Assam: 1.4 lakh ‘Doubtful Voters’- How authentic are the numbers; Is Violence a solution?


-Shweta Raj Kanwar

July 1, 2017: The Nationality of a section of the population in India is still doubted and as per the Election Commission of India, they have been branded as doubtful citizens and have been categorized as D-voters thereby barring them from casting their votes and having a say in the upcoming elections. In view of this, a 25-yr-old Yakub Ali lost his life in a police firing at Goalpara district in Assam. He was one among hundreds of protesters who were trying to block the National Highway 37 to protest against the alleged harassment of D-voters by the border police and foreigners tribunals. 

The problem of illegal immigrants is one discussed by all but a solution to the influx is something no body has tried to initiate, and even if they did, no results were born from the same. As many as 100 foreigners' tribunals, set up by the Supreme Court directive, are reviewing the list of D-voters, who were put in that list by the state government citing lack of proper citizenship credentials and they have been deprived of their right to vote. Many such voters, mostly Bengali speaking Muslims and Hindus of Bangladeshi origin, have been lodged in detention centres across the state.

As per the record stated by The Telegraph, a total of 231657 'D' voters were marked in 1977 which increased to 3.5 lakh in the next revision. There are about 1.4 lakh of them now and each one of them must prove their Indian Citizenship before the foreigner's tribunals. However, a point to be noted in this regard is- Are the Tribunal's calculations credible?

There are cases that prove that the ECI was sluggish in interpreting the Nationality of certain people as is evident from a DNA report. A case in point is that of one Abu Taher Ahmed. A letter from the Foreigners' Tribunal asking him to prove his Indian citizenship had been dispatched to the police station, and Abu was to present documents by August 8.

Abu, 33, who had joined the Assam police in 2008, said he was shocked. "I was born and brought up here. And, so were my father and grandfather," he told DNA over the phone from South Salmara. He added that he presented his papers at the Foreigner's Tribunal on June 8, and that he will need to be present on the next hearing on August 8.

Abu says that the names of his grandfather Shohidullah Sheikh and father Maziur Rahman were in the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC). And the 1966 voters' list had his grandfather's name. "My father passed the 10th board exams in 1978, and there are school documents proving this. I also have land documents," said Abu, who was born and grown up in South Salmara.

South Salmara superintendent of police Amrit Bhuyan says when Abu joined the force, there was a verification of his nationality. Abu, however, says there were four rounds of verification. Bhuyan says the case dates back to 2000, when prior to joining the police force in 2008, Abu lived in Guwahati doing odd jobs. In 2000, the voter's registration put Abu in the D-voters' (doubtful voters) list. And the summon from the Foreigners' Tribunal is in connection to the case. "He has the papers, and he just has to show them. I'm sure after this hearing, he will not face much trouble," said Bhuyan.

Aman Wadud, a lawyer fighting these cases says that most of these cases are marred by arbitrary and shoddy investigations. "The investigating authorities, like the Election Commission of India and the Assam Border police, randomly pick and frame Indian citizens as illegal immigrants and send their cases to the Foreigners Tribunal. More than 80% of these so-called "illegal immigrants" are held Indian by Foreigners Tribunal," says Wadud.
It may be mentioned that the Tribunal's mistake is not a lone one, and such cases have emerged from the 100-odd tribunals of the state. In the month of March too, 11 people referred to the Tribunal, were found to be descendants of Moulavi Amiruddin, the 1st Deputy Speaker of Assam Assembly who served between 1937 and 1946.
Coming back to the firing case that took place yesterday claiming one life, All Assam Minority Students Union General Secretary has said that t was a calculated plan of the Goalpara deputy commissioner and the SP to unleash violence on people from the minority community. However, the police verdict is different.
The protesters were trying to block National Highway 37 in protest against the alleged harassment of D (doubtful) voters by the border police and foreigners tribunals. "When the police and CRPF personnel prevented them from blocking the highway, the protesters started pelting stones at them and at passing vehicles. The security personnel had to resort to a lathicharge and fire a few rounds in the air to bring the situation under control," Goalpara superintendent of police Amitava Sinha said.
Sinha said the protesters were led by advocate Nazrul Islam, who was arrested in February this year for assaulting a member of a foreigners tribunal in Goalpara. "After being recently released on bail, Islam had sought permission for a road blockade but was denied consent. Yet, he and his supporters went ahead with the blockade. We arrested a few of them while they were on their way to the protest venue but some managed to reach the venue and tried to block the highway," he said.
And political parties have not failed to gain political leverage out of this issue wherein the blame game has begun all over again. The AIUDF demanded a judicial probe and financial compensation for the family of the deceased and for the injured. The party's president, Badruddin Ajmal, said the situation in the state had turned complex with the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in the state continuing to neglect issues like update of National Register of Citizens and a solution to the D-voter problem.
As reported by The Wire, videos of protesters arguing with personnel from Assam Police and the CRPF have been circulating on social media, which also showed police tearing off their banner and then resorting to  lathi charge without much provocation. The police action dispersed the crowd. However, some local youth, angry at the police action, began to hurl stones at them after sometime.

It may be mentioned that be it the Congress or the BJP at the Centre, the problem of illegal immigrants has never seen a solution. Paying them financial compensation, demanding a judicial probe, after their death in a protest etc. are only temporary ways to avert the situation but the real need of the hour is to frame policies that would render results to solve this problem. Protests, killings, mob violence, political blame-game, allegations will see no end. It is proper policies and solutions that matter the most!

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Video Courtesy: Hussain Ahmed Madani's Facebook post

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