NRC for failure to establish linkage with the person named in the legacy documents, submission of invalid or forged documents, and other such serious reasons. There is no credible proof that people’s names were excluded from the NRC only because of minor variations in the spelling of their names.

If there are mismatches of the spelling of the name in different documents, there will be problems in several places, like opening bank accounts, applying for passports etc, it is not an NRC-specific issue, and there are remedial measures for that. If Aakar Patel has his name misspelt in his documents, he should get them corrected them using the respective prescribed procedure, and not use it to run baseless propaganda.

NRC recognised the possibility of errors in spelling, and indeed, there were such errors when the first draft was published in 2018. After that, people were allowed to apply for corrections of their names.

Nobody fighting in Tribunals after exclusion from NRC

The claim that 19 lakh people who were excluded from NRC are fighting to prove their citizenship at Foreigners Tribunals is completely false. Actually, there are uncertainties over the current status of the NRC, and as a result, people excluded from the register are not being asked to prove their citizenship yet.

The issue of NRC is far from over in Assam after the ‘final’ list was published on August 31, 2019, as the ruling BJP government wants a review of the final list claiming large-scale errors in the compilation of the list. Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma has been calling for a fresh exercise to collate citizenship data for reverification.

While some Foreigners Tribunals had started to rely on the NRC to decide on cases already before it, the state govt has requested them not use it. Moreover, nobody has been prosecuted for being excluded from NRC.

As the Assam govt considers that the NRC is faulty and not final, the government’s coordinator for NRC has asked the Foreigners Tribunals across Assam to not consider the published NRC as reliable evidence for the disposal of cases relating to citizenship. The state govt further says that since the Registrar General of Citizens Registration (RGCR) has not declared NRC as final and there are errors, there could be changes in the final NRC.

However, the Foreigners Tribunals have rejected this claim and say that the NRC published on 31 August 2019 is final. But the state govt is insisting that it was a ‘supplementary’ list and not the final NRC, and has also approached the Supreme Court for a reverification.

People who were excluded from the NRC were supposed to be issued rejection slips, and they were supposed to approach Foreigners Tribunals with the slips with proof of citizenship to get their names included in the register. But because of the uncertainty over the procedures, and also the Covid-19 pandemic, rejection slips have not been issued yet.

In March this year, the Assam govt told Gauhati High Court that as the status of the NRC is sub-judice at the Supreme Court, the possibility of issuing rejection slips at this point in time appears to be remote.

This means, people excluded from NRC can’t even approach the tribunals now as they don’t have rejection slips, Therefore, they are not fighting to prove their citizenship in Foreigners Tribunals at present, as claimed by Aakar Patel.

They may have to do that if courts decide that the current NRC is final and the rejection slips are issued, but at present that has not happened, and there could be different outcome of the situation. But for now, there is a stalemate over the issue, and nobody is fighting to prove their citizenship just because their names were not there on the NRC.

Proposed nationwide NRC can’t be compared with Assam NRC

Another claim Aakar Patel made is that the problems seen in Assam will be replicated in the entire country if the NRC is prepared nationwide. That is also a completely wrong and baseless allegation, because, even if it happens, the NRC in other states will be different from Assam, as there are several major differences.

The first difference is, the NRC in Assam 2019 was updated, it was not prepared for the first time. Assam already had an NRC which was prepared in 1951, and therefore it was necessary to update it, just like voter lists are updated regularly. When the first census of independent India was done in 1951, a nationwide NRC was also supposed to be prepared. But for some reason, it was done only in Assam.

Therefore, if NRC is prepared nationwide, it will be a completely fresh exercise, with no legacy NRC to be taken as a base, the requirements will be different, and the problems if any will also be different.

Assam is the only state in India where the definition of a citizen is different from all other states. According to the Citizenship Act, the cut-off date for citizenship in India is 26 January 1950, but for Assam, the cut-off date is 25 March 1971, as per the provisions of the Assam Accord.

Just like the nature of the nationwide NRC will be different from the Assam NRC, the requirements are also different. In Assam, updating the NRC was absolutely necessary to solve the issue of illegal immigrants. An error-free NRC in Assam is a must for easy identification of illegal immigrants so that they can be deported soon.

Updating the NRC was also a promise made by the Rajiv Gandhi government by signing the Assam Accord in 1985, and therefore the government was duty-bound to update it. After much delay, it was updated on the orders of the Supreme Court of India. The circumstances and requirements around a nationwide NRC will be different.

Therefore, in summary, everything Aakar Patel said is baseless. No evidence that someone was excluded from the NRC in Assam just for a mismatch in the spelling of names, nobody is being forced to prove citizenship only because of exclusion from NRC as it has not been finalised and rejection slips have not been issued yet, and the NRC in Assam can’t be compared with proposed NRC for rest of India.

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Raju Das
Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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