India: In Assam, uncertainty over citizenship status grips Bengali colonies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

In Assam, uncertainty over citizenship status grips Bengali colonies

This year, Bikash Saha and Dilip Kumar Basak were planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their neighbourhood puja with a Rs 10 lakh replica of Gujarat’s imposing Somnath temple as the pandal.

INDIA Updated: Sep 02, 2019 06:02 IST

Dhrubo Jyoti and Sadiq Naqvi
Dhrubo Jyoti and Sadiq Naqvi

Barpeta/Guwahati
Several members of the Arja family have been excluded from NRC.
Several members of the Arja family have been excluded from NRC.(HT Photo)

Durga Puja is barely a month away, but the festive mood has been punctured by the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Bengali-dominated village of Khairabari in lower Assam’s Barpeta district.

This year, Bikash Saha and Dilip Kumar Basak were planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their neighbourhood puja with a Rs 10 lakh replica of Gujarat’s imposing Somnath temple as the pandal. The families of neither have made it to the final citizen’s register.

“It seems like they are determined to not accept many of us Bengalis,” said Basak, who runs an iron welding shop. He had submitted his father Narayan Chandra Basak’s citizenship certificate given at a refugee camp in Coochbehar in 1956.

Watch| Day after final Assam NRC list, Center says excluded people ‘not state-less’

 

Day after final Assam NRC list, Center says excluded people ‘not state-less’
A day after publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a clarification.
Play

Unmute

Current Time 0:22
Duration 3:09
Loaded: 41.91%

Fullscreen

Saha, who lives in a small two-bedroom house inside a slum, has bigger problems. He was dubbed a D or doubtful voter five years back. Border police and election officials can mark anyone a D voter if they suspect he or she to be an illegal migrant.

Saha has since been fighting a case against his designation as D voter in the Barpeta foreigners tribunal. His dubious citizenship status has meant that his two children have also been struck off the citizenship rolls.

“We are not sure what to do now,” said Saha’s wife, Padma. “What do we have to fear? We have papers. We will appeal,” she said, waving a sheaf of photocopied documents.

Not everyone is as upbeat. Across Khairabari, where many Hindu Bengali-speaking families settled down after fleeing riots and religious persecution in erstwhile East Pakistan, the exclusion from the NRC has fomented resentment and suffering. Planning finances for trips to the foreigner tribunal for appeals have replaced holiday plan buzz at neighborhood pan shops.

Hari Arja, for example, had to pawn his wife’s gold earrings for Rs 7,000 to attend a hearing on his NRC status in August. He had submitted documents that showed his grandfather Mahadev Das, who fled to India from then East Pakistan, was on the 1970 voter list, but failed to finally prove that he was indeed the grandson – a consequence of the family taking to the Arya Samaj faith and changing their surname.

“We gave our refugee card, our voter ID and our PAN card. We do not know if they want to throw out all Bengalis. Maybe they do not want us here,” he said. His neighbours, all Bengali-speaking Hindus and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), nodded.

HT found similar expressions of exclusion and worry throughout Bengali Hindu settlements in Barpeta, Guwahati, Hojai, and Silchar. “We have lived through worse times but now this is a new devil,” said Arja’s neighbour, Biswanath Das.

Guwahati’s Panbazar area is a world away from the slushy mud roads of Khairabari, but surgeon Paromita Chakraborty is as worried as Saha.

Chakraborty hails from a respected caste Hindu family. But on the draft list released in June last year, she found that she and her sisters’ names were missing. In addition, her husband, Pinaki Bhattacharjee, and their son were also out of the NRC.

“We thought it was a clerical error. My husband’s grandfather sold land to the then chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi in 1951, and their family draws lineage from the chief priests of the Kamakhya temple. I utterly fail to understand what happened,” she said.

On Saturday, she was relieved to see that she, her husband and son had made it. But her elderly mother, 75-year-old Sulekha Chakraborty, had not. Sulekha, who hails from Tezpur, had submitted her matriculation certificate from 1962 and her a document showing her father’s name on the 1971 voter roll.

“She went for a hearing three times. We are not worried about the appeal because we have the documents but this is humiliating, and nothing but harassment,” she added.

Harassment is also how Sanjay Sammanit, a resident of Salmara-Dumuria in Assam’s Baksa district, described the process that excluded his family from the NRC. Sammanit’s father, Satyendra, had left then East Pakistan in 1964 and possessed a so-called citizenship card, which Sammanit submitted. But to his dismay, he realised that his father’s name is spelled slightly differently, without the Y, in his school-leaving certificate, which he had submitted to prove his lineage.

“They want to throw us out. I do not trust these tribunals for appeal. I have heard they are biased,” he added.

Four hundred kilometres away in Hailakandi, pan shop owner Raghunath Das would have nodded in agreement. The 55-year-old was born to parents, who fled violence in East Pakistan and was the fourth of five brothers and a sister. His parents spent most of their life travelling across the state with the eldest brother, Chunilal, who was in the border force. As a result, they never got any documents made or stayed at a place for long enough to be included on the voter rolls.

“I do not think they ever thought we will need documents this badly. When the NRC process began in 2015, I had no papers of my own,” said Das. He ultimately submitted his school-admission certificate from 1969 and his brother’s service record certificate, but still found himself out of the NRC. “I do not know how to appeal or what more I can get,” he said.

Bengali-speaking Hindu communities comprise over 6 million people across Assam. They dominate the Barak Valley and many of them carry the scars of violence from East Pakistan towns and villages where clashes erupted even before Partition.

The University of Delhi sociologist Nabanipa Bhattacharjee said the migration into Assam was spurred on by the inclusion of Sylhet in East Pakistan and further ballooned in the aftermath of communal riots in 1950.

“Particularly in erstwhile Cachar, the refugee relief and rehabilitation measures were shoddy and dismal, to say the least,” she said.

The Barak Valley – comprising the Muslim-majority districts of Hailakandi and Karimganj and the Hindu-majority district of Cachar – was an early hunting ground for the BJP. An overwhelming majority of the seats it won in the state in the early 90s came from the region.

Political commentator Sushanta Talukdar said the refusal of mainstream parties to deal with the citizenship anxieties of the local population in Barak left an opening for the BJP. Over time, the party expanded its base to other pockets in the state. Though Talukdar is careful to mention that this support may be temporary and that other parties such as the Congress continue to have some traction among Bengali speakers.

“These communities were suffering on the question of voting rights or citizenship. In this context, the BJP brought up the citizenship amendment bill and found takers especially among those who migrated because of religious persecution,” he added. The bill promises citizenship to non-Muslim refugees, who have come to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

But after Saturday’s final NRC list, a perception has taken hold that large numbers of Bengali-speaking Hindu people have been excluded. This perception has been fuelled by comments made by senior BJP leaders themselves, such as state unit chief Ranjeet Kumar Dass. Dass said many refugees, who came to India before 1971, were not included and people with surnames such as “names like Saha, Ganguly, Biswas etc. were intentionally excluded”.

There appeared to be three big reasons for the exclusion. One, that many such families only had their so-called citizenship cards, issued at refugee camps, to show as proof of their presence in Assam before March 25, 1971 – the cutoff date for citizenship.

“But the authorities did not accept the citizenship certificates and the refugee cards in many places,” said Santanu Naik, advisor to the North East Linguistic and Ethnic Coordination Committee.

In a report to the Supreme Court in 2016, state NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela cited many reasons for not accepting citizenship certificates and refugee registration certificates, key among them being that the issuing authority’s offices had closed down, making verification impossible. These documents were also found prone to forgery. The top court allowed the certificate to be used, but after greater scrutiny.

“The claims made on the basis of Refugee Ration Cards, Migration Document or Citizenship Registration Certificates were mostly rejected. This is the reason behind the large exclusion of Bengali Hindu people from NRC this time,” said Taniya Laskar, a Silchar-based activist.

Many Bengali speaking women from West Bengal and Tripura, who live in Assam, also complained that their documents from the two states were not accepted. Bengali-speaking Hindus also form a sizeable number of the three categories of people who were automatically excluded: declared foreigners, those marked doubtful voters and those with cases pending before a foreigners tribunal.

“Based on perception, it seems like a large section of Bengali Hindus may have been excluded. The BJP may be worried because of its electoral support base among them,” said Talukdar.

The BJP appears to be aware of this. Dilip Paul, a BJP legislator from Silchar said the NRC final list was a “flop show” and admitted that the party was under some pressure after many Bengali Hindus found themselves excluded from the NRC. “We will bring the CAB. Just wait and watch. It is a matter of time,” added Rajdeep Ray, the Silchar MP.

“Since the beginning, the BJP has been promising to protect the interests of Bengali-speaking Hindus and bring the citizenship amendment bill but it has betrayed these people. They used the bill only for polarisation and votes,” said Ripun Bora, state Congress chief.

First Published: Sep 01, 2019 23:45 IST

India: ‘NRC important for a foreigner-free state’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)

 

‘NRC important for a foreigner-free state’: Sarbananda Sonowal

20th Kargil Vijay Diwas: “Assam’s people want the NRC to be error-free and have no place for infiltrators. Our government pledged to build a foreigner free Assam,” said chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

INDIA Updated: Jul 26, 2019 09:13 IST

Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times
Sarbananda Sonowal,Sadiq Naqvi,flood and erosion
Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.(PTI)

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and over 70 people have died as heavy rain has triggered floods in Assam. Assam chief minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, spoke to Sadiq Naqvi about the flood situation and the steps his government is taking to tackle it. Edited excerpts:

How bad is the situation and what are the challenges you are facing in dealing with it?

The flood and erosion problems have been there in Assam for almost 70 years…The biggest challenge now is to provide adequate relief, medical checkups, and fodder for livestock. Standing by each and every affected person and to provide relief is our primary duty… Earlier, during the Congress’s rule, the relief distribution was not managed properly and the affected people would not get it at the right time. Many middlemen would siphon off the relief and lots of scams would happen… Over the last three years, the relief management system has become more efficient and its quality has improved.

Could you give us an example?

Earlier, the families [of those who died in floods] would not get ex gratia from the government and they would end up struggling and going from one office to other. We ordered that within 48 hours, deputy commissioners would visit houses of flood victims and hand over the ex gratia payments. So far, 71 persons [as on Wednesday] have died. Their families have been given Rs 4 lakh ex gratia payment each within 48 hours.

What has been the estimated loss so far?

We cannot estimate it at the moment. Roads, bridges, culverts, houses, farms, crops have been damaged. Government schools and health centres have been hit. Tremendous damage has happened. But to get specific information about the damage, we will have to do spot verifications. We have ordered every department to collect the information… once the information comes, we will send it to the Centre.

Assam has suffered floods for years. Has the state government received adequate funds from the Centre apart from the yearly State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF)?

In 2017, the Centre allocated Rs 2,000 crore for the Northeast. Assam received Rs 1,200 crore out of it. This was a special fund for infrastructure. Prime Minister [Narendra Modi] visited [the region] and met five chief ministers separately. A committee was formed under the leadership of [government think tank] NITI Aayog’s vice-chairman [Rajiv Kumar] to provide a permanent solution to problems of erosion, floods and landslides in Assam and the Northeast… A Northeast Water Management Authority has been proposed. Through the [Union] jal shakti ministry, steps will be taken to implement the proposal. Nobody gave so much attention to this issue as Prime Minister Modi has. Modi released Rs 251 crore from the SDRF and sent the jal shakti minister [Gajendra Singh Shekhawat] who came and reviewed the flood situation…Both Modi and home minister, Amit Shah, have taken note of the situation here. So we are not having any difficulty in managing it…

Does the state need a special package?

We get it every year. It will be given this year as well. The prime minister has assured us that there is nothing to worry and whatever assistance Assam needs, the Centre will provide it.

Many officials are involved in updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Has it impacted the relief work?

Over the last three years, 55,000 of our employees have been involved in the NRC exercise… If 55,000 out of 5 lakh [employees] are engaged only in one work, then you can imagine the kind of challenge the government has had to face in implementing its schemes. But we have not taken a step back and have succeeded in implementing them.

Do you think NRC work could have been suspended to put more officials on flood relief duty.?

In the times of any calamity, our first duty should be to provide relief to people… This is a people’s democracy — of the people, by the people, for the people. For the sake of humanity, standing by the flood-affected people is our biggest duty. On this issue, there should be no compromise in any situation. If we do not stand by the flood-affected people, it will be a big sin, an injustice, a violation of their human rights.

The state government has been demanding verification of the NRC. Are you not satisfied with how the exercise has progressed?

A verification is important. Such a massive constitutional document is going to be brought out for the first time. The document is about the security and identity of the bona fide Indian citizens. It is a question also of the country’s unity and sovereignty. Identification and detection of illegal immigrants has to be done through the NRC… Assam’s people want the NRC to be error-free and have no place for infiltrators. Our government pledged to build a foreigner free Assam. For that a foreigner free NRC is important.

.

First Published: Jul 25, 2019 23:49 IST

Republicans Freaking Out As Last Of The Ballots Are Being Counted

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE DAILY BEAST NEWS AGENCY)

(TO ME, AS AN INDEPENDENT VOTER, IT IS REPUGNANT HOW THE REPUBLICANS TRY TO DISALLOW THE POOR PEOPLE FROM VOTING AND WHEN THEY DO VOTE THEY TRY TO NOT ALLOW THEIR BALLOTS TO COUNT, DISGUSTING LEVELS OF DISHONESTY!) 

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Republicans Freak Out as New Ballots Threaten Florida Senate Win

New ballots in Broward County have conspiracy theorists—including the state’s top elected officials—calling for an investigation of Democrats.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

As the Republican margin in Florida’s U.S. Senate race narrowed and the contest headed toward a manual recount, everyone from elected Republicans to online conspiracy-mongers began screaming foul on Thursday night.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is clinging to a roughly 34,000-vote lead over Sen. Bill Nelson (D), held a press conference at the Florida governor’s mansion in which he called on law enforcement to launch an investigation and announced that he and the National Republican Senate Committee were bringing a lawsuit against officials in Broward County, where many votes are still being counted.

In other words, the state governor used his state-funded official residence to launch legal action against his own state’s election officials about an election he was a candidate in.

That was merely the formal legal tip of the brewing Republican pushback.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had a social media meltdown, claiming in a long series of tweets that Democratic lawyers had come to Broward to “change the results of the election.”

Marco Rubio

@marcorubio

Now democrat lawyers are descending on . They have been very clear they aren’t here to make sure every vote is counted.

– They are here to change the results of election; &
is where they plan to do it.

4/6

14K people are talking about this

Florida’s gubernatorial race is also tightening. The race between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis had appeared to be over on Tuesday night, when Gillum, the Democrat, conceded. But as the counts continued, particularly in Broward County, the gap between the candidates narrowed so much that it passed the 0.5 percent automatic recount threshold on Thursday afternoon, Politico reported.

The late swing toward the Democrats—powered by South Florida—is so pronounced in the election for Florida’s agriculture commissioner that Democrat Nikki Fried has now moved into the lead after she trailed her Republican rival on Election Night.

As of Thursday night, officials in Broward County—where around 1.2 million people are registered to vote—gave no indication of the number of ballots still to count.

Rubio was hardly the only conservative propagating remarkable theories online about how the election was literally being stolen from them, before the party’s conspiracist-in-chief weighed in Thursday evening:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!

77.5K people are talking about this

That came after far-right activists on Twitter had circulated a hashtag, “#StopTheSteal,” to organize opposition to counting ballots in Florida. Ali Alexander, a self-described philosopher and Republican activist who runs a PAC that’s bankrolled by the billionaire pro-Trump Mercer family, urged his fans to protest in Broward County.

“Protest everything,” Alexander tweeted. “Disrupt everything.”

Ali Alexander 🇺🇸@ali

Who else lives in Broward? We need 10 patriots to start. Where are they counting? Periscope everything. Protest everything. Disrupt everything.

We are a self-governing people.

KevJames@TheRealKevJames
Replying to @ali @JackPosobiec

I live in broward, give us address to and let us show up

284 people are talking about this

In his Thursday press conference, Scott revved up his party’s grassroots, calling for a law-enforcement investigation and accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election.

“I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” Scott said.

Scott also sought to tie Nelson’s recount effort to Hillary Clinton, pointing out that Nelson’s election lawyer, Marc Elias, also worked for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and helped arrange financing for the Fusion GPS “dossier” on Donald Trump. Right-wing media quickly picked up on the Elias connection, with Breitbart devoting top placement on its homepage to a video describing Elias as a “Lawyer Tied to Clinton Campaign & ‘Pee Dossier.’”

Much of the attention online has focused on an unclear video that purports to show ballots being transported in private cars, which Scott supporters say would violate chain-of-custody rules. Rubio and a number of right-wing blogs have promoted the video, which was shot by failed congressional candidate Tim Canova.

Marco Rubio

@marcorubio

This video,posted by an Independent Cong candidate in 18 (who was endorsed by Bernie Sanders in 16) purports to show BrowardCounty ballots being transported from polling places in private cars.

Has anyone in local media looked into this claim or asked elections dept about it?

Tim Canova

@Tim_Canova

Caught On Video: Concerned citizen sees ballots being transported in private vehicles & transferred to rented truck on Election night. This violates all chain of custody requirements for paper ballots. Were the ballots destroyed & replaced by set of fake ballots? Investigate now!

Embedded video

22.8K people are talking about this

Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections didn’t respond to a request for comment about the video. Canova, a former Democrat who came in third on Election Day with an independent challenge against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), has also disputed the results of his own election defeat.

The Republican anxiety in Florida comes as they face worsening odds in another late-counting Senate race, this time in Arizona. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema took a thin lead in the Arizona race on Thursday as more votes were counted.

Houthis Abduct Employees From Norwegian Refugee Council In Yemen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ASHARQ AL-AWSAT DAILY NEWS PAPER OF SAUDI ARABIA)

Middle East

Houthis Abduct Employees from Norwegian Refugee Council

NRC

Aden – Houthi rebels in Yemen detained six Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) national staff and a contracted driver in the Red Sea district of Hodeidah, according to a statement issued by the Council on Monday.

The detention seemed to be based on the fact that when the NRC staff opened the hygiene kit boxes at the distribution, they came to learn that the boxes, which had no markings on the outside, had a text written on the inside of the boxes that said: “The campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for emergency response.”

The boxes were dated January 2015, before the conflict escalated in March 2015 and were originally used for food.

They had been reused by the contracted vender as hygiene kits packaging. Recycling like this is common in the country.

The Oslo-based non-governmental organization confirmed that it is impartial and does not take sides, stressing that it takes this issue extremely seriously and is currently investigating the matter.

“Our highest priorities now are to safeguard the safety and security of our staff, and investigate this matter fully. We are in contact with the local authorities, and we request that the authorities guarantee the safety, security and well-being of our staff in al-Hudaydah, which has been assured.”

In a statement carried by Yemen’s pro-government Sabanew.net news website, Local Affairs Minister Abdul Raqib Fattah said that the staff had been “abducted” by Houthi rebels from the aid group’s offices in the Hali district of Hodeida.