With the hugely contentious NRC exposing communal fault lines in Assam, it has emerged that more Hindus than Muslims forged documents to find their way into the National Register of Citizens, sources with close knowledge of the exercise said on Sunday (August 25).
The final NRC list, which will identify bonafide citizens of Assam, is set to be published on August 31. The exercise of updating the NRC, unique to Assam, is being conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court. “The interesting fact is that forgery is being committed by a very large number of doubtful Hindu applicants. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the documents that have been forged are by them,” sources said. “Now this is very, very surprising because we had the impression that only suspected illegal Muslim immigrants were indulging in wrongdoing to have their names included in the NRC. But with so many doubtful Hindus being detected, it can be assumed that a huge number of such immigrants are also present in Assam,” one of the sources said.
Assam’s BJP government had recently claimed that more Hindus than Muslims were excluded from the draft NRC, ignoring an apex court directive of secrecy. The court had said all such information be submitted to it in sealed covers. The state government had claimed the data reflected that more people were excluded from the list in districts inhabited by indigenous people than those on the India- Bangladesh border, implying that the NRC draft was flawed as illegal Muslim immigrants were more likely to be present in the frontier districts.
When reached for comments, a senior RSS Assam region functionary and its Bouddhik Prachar Pramukh Shankar Das said the updated NRC will be “wrong” and that it will be challenged. “Nobody has given correct data. The SC is acting only as per Prateek Hajela’s (the NRC state coordinator) information. So, we don’t believe in any of the leaked data till now, whether it’s about Hindus or Muslims. We know that this NRC is going to be wrong and it will be challenged,” he said.
“There are places where (state) authorities said even they cannot go despite security. Then how could NRC verification take place there? Hajela couldn’t give any satisfactory answer to that. Then how can one say that Hindus did more forgeries? We don’t believe that at all,” Das said.
People residing in the state since March 24, 1971 have a legitimate claim to Indian citizenship. Assam has witnessed a huge influx of people from Bangladesh, both Hindus and Muslims, for decades, and one of the clauses of the Assam Accord of 1985 was expeditious identification and expulsion of illegal migrants. Sources involved in the updation of the NRC cited the example of Nikhil Das, who had applied for inclusion of his name and those of this family members–father Nitai das, mother Bali Das, brother Nikhindra Das and sister Ankhi Das.
“During the checking of the papers, it was found that except for the applicant, all his family members still live in Kachua village of Sunamganj district in Sylhet division of Bangladesh. During the investigation, Nikhil confessed that he had entered India illegally in October 2011,” the sources said, insisting it was not an isolated case.
How being Hindu shrouds illegal identity
Interestingly, Nikhil Das possessed a number of forged documents including voter I-card, an Indian birth certificate and even a PAN card. There were many such instances, they said. While delivering its judgement in the case of Nibaran Biswas alias Nibaran Mandal vs State of Assam in August 2017, a foreigners’ tribunal in Morigaon had observed that many suspected illegal Hindu immigrants have settled in the state after 1971. “As it was a policy adopted by the government of India … that Hindu Bengali migrants willing to settle down in India permanently are ushered as Indian citizens… Thereafter, many migrants illegally sneaked into Indian territory without recording their entry in transit points or at government relief camps for better livelihood. “…they have either forged the certificate of registration or the voter list for enjoying the privilege of being Indian citizen which have come to surface before me on trial,” the tribunal had said in its order.
An applicant seeking Indian citizenship in Assam can submit a host of documents for inclusion in the NRC. On compilation of six crucial documents, it was found that around two lakh of them from one crore were forged. These documents are refugee registration certificate, citizenship certificate, government employment certificate, land and tenancy records, birth certificate and certified copies of pre-1971 electoral rolls from Tripura. Apart from the forged papers, NRC authorities have discovered that no back-end source of around 1.5 lakh documents submitted by applicants were available and an additional about 2.5 lakh papers were illegible. Back-end source of the six documents are supporting papers available with authorities who originally issued them.
“Though we cannot directly term the documents without back-end as forged, but obviously these are doubtful,” sources said. NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela had told the Supreme Court on October 4, 2018, that many crucial papers submitted by the applicants were photoshopped. Sources said that legacy data, the main document to trace the family tree in determining whether a person is a genuine Indian citizen, are being misused by the applicants. They said multiple people are using identical legacy data contained in the NRC published in 1951 which had the names of bonafide Assam residents or electoral rolls prepared until March 1971 to back their claim to Indian citizenship. “Stringent verification of family trees unearthed many cases of wilful misuse of legacy data,” they said.
The updation of the NRC has become a hugely vexed issue in Assam where political parties have claimed the states demography was getting changed because of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. In July last year, 40,07,707 people were excluded from the complete draft of the NRC, which contained the names of 2,89,83,677 eligible people out of a total 3,29,91,384 applicants. An additional 1,02,462 people were added to the list of excluded inhabitants of the state in June this year, taking the total number of those ineligible for Indian citizenship to 41,10,169.
The language divide
The NRC has also created a linguistic divide in Assam, which always considered Bengali language a threat to Assamese identity. The state government’s decision to make Assamese the one and only official language in 1960 had led to a violent language movement across Brahmaputra and Barak valleys. The indigenous people of Assam have always viewed Bengali-speaking people with suspicion, whether Hindus or Muslims, and linked them to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.