Home Today's Paper Most Popular Video Gallery Photo Gallery
Subscription Blog Signin Register
Sunday, January 26, 2020 09:35:45 AM
Follow Us On: Facebook Twitter Twitter Twitter Twitter

Assam Drama

Where Nationalism Becomes A Profitable Politics

  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Save
  • E-mail
  • Print
Share your thought
Post a comment »
Read all () »

Rohini Mohan :
In a month, millions in Assam will learn if the government believes them to be Indian citizens. Anyone excluded from the National Register of Citizens, due on August 31, could face trial in the state's quasi-judicial Foreigners Tribunals (FTs). It will be their final chance to prove they are Indian, short of a costly and difficult appeal in a higher court. If they fail, they could be detained immediately, and marked for deportation to Bangladesh.
It might seem like a straightforward process to identify and deport illegal immigrants, who are seen by many in Assam as a drain on the economy and a threat to national security. Home Minister Amit Shah has called them "infiltrators" and "termites". Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sworn he'll get them to "pack their bags". The Supreme Court has also accelerated the process of detecting and detaining them.
The tribunals have declared over 1.17 lakh people foreigners since the 80s, with a sharp uptick in the last five years. But an investigation shows that their trials are arbitrary, deeply inconsistent, and riddled with errors.
Through the Right to Information Act, i requested the court orders delivered from July to December 2018 from all 100 tribunals in Assam. Though required to provide this public information, only five complied. But even these have been illuminating.
In the over 500 tribunal judgments analysed, about 82% of all people on trial were declared foreigners. Assam activists and UN human rights experts have raised concerns about possible bias in the tribunals, but this is the first time the tribunals are being analysed at this scale. The investigation revealed many flaws, but five are particularly alarming:
First, every one of the 113 individuals from the judgments i met were Bengali speakers. Lawyers and tribunal judges attested to the focus on people of Bengali origin.
Second, disproportionately more Muslims were tried and declared foreigners. They constituted almost 89% of the cases analysed. Nine out of 10 Muslims tried were declared foreigners, compared to 4 out of 10 Hindus.
Third, 78% of all orders were delivered ex-parte, without the accused ever being heard. The police claimed they couldn't deliver the trial summons since the "illegals" were "absconding", but i found several of the accused in their villages. Many weren't aware they were declared foreigners, until i told them.
Fourth, unlike most criminal trials, the tribunals place the burden of proof on the accused - she is presumed a foreigner until she proves herself Indian. However, the police reports that form the basis of the accusation often appeared botched, incomplete and biased.
Fifth, many individuals who had managed to prove they were Indians had to repeatedly defend themselves against new complaints.
Ahmed, a 50-year-old scrap dealer was accused in 2005, declared Indian, and accused again in 2016. "Did i become Bangladeshi in the years in between?" Ahmed asked. He was declared Indian again, but the second tribunal case ensured his name didn't feature in the July 2018 draft NRC list, which doesn't include people on trial. In May, his neighbours pointed to the bamboo shed he lived in now. "When does a kabadiwala earn if he spends all his time proving he is Indian again and again?" one of them asked.
The National Home Ministry said in an email, "It is incorrect to say that working of the FTs is flawed," but the investigation showed otherwise.
Few of the tribunals followed standard trial protocol. One declared all the people it heard "not foreigner" while another declared everyone a foreigner. Which documents were acceptable, what the written statements should contain, or whether maternal lineage was admissible, depended on each tribunal judge. Some accepted explanations for variations in age, name spellings, and surname mix-ups for married women. Others found these clerical errors reason enough to declare people foreigners.
Those who struggled most in this system were unschooled women, the elderly, the wretchedly poor, and the many affected by erosion in river islands - they were stripped of citizenship because government paperwork failed to capture their messy reality of early marriage, age, loss and forced displacement.
Justice seemed twisted on its head. The judges presiding over the tribunals are often not judges, but lawyers and going forward, can be bureaucrats. The Assam border police, despite its name, does not man the borders but is stationed inside districts. Residents and village headmen said the police didn't do preliminary inquiries before filing complaints.
With the NRC exercise coming to an end, and millions poised to face these very FTs, it's worrying how broken the institutions are. They will decide if entire families will keep their homes, property, and can live freely in this country. The State and Centre seem ready to put away numerous people; they're adding 1,000 new tribunals to the existing 100, and 10 more detention centres to the existing 6.
Instead of being expanded and empowered, the FTs must be made more transparent and accountable. They must have more consistent protocols and follow recognised fair trial standards. The police must show evidence for their accusation, and be penalised if found issuing false complaints. As some retired judges have suggested, the presiding officers of tribunals must have more judicial experience.
Government records from decades ago are not perfect across India; people who lack flawless, consistent Indian paperwork cannot simply be jailed as illegal immigrants. Few of our parents or grandparents would qualify as Indian under the tribunal's parameters.
For the BJP governments at the Centre and in Assam, heated debates over nationalism have been profitable politics. But as both Hindus and Muslims trapped in bureaucracy reminded me, perhaps others in India can cheer on or look away from this ordeal only because it hasn't come to their doors yet.
(Rohini Mohan, an independent journalist, writes for Times of India)

Add Rate

News Archive

Inside The New Nation

Editorial »

Buildings should have built in fire safety measures

IT is possible to avoid any kind of fire-related incidents by spending only two per cent of the total cost of a building, an internationally renowned Bangladeshi fire safety expert has said. Quoting the expert's comments, The New Nation on Saturday in a report said many big fire incidents are ...

Entertainment »

Disha Patani opens up on working in B’wood

Malang released. From the poster to the trailer, every outing that has been released is receiving immense love for Disha’s skills. The hottest outsider to this industry here tells us what she thought when she was a child in front of a camera! Recalling her journey from being a camera ...

Sports »

Stokes sorry despite 'repeated abuse' - and 'Ed Sheeran reference'

AFP, Johannesburg :England star Ben Stokes apologised Friday for his angry exchange with a fan during the fourth and final Test against South Africa but claimed he was the victim of "repeated abuse".Stokes described his reaction at the Wanderers as "unprofessional".English cricket chiefs, however, claimed staff and players were also ...

Sports »

Federer says, 'epics' keep him motivated after Australian Open thriller

AFP, Melbourne :Roger Federer lives to win titles, but five-set thrillers like his epic against John Millman at the Australian Open are also a key reason why he is still playing aged 38.The Swiss master looked out for the count at 4-8 down in a nailbiting fifth-set super tiebreaker against ...

International »

Virus attack worring China

AP, China  :China's most festive holiday began in the shadow of a worrying new virus Saturday as the death toll surpassed 40, an unprecedented lockdown kept 36 million people from travelling and authorities cancelled a host of Lunar New Year events.The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number ...

International »

258 million kids not in school

AP, United Nations :The U.N. deputy chief said on Friday there is an "alarming" crisis in education, pointing to the 258 million children under the age of 17 who are not going to school - and only 49 percent completing secondary education.In addition, about 770 million adults are illiterate, most ...

Editorial »

Don't put extra burden on Hajj pilgrims’ shoulder

THE Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh and the Religious Affairs Ministry in a chorus criticised the Civil Aviation Ministry for taking proposal to increase airfare for each hajj pilgrim by Tk 12,000 from last year, terming it 'illogical" and "immoral". The HAAB leaders on Thursday at a press conference said ...

International »

Imran Khan calls for UN action over Kashmir dispute

Reuters, Davos :Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan called on Wednesday for the United Nations to help mediate between nuclear armed India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir."This is a potential flashpoint," Khan said during a media briefing at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, ...

Entertainment »

Shama Sikander sends her love for India’s Republic Day

India will be celebrating its 70th republic day and it’s an extremely auspicious occasion for us. In 26th January 1950, the constitution came into power and became the largest democracy in the world. Shama Sikander has her thoughts and plans set for this day and let’s go through it. Shama ...

Cricket »

We are confident to beat Pakistan: Mahmudullah

Bangladesh captain Mahmudullah Riyad said they remain upbeat to beat Pakistan in the first T20 International today (Friday) and gain the momentum for the whole series.Having said that, Mahmudullah insisted right at the moment the security matter, which has been the focal point of the series is not in their ...

Football »

Neymar sets up two goals as PSG cruise into League Cup final

Neymar set up the first two goals with curling set pieces as Paris Saint-Germain won their French League Cup semi-final 3-0 away to Reims on a chilly Wednesday night.PSG will face Lyon, who beat Lille on penalties on Tuesday, in the final at the Stade de France on April 4.This ...

Editorial »

Nobody is there to control them

CHHATRA League activists of Dhaka University's Sergeant Zahurul Haq Hall are at it again as they tortured four students for nearly three hours before handing them to police early Tuesday. The BCL men labelled them as Shibir activists and handed them to Shahbagh police around 3:30am in the presence of ...

City »

Chairman of Bangladesh Public Service Commission Dr. Mohammad Sadik, along with other members of the commission paying tributes by placing wreaths on the plaque 'Mrityunjayee' on the premises of the commission on Thursday on retirement of its two members Abul Kalam Azad and Prof. Dr. Shah Abdul Latif.

Entertainment »

Hina Khan learns to smoke for her role in web series, Damaged 2

We’ve heard of actors across the industry going all out when it comes to prepping up for their characters and roles. From Deepika, on getting a particular accent in Chennai Express to Aamir Khan learning how to tap dance for Dhoom 3, actors do everything possible to get into the ...

Editorial »

Govt faces hard time for needless expenditures coupled with corruption

THE Finance Ministry has asked all ministries and divisions not to seek additional fund in the current fiscal year in a signal that the government is tightening its belt amid a revenue shortfall, as per local media reports. The ministry furnished the instruction with regard to the operating and development ...

Items that you save may be read at any time on your computer, iPad, iPhone or Android devices.
Are you new to our website? Do you have already an account at our website?
Create An Account Log in here
Email this news to a friend or like someone
Write a comment to this news