10 November 2020
By Monosijo Bhattacharjee
Let us care to think about an eighty three year octogenarian lady – blank eyes reflecting her sheer helplessness, wrinkled skin speaking of her laboured past in the bosom of our country, white saree alluding to her widowhood. Alone in an auto, bereft of any companion or support, Bhandari Das was found stranded outside the Foreigners Tribunal of Silchar today. “What will I do, son? I don’t know what to do. What have I done to deserve this ? “- cried out the old lady.
It would have been so much better if it were a monochromatic scene of a Hindi movie. But alas! It isn’t. It is a shocking reality portraying the absurdity of the whole mess that NRC and CAA has created in Assam. The
heart wrenching story of Bhandari Das brings to light the unspeakable pain and trauma that the ordinary citizens are undergoing at the altar of political chicanery
On 17/03/2020, an order was passed under Section 3(1) of Foreigner’s (Tribunal) Order, 1964, requiring Bhandari Das to appear before the Foreigners Tribunal on 07/04/2020.
The allegations levelled against the 83 year old lady ,as mentioned in the FT order,can be summarised as follows –
1) She has illegally entered into Assam without any valid document between 01-01-1966 and 24-03-1971
2) She has been living illegally in Silchar since the time she has entered into Assam.
3) She was unable to produce valid documents before the police upon enquiry/verification.
Tanmoy Purkayastha, Advocate for Bhandari Das, said, “She has all the valid documents. It is only because of some misunderstanding that she has to undergo such a painful ordeal.”
Upon enquiry, it was found that Bhandari Das has been a resident of Silcoori Gram Tajabari Khanda 1, Block no 82 of LAC 11, Silchar since the last six decades. She has authentic legacy data and her name is enrolled
in the voters list of 1971 . Under the given facts, one wonders as to why she has to face such a harsh ordeal at such an age.
If one has to bring her story in the proper perspective, one must recapitulate the events that has lead to such a bizarre situation for hundreds and thousands of citizens of Assam.
NRC in ASSAM -The beginning of the chaos
It has been a year and half since Assam published its updated National Register of Citizens. The final list left out about 19 lakh applicants.Assam’s National Register of Citizens was first created in 1951. Tied to the Census conducted that year, it was meant to count the Indian citizens who had remained or arrived in Assam after the great population exchanges of Partition.
The exercise to update the NRC was to be a means to sort Indian citizens from undocumented migrants, believed to be mostly from Bangladesh. According to the terms of this exercise, those who could not prove
that they or their ancestors had entered India before midnight on March 24, 1971 – the eve of the Bangladesh War – would not be considered citizens.
FINAL DRAFT OF NRC AND BJP’s U TURN
After spending 1220 crores of public money and causing endless pain and trauma to the citizens of Assam, the final draft of NRC was made public. Right after the publication of NRC, pressure started mounting on the ruling dispensation to rethink their stance on NRC. More so importantly, according to a report published by the reputed human rights organization, Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), those excluded from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam spent about Rs 7,836 crore for NRC
hearings and many have been so economically crippled that they will not be able to challenge their exclusion before the Foreigners’ Tribunals.
In a bizarre turn of events, Assam’s Health and Finance Minister, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sharma,said, “Assam state BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and Assam government opined that the NRC, which was prepared under
the supervision of the Supreme Court and by the state coordinator Prateek Hajela in Assam, has failed to fulfill the aspiration of the people of Assam. There were many gaps and spaces and we have already pointed out in public and various forums. Various social organisations of Assam have already filed petitions before the Supreme Court seeking review of the present process. The present NRC process should be scrapped. We should be a part of the national NRC process. When the national NRC will be prepared,
Assam should be made part it”.
Passing of the CITIZENSHIP AMENDMENT ACT and endless delay in framing rules for the same. Amidst nationwide protests , the Parliament passed the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, so as to give citizenship to the persecuted religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. After the CAA was made effective on 10thJanuary, 2020, millions of people of Assam whose names were dropped from the NRC, saw a ray of hope. However, any Parliament Act to be effective in real terms, needs a set framework of rules for implementation. According to a report published in the reputed The Hindu newspaper,
“More than six months after the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019, was passed by Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is yet to frame rules or inform Parliament about the delay in doing so.
Without rules being notified, the Act cannot come into force or be implemented “.
In effect, the absurd quagmire of CAA/NRC has witnessed loss of 70 lives in the protests which erupted across the country, dented Assam’s public exchequer with more than thousand crores of money, caused endless pain and anxiety to millions of citizens of Assam. And at the end of it all, many a Bhandari Das continue to beseech for mercy. Let us murmur to our selves these immortal lines from’ Dover Beach ‘ and wish to ourselves ‘This too shall pass ‘-
The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night”.
With you, Bhandari Das.