Before Citizenship Bill Is Tabled, Uncertainty For Assam Hindu Migrants

Six lakh Hindu migrants are believed to have been left out of the Assam NRC list published earlier this year.

Hindu migrants in Assam are now hinging their hopes on the Citizenship Amendment Bill.

Guwahati:

Born under the British rule, Sushil Burman was a child when India achieved Independence and then went through a messy partition. In 1956, he and his father fled from Mymensingh in East Pakistan -- now Bangladesh -- for fear of religious persecution.

"I was still a child when the partition happened, and riots broke out all around. We came to India because my father believed it was not safe for Hindus in East Pakistan anymore," says Sushil Burman, now a 75-year-old man excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

For now, the Burman family -- fishermen living on the banks of the Brahmaputa -- remain out of the Assam NRC list. Though they have handwritten migration certificates confirming their refugee status, they are acceptable to neither NRC officials nor foreigner tribunals.

"We are very hopeful that the Citizenship Amendment Bill will be passed this time. Without it, Bengali Hindu migrants in Assam won't be able to survive. We have supported the BJP for years in the hope that it will fulfil this promise," Sushil Burman said on Sunday, a day before Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to table the controversial bill in the Lok Sabha.

The condition of other Bengali Hindu migrants is no different. The NRC list published earlier this year had excluded over 19 lakh people, of whom Bengali Hindus are believed to account for around six lakh (no break-up of community-wise data was released). Most of them are BJP loyalists, their support for the party stemming from the hope that it will land them a citizenship certificate one day.

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the point of implementing the Citizenship Amendment Bill now was to ensure that Hindu migrants don't get left out when a nationwide NRC exercise is conducted. "Yes, we obviously don't want people who came to India due to religious persecution from being excluded. It has to be done before the nationwide NRC, so that there is no confusion later," he told NDTV.

However, Dr Shantanu Sanyal - an activist who works with Hindu migrants excluded from the Assam NRC - claims that the bill can protect them only if it's unconditional in nature. "We appeal to the centre to make the Citizenship Amendment Bill unconditional for Hindus. Provisions should also be for Indian Hindus who have been excluded from the NRC," said Dr Sanyal, who is also the president of the All Assam Bengali Parishad.

A case in point is Keshab Chauhan, a 55-year-old daily wager who was excluded from the NRC list because he could not prove that his father had migrated to Assam before the 1971 cut-off date. "We were left out of the NRC, and we can pin our hopes only on the Modi government now," he said, voicing a concern that's common to an estimated 20,000 migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

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