New Delhi: Around 300 members of the All Bodoland Territorial Council Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU) Tuesday protested at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, against the central government following Home Minister Amit Shah’s announcement of a pan-India NRC.
Holding up placards with slogans “Go back Amit Shah”, “Go back Indian government” and “Go back Himanta Biswa Sarma”, the protesters accused the BJP government in both Assam and the Centre of turning NRC into a “political sport”.
“We vehemently oppose the renewal of the NRC process. The people of Assam have undergone a lot of harassment, especially the Muslims. Himanta Biswa Sarma and Amit Shah have refused to acknowledge the relentless work of 55,000 state employees to prepare the NRC final draft and crores of taxpayers money spent in the process,” said Nazrul Islam, general secretary, ABMSU.
“We have no patience left and want the government to provide NRC identity cards to those included in the final list,” he added.
Shah had announced in Rajya Sabha on 20 November that the NRC updation process will be carried out afresh in Assam concurrently with the rest of India. On the same day, Assam’s Finance Minister Sarma said the state government requested Shah to reject the NRC in the current form.
The NRC final draft in Assam excluded 19 lakh people, who were supposed to receive speaking orders — which cite the reason for being excluded — by November end. Those left off the list would then be able to appeal their case at the Foreigners Tribunals. However, with the newly-appointed NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma going on leave, the process has been delayed.
The ABMSU also opposed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on the grounds that it was “unconstitutional” and “violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which stands for ‘equality before the law’ and ‘equal protection of the laws’”.
“The Citizenship Amendment Bill allows all religions except Muslims from neighbouring countries; this in itself is targeting and isolating one particular religion to increase the non-Muslim vote bank in India,” alleged Ripun Bora, Rajya Sabha MP and Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president who came out in support of the protesting students.
Bora also said he would submit a memorandum to Shah to expedite the trial procedure in the Foreigners Tribunal given that the entire NRC process has become a “puppet show” in which minorities suffer from constant insecurity.
“The Foreigners Tribunals in Assam have no judicial autonomy and are biased in their judgments… The Border Police is also not doing the preliminary exercise properly and are simply directing people to the Foreigners Tribunal,” Bora said, adding that 60 per cent judgments in the ‘Doubtful voter’ cases were “ex parte”.
Doubtful voter or D voter is a category of voters in Assam that have been disenfranchised by the Assam government due to a lack of citizenship credentials since 1997. These cases are referred to the Border Police branch under the Assam Police, which then conducts an investigation and refers the cases to the Foreigners Tribunals.
The Bodoland Dispute and the BTC accord
The ABMSU represents non-tribal minorities of Bodoland, including Muslims, Adivasis and Koch Rajbanshis. “The non-tribals have not benefited either from the BTC Accord or the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. We demand the Indian government to renew the accord considering all the tribes and communities of Bodoland,” union president Abu Sayed Anchary said.
The ABMSU alleges that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) Accord is biased and only benefits the Bodos.
Officially called the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts (BTAD), the area consists of four districts in Assam — Kokrajhar, Baksa, Udalguri and Chirang and is home to several ethnic groups. The Bodos, an ethno linguistic group, are the single-largest tribal community in Assam and make up around 5-6 per cent of Assam’s population.
After years of tussle over demands for full statehood, the Bodoland Accord was signed in 2003 between the government of Assam, Union government and the Bodoland Liberation Tigers (BLT).