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Assam's refugees hope for return of citizenship bill

BAMUNIGAON (KAMRUP): For the five,000-odd citizens at the Bangladeshi refugee camp here, the approaching Lok Sabha election may neatly be the final they get to vote in.

"All the more reason to vote. My father could not vote till 1985, when the residents of the camp finally got their voter cards. But we can vote. We have a say in matters that concern us," says Subhash Barman, 43, whose family crossed over from Sylhet in Bangladesh in 1964. Subhash was once born within the camp.

The residents of the camp here, arrange in 1964 long earlier than the 1971 point in time for determining citizenship in Assam, were supplied voter playing cards through the government, granting them a point of legitimacy no person ever questioned. But so much has modified since 2014.

This time, they to find themselves in a liminal house of belonging, stuck in a maze of citizenship exams without a manner out. The 3 pressing issues are the National Register of Citizens (NRC) update, the ever-looming risk of notices served through Foreigners' Tribunals and the dread of finding their names marked as 'D' (doubtful) voter on the electoral rolls.

"We want the Narendra Modi government to come back and re-introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill," Subhash says. It, after all, is the only citizenship check the inmates here know they may be able to unquestionably pass.The proposed modification to the Citizenship Act sought to extend citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bill, which resulted in an uproar around the northeast, did not make it past the Parliament and is about to lapse with the outgoing Lok Sabha. For those here, however, it provides the one ray of hope in an differently bleak situation.

"We also support the NRC update process. Instead of facing constant harassment, the matter will be resolved once and for all," Subhash says. The NRC update procedure, initiated throughout the Congress regime however taken ahead throughout BJP's rule within the state, has excluded maximum within the camp. Why the optimism then? "At least we are getting to know about cases in Foreigners' Tribunals against us and being marked as 'D' voters," says Malay Ghosh, who was once moved here from the refugee camp in Silchar a few years ago.

Things additionally modified when the Supreme Court struck down the Illegal Migrants (Determination through Tribunal) Act, 1983, which lay the onus of evidence on whoever filed a grievance difficult the citizenship standing of any other. The Supreme Court verdict had come on the foundation of a petition filed through Sarbananda Sonowal, who is now leader minister of Assam. "Since then, things have been difficult. Anyone can file a complaint and we have to keep making the rounds at foreigners' tribunals or end up being detained," saysSubhash. The IM(DT) Act, which they say helped them, alternatively, was once offered through the Congress govt below Indira Gandhi. Will they factor that into their selection for the Lok Sabha election? "We need to look at the present scenario. What is past is past," he replies.

"Right now, it is BJP all the way for us. This harassment has to end," says Anil Chanda. He was once six when his family crossed the border to go into India in 1967. He produces the refugee registration certificate his father got. "Walked from Bibidail, Sylhet by bus, Karimganj by bus, Badarpur by train, Silchar by train," the file outlines his family's trajectory. "This is my family's history," he provides.

History and legacy, alternatively, will not be fallback choices any more. "It was Laxmi Puja last year. Two policemen and the gaon burah (village headman) came to our doorstep and handed us a piece of paper - a notice by the foreigners' tribunal for my mother," says Joy Barman, a trader. The notice informs Jyotsna Barman, 41, that SP (Kamrup) has accused her of getting into the state after the point in time and she or he will have to make her case earlier than the Foreigners' Tribunal in a hearing scheduled in two months, failing which the tribunal will take an ex parte determination.

And this is the place things get difficult for most of the people. "No one else in our family had been marked 'D' voter. We have all the documents proving her status as a registered refugee who followed due process. The charge is baseless. But there are legal aspects to this that are difficult to comprehend. To make sense of what was happening, I need legal help. But it costs Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000," he says.

The inmates here say the camp was once arrange through the government in 1964, long earlier than the March 25, 1971 point in time for determining citizenship in Assam.

"What do you think happens? They see the names of voters, strike off the Bengali ones as suspicious. Whenever someone is picked up, the only explanation we get is 'suspicious' behaviour. What this could be is not for us to know," any other inmate provides.

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