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What Assam’s NRC Head Could Have Done And Did Not Do To Help Those Whose Citizenship Have Been Maliciously Questioned

Prateek Hajela and the NRC did what RSS and Islamic terrorists failed, divided Assam on religious line.

Today, again, multiple stories of malicious objection have unfolded. Prominent stories are of Dr Hafiz Ahmed, president of Char Chapori Sahitya Parishad, a literary body to promote the Assamese language among the Char Chapori community of Assam.

Another story is of senior journalist Zamser Ali. He is not just a journalist — he is one of few individuals who has been travelling length and breadth of the state to support Indian citizens who have been affected by arbitrary processes of citizenship determination.

There is a common thread: both of them are diehard fans of Assamese literature, language and culture. In fact, Dr Ahmed got physically attacked for his love for the Assamese language. But most importantly both Dr Ahmed and Ali have been working tirelessly to protect the citizenship rights of genuine Indian citizens who are the victim of faulty, prejudice, and xenophobic processes, which is a killer quality to get harassed.

As expected, unknown objectors questioned their citizenship, and Prateek Hajela’s (Principal Secretary, Home, and the State Coordinator for the National Register of Citizens) office sent notice to their entire dynasty to appear before the disposal officers, a hundred kilometres away from their present addresses.

It’s not the story of just Dr Ahmed and Ali; it is of millions of genuine Indian citizens, mostly Muslims, who are forced to queue up while being on fasting for the holy month of Ramzan.

The distrust, anger and hatred among these people against the objectors, to be precise to those “Assamese Hindu names” will have far-reaching impacts on Assamese society. The task that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Islamic fundamentalists failed to do in decades has been done by Hajela sahab very swiftly — he has divided the minds of Assamese people on religious line.

What could Haleja have done to avoid this historical injustice to the people of Assam? Hajela sahab had every opportunity to stop this menace. Here is how:

1) At the very beginning of the objection process, he shouldn’t have bowed down to the pressure of Assamese chauvinists with the provision of citizenship law pertaining to the malicious objection against the genuine Indian citizen. I must remind that in the initial form for objection, it was clearly mentioned that if someone maliciously files a complaint, she or he will have to face the law and according to section 17 of Citizenship Act, the punishment is up to five years of jail term and fine up to Rs 50,000. But under pressure, he removed the provision from the form.

Also read: Bulk NRC Complaints Filed in Cyclostyled Manner to Harass People: Congress

2) Secondly, Hajela sahab must have observed that the number of genuine/organic objections were very few, hardly a few hundred till the last days of the window. When more than 2.5 lakhs objections were filed on the last day, and AASU claimed credit for it, he must have ordered an inquiry to verify the genuineness of those objections. In fact, the media picked up the issue, many organisations raised their concerns. But Hajela sahab remained a mute spectator.

3) He missed the third opportunity when he silently accepted that he did a sub-standard job in preparing the complete draft NRC by accepting objection without verifying the veracity of lakhs objections against whom those have already found to be genuine Indian citizens. He had ample opportunity to verify the objections with the backend data before sending the notices to millions of peoples. How could he not anticipate that it would create havoc among the genuine Indian citizens whose names have already been included after a rigorous verification process? But he remained seated over the time bomb only to get it to burst.

On May 8, 2019, he informed the Supreme Court that the objectors were not turning up in the hearing. The SC gave him a free hand to deal with the situation while keeping the law in mind. What he did so far to deal with this disaster? He took four days to release instructions, which was again a farce! He asked the disposal officers to decide the case ex-parte in the absence of the objector. He didn’t instruct to dismiss the objections. That means the NRC authority became party against the citizens whom it has already authenticated to be genuine Indian.

He also instructed those disposal officers not to disclose the identity of the objector. This is against the basic principle of natural justice. However, from the perspective of the risk of igniting communal distrust, I think this could have been a smart move, but he has missed the bus.

Since the Supreme Court has entrusted him with such great responsibility and categorically mentioned to follow the law, he should do the followings to minimise the terror he has already inflicted upon the masses and to save Assam from distrust, anger, frustration and anxiety:

1) Hajela should institute a high level, time-bound inquiry to find out the malicious objections and reject those objections without inflicting further suffering in the name appearing before hearing.

Also read: In-Built Discrimination in NRC Procedures; Disproportionately Excludes Religious, Linguistic Minorities: 48 Former Civil Servants in Open Letter

2) If Hajela still goes with the hearing, in view of section 101 and 102, the objections should be dismissed, not examined ex-parte.

3) Hajela should also instruct his disposal officers to provide a written acknowledgement to the person against whom the objection was filed that the objector wasn’t present in the hearing.

4) Hajela has already asked his officers not to share the identity, which is against the principle of natural justice. But since the aggrieved party wouldn’t be able to take any legal recourse against the objector (without the identity), who filed objection only to harass the Indian citizen. The NRC authority should initiate legal action against those objectors without further delay for the peace and tranquillity in Assam.

But seeing his track record in the last few years, I have a strong intuition that Hajela wouldn’t do any of these. Instead, there is a huge risk that he might hold entry of lakhs of genuine Indian citizens from final NRC against whom the malicious objections were filed. He would do this only to please his political masters.

This is a period of crisis for Assam and Assamese society. I am optimist that more and more sane voices will be raised to overcome this crisis.

This post first appeared on Abdul Kalam Azad’s Facebook

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