State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

Activists hold placards as they shout slogans during a protest against the exclusion of applicants in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, in New Delhi on September 5, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

State of despair: Millions left off Assam citizen list

  • Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC
  • “Two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC,” an activist said

NEW DELHI: Ahmed Toweb says his life has taken a turn for the worse since Aug. 31 last year, when his name was left off the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a 7-year-old program to identify “genuine” citizens in India’s eastern state of Assam.
“I’ve faced rejection in three marriage proposals in the last six months. Only my name has been excluded in my family of nine. How is it possible that my parents and other siblings are Indians and I am a foreigner?” Toweb, 28, a social and political activist from Barpara village in the Bongaigaon district of Assam, told Arab News.
“The entire list is faulty and not prepared properly,” he added.
Assam became the first state in India to file a citizenship list last year when it published the NRC, which excluded about 1.9 million people.
The NRC is a by-product of violent civil strife in Assam in the 1980s, when students and political activists led a popular movement to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
To end the agitation, New Delhi signed the Assam Accord with students and the local government in 1985. It ordered a new list of citizens and resulted in a decree that people who entered the state after March 25, 1971, would be declared foreigners.
However, following the accord, no real progress was delivered.
In 2013, the Supreme Court expedited the process and fixed a time frame to complete the NRC process, before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014 and claimed credit for the list.
With the advent of the BJP government in Assam in 2016, there were allegations that the party was using the NRC to target Bengali-speaking Muslims and consolidate its core vote bloc among Bengali-speaking Hindus.
To save its core Hindu constituency, the BJP brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a law that allows citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists from neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims.
For Ahmed Toweb, the debacle has caused concern about the future, especially if his appeal to be included in the NRC is rejected.
“I was very active when the NRC was being prepared, helping others to fill up forms and collect the right documents. Muslims thought the NRC would take off the stigma of being called illegal Bangladeshis, but we failed to understand the designs of the government,” he said, adding that Hindus now have the “advantage of the CAA, but we are left to our own fate.”
Those not listed on the NRC are sent a rejection letter by the government, after which they can appeal to the Foreign Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body, and submit documents to “prove their citizenship.”
“It’s more than a year, and the reason for our non-inclusion has not been explained. As a result, we are in limbo,” Toweb said.
Fatema Begum from Bongaigaon district agreed and said she faces the same dilemma. Her husband is in the NRC, but she is not.
“What will happen to my married life and family if I am declared stateless? Already I am facing a problem. I can’t get a ration from the government shop because my name is not in the NRC,” Begum, 29, told Arab News.
Bongaigaon-based social activist, Rubul Iftikar, said Begum is not alone and that “the situation is so grim, that in his district, two married women have gone insane because their husbands left them after their name was not in the NRC.
“Some young girls who are not in the NRC list are not finding a groom. It’s a desperate situation where Muslims are not at all hopeful that the system would give them justice after the introduction of the CAA,” Iftikar told Arab News.
Experts said there are other motivations behind the NRC.
“The most enduring belief is that the NRC has an inherent bias against Muslims,” Assam-based lawyer A Sabur Tapader told Arab News.
Last year, after the release of the NRC, the BJP rejected the list and called for a review following reports that more than 60 percent of the 1.9 million left out were Hindus.
“The NRC is a political tool for the ruling BJP, and they want to woo the Bengali Hindu voters again by saying that they are fighting for them in court,” he added.
Now there are reports that the BJP is moving the Supreme Court to review the NRC again.
In the meantime, the process has left Bengali Hindus feeling confused, too, with some saying they have become a “political pendulum.”
“It’s difficult to trust the government. Assam will never accept the CAA because of its history. The government just wants to keep the issue alive and keep people fighting in the name of religion,” said Biplab Das of Sonipat district in Assam.
Das’ name is in the list, but his children are not included in the NRC.
Tapader said that with Assam elections scheduled for early next year, the government is reaching out to the Supreme Court to seek a reprieve.
“They have not yet framed the rules of the CAA, and it takes time to implement it. So people now understand the hidden motive of the BJP,” he said.
Delhi-based political analyst Jayanta Kalita said the BJP has an “ulterior motive” in implementing the NRC.
“The BJP had an ulterior motive when it talked about the NRC before 2014. It was not at all concerned about the grave threat posed by the influx of migrants from Bangladesh to Assam’s ethnic demography. Assam made a mistake by trusting the BJP. It showed its true communal colors by passing the CAA that is intended to benefit Hindu migrants,” Kalita told Arab News.
“Assam can’t be allowed to become a dumping ground for illegal immigrants,” he added.


England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

Updated 14 June 2021

England delays full lifting of virus restrictions

  • Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed "Freedom Day"
  • Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to "ease off the accelerator"

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay to the full lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England due to a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.
The delay comes as a blow to Johnson’s plans to fully reopen the UK economy on June 21 after months of gradually easing restrictions since March.
Newspapers had been counting down to what had been dubbed “Freedom Day,” which was set to mark an end to all social distancing restrictions and the reopening of nightclubs.
But Johnson said a sharp rise in infections had prompted a decision to “ease off the accelerator” and focus instead on ramping up vaccinations.
“On the evidence I can see right now, I’m confident that we will not need more than four weeks and won’t need to go beyond July 19,” Johnson told a press briefing.
Health policy is devolved in the four nations that make up the UK, handled separately in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Scotland, which was due to move to the lowest level of restrictions on June 28, is also expected to announce a delay to its reopening.
In England, most current rules — including limits on the number of people who can meet in pubs and restaurants — will remain in place until July 19, although restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings will be lifted.
Large scale pilot events, such as Euro 2020 football matches, will also go ahead as planned.
The more transmissible Delta variant, first identified in India, is now responsible for 96 percent of UK cases, and positive tests have jumped 50 percent in the last week.
Total reported cases are now at their highest since February — around 8,000 new infections a day.
The Delta variant is believed to be around 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in Kent, southeast England.
That strain forced the country to go into another three-month lockdown in January.
Nevertheless hospital admissions and deaths remain low, thanks in large part to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout.
More than 55 percent of adults in the UK have had two vaccine jabs.
Newspapers have hinted at dissent within Johnson’s cabinet over the delay, with The Times citing an unnamed minister as saying it was “a very odd decision.”
Johnson accepted that “we cannot simply eliminate Covid, we must learn to live with it,” but added that “once the adults of this country have been overwhelmingly vaccinated... we will be in a far stronger position to... live with this disease.”
The government hopes that two thirds of all adults will have received two shots by July 19.
A study released Monday found that two jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine stopped the need for in-patient treatment in 96 percent of cases of the new variant.
With a double dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot, the rate was 92 percent.
The government had hoped to allow crowds to return unrestricted to pubs and clubs next week, with the hard-hit hospitality industry warning it is on its last legs.
Trade association UKHospitality estimated that a month’s delay in lifting the restrictions would cost the sector around £3 billion ($4.23 billion) in sales.
“A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably,” said its chief executive Kate Nicholls.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

Updated 14 June 2021

France’s army chief Lecointre steps down, replaced by General Burkhard

  • General Francois Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected

PARIS: France’s chief of staff of the armed forces, General Francois Lecointre, is stepping down to retire and will be replaced by General Thierry Burkhard, the French Presidency said in a statement on Sunday.
Burkhard was up to now army’s chief of land staff. Lecointre’s retirement was widely expected.
The announcement comes after President Emmanuel Macron announced a drawdown in Mali which will take several months of planning.


New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

Updated 14 June 2021

New Zealand’s Ardern pans mosque attacks film amid backlash

  • The US-backed film ‘They Are Us’ has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims
  • Jacinda Ardern says filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday criticized a planned movie about her response to the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks as poorly timed and focused on the wrong subject.
The US-backed film “They Are Us” has sparked an intense backlash among New Zealand Muslims, with community leaders slamming the project for pushing a “white savior” narrative.
Ardern said the attacks – when a white supremacist gunman ran amok at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 51 and seriously injuring another 40 – remained “very raw” for many New Zealanders.
She said filmmakers had not consulted her about the movie, which is set to star Australia’s Rose Byrne as the center-left leader.
“In my view, which is a personal view, it feels very soon and very raw for New Zealand,” Ardern told TVNZ.
“And while there are so many stories that should be told at some point, I don’t consider mine to be one of them – they are the community’s stories, the families’ stories.”
One of the movie’s producers, Philippa Campbell, quit the project in the wake of Ardern’s comments, saying she regretted the shock and hurt it had caused.
“I now agree the events of March 15, 2019, are too raw for film at this time and do not want to be involved with a project that is causing such distress,” she said in a statement.
Ardern won widespread praise for her empathetic and inclusive handling of the attacks, the worst mass shooting in modern New Zealand history, including wearing a scarf when meeting mourners.
The movie’s title references a line from a speech she gave in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity when she pledged to support the Muslim community and tighten gun laws.
A petition from the National Islamic Youth Association calling for the production to be shut down has gathered more than 60,000 signatures.
The association said the proposed film “sidelines the victims and survivors and instead centers the response of a white woman.”
It said the Muslim community had not been properly consulted about the project, which has been scripted by New Zealand writer Andrew Niccol.
“Entities and individuals should not seek to commercialize or profit from a tragedy that befell our community, neither should such an atrocity be sensationalized,” association co-chair Haris Murtaza said.
Muslim poet Mohamed Hassan said the filmmakers needed to focus on members of the community that bore the brunt of the attacks, not use them as props in a feel-good story about Ardern.
“You do not get to tell this story. You do not get to turn this into a White Savior narrative. This is not yours,” he tweeted.
The attacker, Australian self-declared white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, was jailed for life without parole last year, the first time a whole-of-life term has been imposed in New Zealand.