Guwahati, India – The names of about four million people in India’s Assam state are not included in the final draft list of citizens published by authorities on Monday.
The draft list, called the National Register of Citizens (NRC), was announced on Monday by the Registrar General of India (RGI), which said that out of the 32.9 million population of the border state, 28.9 million names were included in the final draft of the NRC.
“No genuine Indian citizens need to worry as there will be ample opportunities given to them to enlist their names in the final list,” Shailesh, the registrar general of India, told reporters Guwahati city.
The definitive list will be announced in December.
In the first list announced on December 31, 2017, 19 million people were designated as legal citizens.
The NRC has been updated after nearly seven decades as part of a campaign to identify undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, but critics say those who are not included on the list may be rendered stateless.
The list can be checked online or by visiting one of the 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras (service centres) set up across the state. The results can also be accessed via SMS on request.
Retired army officer’s name missing
A retired army officer who served for around 30 years has found his name missing from the final draft.
“I’m hurt. This is what I had to see after serving the nation for three decades. I have no words to say,” said Azmal Haque, 50, a resident of Chhaygaon in Kamrup district, who retired as a junior commissioned officer (JCO) in 2016.
“This is very unfortunate if the system runs like this. If it can happen to a retired army officer what will be the fate of common people,” Haque told Al Jazeera.
Haque was served a notice to prove his citizenship by the Foreigners Tribunal in 2017. Later Assam police had said that it was a case of mistaken identity.
“I had submitted all the documents that was required.”
Haque’s son and daughter too failed to make it to the final draft.
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) General Secretary Aminul Islam said his party was shocked to see the number of people left off the list.
“It’s quite a huge number. We are shocked,” said Islam from the AIUDF party, which fights for the rights of people of Bengali origin in the state.
“There are several objections. The update process was being done under the supervision of the Supreme Court but it was unfortunate to see the intervention of the state government on several occasions. We will approach the court later,” Islam told Al Jazeera.
“But for the time being, we appeal to the people to maintain peace and harmony.”
Human rights activist Suhas Chakma dubbed the NRC list the “biggest exercise for disenfranchisement in human history”.
“The National Register of Citizens is the biggest exercise for disenfranchisement in human history. This NRC has few parallels such as expulsion of 300,000 Indian origins persons by General Ne Win of Myanmar in 1960s, expulsion of over 80,000 Indian origin people by Idi Amin of Uganda, the denial of citizenship to over 500,000 Indian origin Tamils by successive governments of Sri Lanka and in the last three decades, the expulsions of the Rohingyas by Myanmar,” Chakma, Director of the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, said in a statement.
Time for corrections
Rajnath Singh, India’s interior minister, said those whose names are not included on the list should not worry.
“Even if someone didn’t find their names in the final NRC, they can go to the foreigners’ tribunals,” Singh told local media. “All individuals will be given a fair chance.”
On Sunday, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda also said there would be time to file objections to the list.
“They will get adequate opportunities to file claims and objections pertaining to their rights,” he wrote on Twitter.
I reiterate that no genuine Indian citizen will be devoid of their citizenship rights. So no one should panic after publication of the final draft of NRC. I also urge people not to make any communal statements and remain watchful against falling prey to rumours.
— Sarbananda Sonowal (@sarbanandsonwal) July 29, 2018
NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela had earlier told Al Jazeera that people can apply for corrections from August 30 to September 28.
“If their names are not in the final draft, it doesn’t mean that these people are illegal,” Hajela said.
“This is just a draft and I’m telling you that these people will be given ample opportunities for claims and objections. So, there is no reason to fear.”
All Assam Minority Students Union President Rezaul Karim Sarkar said that no genuine Indian citizens should be left out.
“We want to appeal to the NRC coordinator and also the government to be very careful in verifying these people who are left out,” Karim said.
“I appeal to all, including the political parties, not to play politics with these 40 lakh [4 million] people as the final list is yet to come out.”
Security has been put on high alert, with section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code imposed in seven of the state’s 33 districts. Under section 144, the assembly of more than four people is prohibited.
More than 22,000 additional paramilitary personnel have also been deployed across the northeastern state.
The country’s Supreme Court – which supervised the entire process – had initially set June 30 as the deadline to publish the final list. But this was postponed to July 30, as the massive exercise could not be completed.
Unique to Assam state, the NRC document was first prepared in 1951 to distinguish Indian citizens from undocumented immigrants from then-East Pakistan (which later became Bangladesh in 1971).
The cutoff date to be eligible for Indian citizenship is March 24, 1971, as per the Assam Accord signed in 1985.
The people or their descendants whose names appeared in the NRC 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any of the other recognised official documents issued up until midnight of the same day are eligible to be included in the final draft.
Assam has witnessed prolonged protests against so-called foreigners, which includes both Hindus and Muslims.
The arrival of millions of refugees in 1971 – when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan after a bloody civil war – brought the issue of these so-called foreigners in national focus.