Assam: ‘No Aadhaar, No Citizenship, So No Vote to BJP’, said a Citizens Convention

Why have 27 lakh Assamese been deprived their Aadhaar cards, a Citizens Convention on March 17 at Silchar, Barak Valley demands an answer. Fourteen organisations, including Forum For Social Harmony and trade unions organised this Citizenship Convention to focus on the deprivation of Aadhaar cards to 27,00,000 citizens and on wider related issues related to the citizenship crisis in the state

Fourteen organisations, including Forum For Social Harmony and trade unions organised a Citizenship Convention at Silchar in Assam’s Barak Valley on March 17, Sunday, to focus on the deprivation of Aadhaar cards to 27,00,000 citizens and on wider related issues related to the citizenship crisis in the state. Among the participants were lawyers, poets, writers, trade union leaders who deliberated on the many fault lines in existing procedures.

The topic of the convention was the deprivation of 27 lakhs people from being issued Aadhaar as well as the citizenship crisis in Assam. The convention saw authors, thinkers, advocates, activists, poets, trade union leaders speak at the convention. The presiding community included Dr. Mrinmoy Deb, Rafiq Ahmed, Subrata Nath, Mrinal Kanti Shome, Haider Hossain Chowdhury,  Nanda Ghosh,  Atarjan Begum Majumdar, Snigdha Nath, and Khadeja Begum.


Nowhere within the Aadhaar Act or the Citizenship Act (1955) is there any provision for the collection of biometric data or provisions prohibiting the issuance of the Aadhaar card to those in any way involved in enumeration in the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. Additionally, the Supreme Court has not provided clear direction on this matter. However, despite this, during the claims and objection stage, the state government of Assam, in collaboration with the Aadhaar authority, has unilaterally, collected biometric data from approximately 27 lakh individuals and denied them Aadhaar cards!

This action is reportedly based on a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).  While the SOP has also stipulated that Aadhaar cards would be issued directly to verify those whose names were included after the publication of the final NRC, however, despite it being four years since the publication of the final draft of the NRC, this provision has not been implemented! People who have been awaiting their Aadhaar card for five years are encountering insurmountable difficulties and experiencing harassment at the hands of authorities..

On August 11, 2022, the Aadhaar authority issued an office memorandum allowing those who were enrolled but had not received an Aadhaar card to use any identity card bearing their enrolment number as an alternative. This directive specifically benefited the 27 lakh affected people. However, despite this provision, various state and central government departments have been reluctant to accept these alternative identity cards.

These and related discussions at the Convention, held on Sunday, shed light on this  troubling trend where the Aadhaar has been deliberately withheld to cause hardship, particularly among economically disadvantaged people. This conclusion is bolstered by the inconsistent statements made by the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanto Biswa Sarma on different occasions. In a recent speech, for instance, he indicated that issuing of Aadhaar would only resume after the elections and following discussions with organisations such as the All Assam Students Union (AASU). This statement, without legal or moral basis, was strongly criticised at the meeting.

In this regard, the organisation Forum for Social Harmony has, last month, sent a public petition to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, and Assam Chief Minister, Himanto Biswa Sarma to issue Aadhaar before the elections, with a detailed legal explanation. There was a strong sentiment reiterated at Sunday’s convention that the state government must and should arrange to issue the withheld Aadhaar before the elections.

In March, 2022 Citizens for Justice and peace (CJP) also filed a PIL before the Gauhati High Court with regards to people left out from getting Aadhar, even after being included in the NRC.  Relying on the Aadhar Act 2016, CJP has argued that the UDAI identification has no connection to citizenship at all. This petition has been heard several times and is pending in the Gauhati High Court.

In the context of the discussion on citizenship, it is clear that before 2003 there was no need to submit any documents while applying for citizenship and anyone could apply. In 2003, the Vajpayee government first defined illegal migrants and disqualified them from applying for citizenship. The statutory provision (section 14A) in Citizenship Act for preparation of NRC and the Rules were framed that year. Even the provision of citizenship by birth has been virtually abolished in India.

A speaker at the convention questioned the need for the CAA 2019, because, they argued, in 2015, two circulars were published and non-Muslims from three countries including Bangladesh were already proclaimed not to be illegal immigrants. So, now the question arises, why there is a need at all for a separate Citizenship Amendment Act for those who are exempt from the definition of illegal migrants? After four years of its passage, more complicated rules and procedures are made requiring documents that most do not have when they are seeking citizenship. So, again it becomes clear that the real objective is not to grant citizenship. The complicated procedure laid down in the recently enacted rules clearly shows that the union government is not simply asking an individual to not declare  himself as a foreigner but also asking for documentary proof of a person being a foreigner and only thereafter apply for citizenship.

Another of the speakers at the convention mentioned that it is clear from this that the far-reaching objective of the government is to change the relationship between the state and the citizens and convert stateless impoverished people into cheap labour through complicated legal procedures.

Similarly concerns were expressed over the pending appeal process of the NRC for more than four years after the final publication of NRC on August 31, 2019.  Furthermore, the convention had a unanimous consensus at the end that proposed all voters whose names are in the electoral roll of 2014 should be recognised as citizens and Aadhaar must be given to all. The slogan, ‘No Aadhaar, No Citizenship- So No Vote to BJP’, rang through at the convention.  The meeting also highlighted the demand for the implementation of Enrollment ID as an alternative to Aadhaar. The final course of action decided was for a mass campaign to take place after the upcoming elections.

Some of the speakers at the event included advocate  Shishir Dey, advocate  Subrata Paul, Kamal Chakraborty, Sanjeev Roy, Asit Roy, Joydeep Bhattacharya, Ripon Das, Arup Baishya, Atarjan Begum Majumdar, Rafique Ahmed, Subrata Nath, Hillol Bhattacharya, Haidar Hossain Chowdhury, Subrata Nath,  Haider Hossain Chowdhury,  Majumdar, Khadeja Begum, Nanda Ghosh and Dr. Mrinmay Deb.



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