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Are citizenship determining processes in Assam biased against the underprivileged?

Deborah Grey 06 Jul 2019

Citizenship is a very touchy subject in the state of Assam, where the ‘insider vs outsider’ debate has often ended in violence and death. As the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated, residents hope it is done in the original spirit of the Assam Accord. However, there are also concerns about the exclusion of genuine Indian citizens, especially those who lack privilege.


Image result for nrc

This is most evident in the document required for proving one’s Indian citizenship. The NRC authority has categorised them into two lists, A and B. According to the NRC website:

1. The first requirement is collection of ANY ONE of the following documents of List A issued before midnight of 24th March, 1971 where name of self or ancestor* appears (to prove residence in Assam up to midnight of 24th March, 1971).
 
  • (1) 1951 NRC OR
  • (2) Electoral Roll(s) up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) OR
  • (3) Land & Tenancy Records OR
  • (4) Citizenship Certificate OR
  • (5) Permanent Residential Certificate OR
  • (6) Refugee Registration Certificate OR
  • (7) Passport OR
  • (8) LIC OR
  • (9) Any Govt. issued License/Certificate OR
  • (10) Govt. Service/ Employment Certificate OR
  • (11) Bank/Post Office Accounts OR
  • (12) Birth Certificate OR
  • (13) Board/University Educational Certificate OR
  • (14) Court Records/Processes.
Here the NRC authority makes a special mention of two documents, viz (1) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in respect of married women migrating after marriage (can be of any year before or after 24th March (midnight) 1971), and (2) Ration Card issued up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971. According to the NRC authority, these can be adduced as supporting documents. However, these two documents shall be accepted only if accompanied by any one of the documents listed above.

2. The Second requirement arises if name in any of the documents of List A is not of the applicant himself/herself but that of an ancestor, namely, father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother (and so on) of the applicant. In such cases, the applicant shall have to submit documents as in List B below to establish relationship with such ancestor, i.e., father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother etc. whose name appears in List A. Such documents shall have to be legally acceptable document which clearly proves such relationship.
 
  • (1) Birth Certificate OR
  • (2) Land document OR
  • (3) Board/University Certificate OR
  • (4) Bank/LIC/Post Office records OR
  • (5) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in case of married women OR
  • (6) Electoral Roll OR
  • (7) Ration Card OR
  • (8) Any other legally acceptable document
Now, let us look at some of these documents individually.

Electoral Rolls: The NRC of 1951 was converted from the electoral rolls of that year. Subsequent electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971 are also acceptable. However, it is important to understand that electoral rolls only reflect people who are adults. Also, while voting is a right, it’s not a duty and no one can be compelled to enrol their names in the voters list. Therefore, it is possible that many people’s names are missing in these electoral rolls. Additionally, there have been several instances of minor discrepancies in the spelling of names like in the case of Saken Ali whose name was spelled with an extra ‘h’ led him to spend 5 years in a detention camp! Similarly, errors made by Election Commission officials while recording names like in the case of Saman Malik who was also sent to a detention camp because EC officials recorded his name as a rather improbable Syamlal Ali!

Land records: Only people who have enough financial resources to own land or those who have inherited it, have any land records. Even tenancy records can only belong to people who can afford to pay rent. This excludes homeless people and those who live in makeshift shanties, or people who constantly move from one place to another in search of work. These nomadic populations and ever moving workers often do not have any documents of residence. Additionally, the Brahma Committee, that was set up in February 2017 on instructions from Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to for protection of land rights of indigenous people found that 90 percent of the natives do not have proper land documents. Hari Shankar Brahma under whom the committee was formed told Economic Times, “Ninety per cent of the native people do not have myadi patta (permanent land settlement), they have either eksonia patta (annual land settlement) or are occupying government land.” The committee also discovered that many natives of Tinsukia, Dhibrugarh and Majuli, whose forefathers had lost land during the 1950 earth quake also do not possess any land documents.

Passport: At one point of time having a passport was a status symbol. It meant one was wealthy and fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad. Which is why people from low income backgrounds rarely applied for it. Even today, out of India’s total population of 1.3 billion people, only about 65 million passport holders.

LIC document: Even today India is grossly underinsured and frankly, insurance is a privilege as many people are excluded from it due to various disqualifying factors including but not limited to health and wealth. Also, not many people find it important or necessary to have insurance and people can’t be forced to buy insurance. In fact, 988 million people do not have life insurance even today! According to this piece in Bloomberg Quint, “India had about 328 million life insurance policies in 2017, according to data from the Handbook on Indian Insurance Statistics, 2016-17, of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI). Assuming each policy corresponds to a unique citizen, this accounts for 25 percent of the population having life insurance cover, leaving 75 percent--or 988 million Indians--without cover.”  

Bank Accounts: Even today, more that 190 million Indians do not have a bank account. And despite PM Narendra Modi’s aggressive Jan Dhan scheme, more than 50 percent of those accounts are also lying dormant. Ground realities in India are far cry from what is showcased in glossy campaign advertisements and financial inclusion is a challenge for those employed in the informal sector, the daily wage earners who live from hand to mouth. There is an over dependence on cash transactions as they are seen as tangible, swift and more reliable by those not exposed to digital technology and necessary education required to appreciate electronic payments.

Birth Certificates: Now, it is important to note that the Registration of Births and Deaths Act was enacted in 1969. This act made it compulsory to register all births. According to UNICEF, “The current registration level of births and deaths in the country is about 58% for births and 54% for deaths. Each year about 42% of births go unregistered, which is about 10 million births.” Now if this is the case today, imagine what it was like before 1971!  

Board/University/Education certificate: Now, bear in mind that all legacy documents have to be prior to the March 24, 1971 deadline. So if someone wants to use their father or grandfather’s school leaving certificate, it first means that they should have been enrolled in school, an opportunity that was a privilege for low income families back in the day. Gauhati High Court advocate Mrinmoy Dutta gives an example, “According to the 1961 census, there were 1, 41,948 matriculates in Assam.” This shows that only a fraction of the state’s population was fortunate enough to have access to formal education. It doesn’t matter if education is made free. The bigger challenges are the absence of adequate teachers, the drop-out rate due to poverty. Especially in case of girls the lack of toilets is a huge deterrent. This often leads to many girls being forced to drop out when they hit puberty.

Women have it worst: It is also noteworthy that girls from low income and socially backward communities are often married off at an early age. They rarely have birth certificates as most are born at home rather that in hospitals or healthcare centers. Many are not sent to school and have no education documents. In fact very often they have absolutely no documents, which is why the Panchayat Secretary or Gaon Burah’s certificate was seen as a lifeline. Though a long court battle ensured that the certificate was considered valid, it was deemed a weak document and needed to be backed up with other documents, leaving married women in the lurch! Read about this 70 year old woman who is rotting away in a detention camp for this very reason.

So while the readers of this piece might have many or most of the above documents and might consider the process flawless, it is the underprivileged who pay a price… with their citizenship. It makes one wonder if this is all a part of a larger plan to exclude the poor and further marginalise them.
 

Are citizenship determining processes in Assam biased against the underprivileged?

Citizenship is a very touchy subject in the state of Assam, where the ‘insider vs outsider’ debate has often ended in violence and death. As the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated, residents hope it is done in the original spirit of the Assam Accord. However, there are also concerns about the exclusion of genuine Indian citizens, especially those who lack privilege.


Image result for nrc

This is most evident in the document required for proving one’s Indian citizenship. The NRC authority has categorised them into two lists, A and B. According to the NRC website:

1. The first requirement is collection of ANY ONE of the following documents of List A issued before midnight of 24th March, 1971 where name of self or ancestor* appears (to prove residence in Assam up to midnight of 24th March, 1971).
 
  • (1) 1951 NRC OR
  • (2) Electoral Roll(s) up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) OR
  • (3) Land & Tenancy Records OR
  • (4) Citizenship Certificate OR
  • (5) Permanent Residential Certificate OR
  • (6) Refugee Registration Certificate OR
  • (7) Passport OR
  • (8) LIC OR
  • (9) Any Govt. issued License/Certificate OR
  • (10) Govt. Service/ Employment Certificate OR
  • (11) Bank/Post Office Accounts OR
  • (12) Birth Certificate OR
  • (13) Board/University Educational Certificate OR
  • (14) Court Records/Processes.
Here the NRC authority makes a special mention of two documents, viz (1) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in respect of married women migrating after marriage (can be of any year before or after 24th March (midnight) 1971), and (2) Ration Card issued up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971. According to the NRC authority, these can be adduced as supporting documents. However, these two documents shall be accepted only if accompanied by any one of the documents listed above.

2. The Second requirement arises if name in any of the documents of List A is not of the applicant himself/herself but that of an ancestor, namely, father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother (and so on) of the applicant. In such cases, the applicant shall have to submit documents as in List B below to establish relationship with such ancestor, i.e., father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother etc. whose name appears in List A. Such documents shall have to be legally acceptable document which clearly proves such relationship.
 
  • (1) Birth Certificate OR
  • (2) Land document OR
  • (3) Board/University Certificate OR
  • (4) Bank/LIC/Post Office records OR
  • (5) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in case of married women OR
  • (6) Electoral Roll OR
  • (7) Ration Card OR
  • (8) Any other legally acceptable document
Now, let us look at some of these documents individually.

Electoral Rolls: The NRC of 1951 was converted from the electoral rolls of that year. Subsequent electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971 are also acceptable. However, it is important to understand that electoral rolls only reflect people who are adults. Also, while voting is a right, it’s not a duty and no one can be compelled to enrol their names in the voters list. Therefore, it is possible that many people’s names are missing in these electoral rolls. Additionally, there have been several instances of minor discrepancies in the spelling of names like in the case of Saken Ali whose name was spelled with an extra ‘h’ led him to spend 5 years in a detention camp! Similarly, errors made by Election Commission officials while recording names like in the case of Saman Malik who was also sent to a detention camp because EC officials recorded his name as a rather improbable Syamlal Ali!

Land records: Only people who have enough financial resources to own land or those who have inherited it, have any land records. Even tenancy records can only belong to people who can afford to pay rent. This excludes homeless people and those who live in makeshift shanties, or people who constantly move from one place to another in search of work. These nomadic populations and ever moving workers often do not have any documents of residence. Additionally, the Brahma Committee, that was set up in February 2017 on instructions from Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to for protection of land rights of indigenous people found that 90 percent of the natives do not have proper land documents. Hari Shankar Brahma under whom the committee was formed told Economic Times, “Ninety per cent of the native people do not have myadi patta (permanent land settlement), they have either eksonia patta (annual land settlement) or are occupying government land.” The committee also discovered that many natives of Tinsukia, Dhibrugarh and Majuli, whose forefathers had lost land during the 1950 earth quake also do not possess any land documents.

Passport: At one point of time having a passport was a status symbol. It meant one was wealthy and fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel abroad. Which is why people from low income backgrounds rarely applied for it. Even today, out of India’s total population of 1.3 billion people, only about 65 million passport holders.

LIC document: Even today India is grossly underinsured and frankly, insurance is a privilege as many people are excluded from it due to various disqualifying factors including but not limited to health and wealth. Also, not many people find it important or necessary to have insurance and people can’t be forced to buy insurance. In fact, 988 million people do not have life insurance even today! According to this piece in Bloomberg Quint, “India had about 328 million life insurance policies in 2017, according to data from the Handbook on Indian Insurance Statistics, 2016-17, of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI). Assuming each policy corresponds to a unique citizen, this accounts for 25 percent of the population having life insurance cover, leaving 75 percent--or 988 million Indians--without cover.”  

Bank Accounts: Even today, more that 190 million Indians do not have a bank account. And despite PM Narendra Modi’s aggressive Jan Dhan scheme, more than 50 percent of those accounts are also lying dormant. Ground realities in India are far cry from what is showcased in glossy campaign advertisements and financial inclusion is a challenge for those employed in the informal sector, the daily wage earners who live from hand to mouth. There is an over dependence on cash transactions as they are seen as tangible, swift and more reliable by those not exposed to digital technology and necessary education required to appreciate electronic payments.

Birth Certificates: Now, it is important to note that the Registration of Births and Deaths Act was enacted in 1969. This act made it compulsory to register all births. According to UNICEF, “The current registration level of births and deaths in the country is about 58% for births and 54% for deaths. Each year about 42% of births go unregistered, which is about 10 million births.” Now if this is the case today, imagine what it was like before 1971!  

Board/University/Education certificate: Now, bear in mind that all legacy documents have to be prior to the March 24, 1971 deadline. So if someone wants to use their father or grandfather’s school leaving certificate, it first means that they should have been enrolled in school, an opportunity that was a privilege for low income families back in the day. Gauhati High Court advocate Mrinmoy Dutta gives an example, “According to the 1961 census, there were 1, 41,948 matriculates in Assam.” This shows that only a fraction of the state’s population was fortunate enough to have access to formal education. It doesn’t matter if education is made free. The bigger challenges are the absence of adequate teachers, the drop-out rate due to poverty. Especially in case of girls the lack of toilets is a huge deterrent. This often leads to many girls being forced to drop out when they hit puberty.

Women have it worst: It is also noteworthy that girls from low income and socially backward communities are often married off at an early age. They rarely have birth certificates as most are born at home rather that in hospitals or healthcare centers. Many are not sent to school and have no education documents. In fact very often they have absolutely no documents, which is why the Panchayat Secretary or Gaon Burah’s certificate was seen as a lifeline. Though a long court battle ensured that the certificate was considered valid, it was deemed a weak document and needed to be backed up with other documents, leaving married women in the lurch! Read about this 70 year old woman who is rotting away in a detention camp for this very reason.

So while the readers of this piece might have many or most of the above documents and might consider the process flawless, it is the underprivileged who pay a price… with their citizenship. It makes one wonder if this is all a part of a larger plan to exclude the poor and further marginalise them.
 

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