Send those not on NRC list back to ‘native’ land, says H.S. Brahma, who headed a panel on Assam’s illegal immigrants last year.
New Delhi: Weighing in on the complex and potentially explosive National Register of Citizenship (NRC) debate, former chief election commissioner H.S. Brahma Thursday said those in Assam whose names don’t feature in the citizenship register must be sent to their “native” land.
Brahma, a retired Bodo IAS officer, last year headed a six-member committee for protection of land rights of indigenous people of Assam from encroachment by illegal immigrants.
“If it is established that someone is not an Indian citizen, they must be sent back to their native land,” he told ThePrint in an interview.
“What is the point of releasing an NRC if you are not going to address the ultimate issue? Why has the government spent Rs 1,300 crore if they’re not going to send them back,” asked Brahma, referring to reports of Home Minister Rajnath Singh ‘assuring’ Bangladesh that no deportations would take place in the aftermath of the Supreme Court-mandated process.
However, the issue is not a religious one, he said, as even Hindus can be illegal immigrants in the state.
“Nowhere in the world is the issue of illegal immigration seen through the lens of religion,” he said, arguing that illegal Hindu immigrants too must be deported.
When asked if that would be unlikely given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s stated position on granting citizenship to all religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, Brahma said that would not be “fair”.
“If you are going to hang, then hang everyone, or hang nobody,” he said.
Brahma refused to comment on the communal undertones of the debate on the NRC, but said that a large segment of Assam’s population is Muslim, thereby suggesting that they may be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“See, according to the 2011 census, the Muslim population of Assam is 35 per cent… This wasn’t the case before,” he said, as he emphasised that “not all Muslims are illegal immigrants.
“Some of them have been here for 200-300 years, and are totally part of the Assamese culture,” he added.
‘Rights to be protected’
In its report, the Brahma-led committee said that illegal Bangladeshis dominate 15 of the 33 districts in the border state, and this has adversely impacted the land rights of indigenous people in Assam.
“The land of indigenous people has been systematically encroached by illegal immigrants in collusion with the state government,” Brahma said. “People in Assam have been feeling very insecure since the 1970s… Locals in Assam and their rights have to be protected.”
Brahma argued that the report submitted by the committee he led last year was very different from the NRC debate, but there were “obvious linkages” since illegal immigration has a big impact on land rights of indigenous people.
Although there is little clarity about the fate of those who have been left out of the NRC list, since the matter is sub-judice, it has been suggested that they may be stripped off their political and land rights.
In the final draft of the NRC released 30 July, of the 3.29 crore people who had applied, 40.07 lakh were excluded. The NRC is a list of Indian citizens in Assam, who have proved their citizenship or ancestry using one or more of 14 documents or ‘legacy data’, which includes the 1951 NRC, land records, passports, electoral rolls, birth certificates and educational certificates.