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The Hindu Daily Editorial Discussion 5th Feb, 2019 By Ashish Singh
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A natonal register of exclusion GS Paper Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Page8 Page 9 A national register of exclusion There are few parallels anywhere else of the state itself producing statelessness in the manner that it is doing in Assam America has lost the Afghan war . Once U.S. troops leave, the Taliban is sure to challenge Kabul one way or the other An appeasement Budget The Interim Budget makes clear the class hierarchy in the Modi government's scheme of populism Wrong on the Rohingya Deportation of refugees is legally and morally problematic Visa crackdown Students should be made aware of the risks of falling afoul of U.S. immigration laws The danger of cash transfers It might incentivise the state to shirk its constitutional responsibility of providing basic entitlements to all The peace holds A harsher penalty in the 2008 Assam serial blasts case could have led to wider trouble
By requiring long-term residents of Assam to prove their citizenship by negotiating a thicket made up of bewildering and opaque rules and an uncaring bureaucracy, the Indian state has for the past two decades unleashed an unrelenting nightmare of wanton injustice on a massive swathe of its most vulnerable people
The official presumption that they are foreigners has reduced several million of these highly impoverished, mostly rural, powerless and poorly lettered residents to a situation of helplessness and penury. .It has also caused them abiding anxiety and uncertainty about their futures. They are required to persuade a variety of usually hostile officials that they are citizens, based on vintage documents which even urban, educated, middle-class citizens would find hard to muster. And even when one set of officials is finally satisfied, another set can question them. .And sometimes the same official is free again to send them a notice
On February 2 and 3, I was in Guwahati listening to heart-breaking accounts from 53 people from 13 districts of Assam This was as part of a people's tribunal on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), along with Justice Venkate Gopala Gowda, Colin Gonsalves, Monirul Hussain and Sanjoy Hazarika. . What emerged were numbing stories of unyielding official bias and arbitrariness, of the denial of elementary "due process" and, above all, the complete absence of public compassion. Even old men frequently broke down as they spoke of all that they had endured.
It emerged that the names of many persons were dropped from the draft NRC only because of minor differences in the spelling of Bengali names in English in different documents. We encountered several instances where the variation of a single letter, for example between Omar and Onar, was enough to rule that a person is a foreigner. Likewise, the rural unlettered are typically vague about their dates of birth A person could be excluded from citizenship if she told the tribunal that she was 40 when her documents recorded her to be 42.
Women are especially in danger of exclusion from the citizenship register. Typically, they have no birth certificates, are not sent to school, and are married before they become adults. Therefore, by the time their names first appear in voters' lists, these are in the villages where they live after marriage, which are different from those of their parents. They are told that they have no documents to prove that they are indeed the children of the people they claim are their parents. There were cases of being excluded from citizenship on this ground alone.
Impoverished migrant workers often travel to other districts of Assam in search of work, as construction workers, road-builders and coal-miners. . In the districts to which they migrate, the local police frequently record their names as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh The police then mark them out as illegal immigrants. They receive notices from foreigners' tribunals located in districts where they might have worked years earlier, far away from their home districtsthey have to travel to for every hearing, adding further to their costs.
The NRC is not the only institution through which the state challenges them to prove their citizenship. A second process began in the mid-1990s when the then Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan, as a one-time measure, directed officials to identify "doubtful voters" by marking a "D" against their names on the voters' list. This would temporarily bar them from voting or standing for elections, until an inquiry was completed.
But this temporary measure became permanent. The power was vested permanently with junior officials who could doubt the citizenship of any person at any time without assigning any reason Those with the dreaded "D" beside their names had no recourse for appeal under the rules, with years passing without any inquiry. The "D" also debarred them from being included in the draft NRC.
All cases referred by the police are heard by Foreigners' Tribunals (FTs). Earlier, retired judges were appointed to these tribunals. The Bharatiya Janata Party government has appointed many lawyers (often members of the ruling party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) who have never been judges. There are now FTs in which not a single person has been declared an Indian citizen over several months. Many allege that both the police and presiding officers in FTs work to fulfil informal targets to declare people foreigners.
No person in any one of the testimonies that we heard was given legal aid by the state, which is bound to deploy lawyers paid by the state to fight their cases in the FTs and higher courts. People instead spoke of panic spending, of enormous amounts of money to pay lawyers, as well as for costs of travel of witnesses who they bring with them to testify in their favour. For this, they have had to sell all their assets or borrow from private moneylenders. The large majority of them are poorly educated and very impoverished, doing low-paid work such as drawing rickshaws, or working as domestic work or farm labour.
The arrest of 129 Indians on the charge of wilfully violating immigration laws to stay and work in the United States sends a stark message to youth looking for better prospects abroad: their efforts should begin with due diligence and strictly follow the letter of the law. In the sting operation carried out by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which threatens to encompass many more Indians in the 'University of Farmington' case, the contentious issue is whether they fell victim to unscrupulous recruiters who offered to secure an I-20 student document that allowed them to undertake paid work using the provision for Curricular Practical Training, or knowingly engaged in fraud.
Going by the indictment of eight recruiters of Indian origin, they knew they were violating U.S. immigration law when they enrolled students using fraudulent and unlawful means, and their profits included negotiated referral fees paid into their accounts by undercover agents. The prosecution has alleged that each student who enrolled in the 'university' was aware that there would be no classes, credit scores or academic requirements, and the intention was merely to "pay to stay" and gain access to employment. These statements are, of course, subject to scrutiny during the trial of the alleged recruiters,
.The Ministry of External Affairs has made the correct distinction between students who may have been duped and the recruiters. Students who are eligible to pursue studies at an authorised university in the U.S.should, therefore, get a further opportunity and not be subjected to summary deportation or humiliation. It must also not prejudice the prospects of such students who may apply in future for legal entry.
If the averments in the Michigan case are correct, the prospect of working in America attracted many of the 600 students who were recruited .This should serve as a reminder to India's policymakers that access to higher education, job-creation and raising of living standards to meet the aspirations of youth must receive priority. Talk of an impending demographic dividend is meaningless without creating opportunities at home.
Wrong on the Rohingya GS Paper 2 Mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections
It is often argued that the principle does not bind India since it is a party to neither the 1951 Convention nor the Protocol However, the prohibition of non-refoulement of refugees constitutes a norm of customary international law, which binds even non- parties to the Convention. According to the Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations, UNHCR, 2007, the principle "is binding on all States, including those which have not yet become party to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol."
The chapter on fundamental rights in the Constitution differentiates . While all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others. The Rohingya refugees, while under the jurisdiction of the national government, cannot be deprived of the right to life and personal liberty.
Therefore, the discrimination that the Rohingya face is unparalleled in contemporary world politics. In National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996), the Supreme Court held: "Our Constitution confers... rights on every human being and certain other rights on citizens. Every person is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws. So also, no person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Thus the State is bound to protect the life and liberty of every human-being. be he a citizen or otherwise..."
India lacks a specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow. The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen. Further, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2012 strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The maiority of the Rohingya are Muslims. . This limitation on the basis of religion fails to stand the test of equality under Article 14 of the Constitution and offends secularism, a basic feature of the Constitution.
The American philosopher Ronald Dworkin argues that if we claim international law to be law, we must understand it as part of the greater morality . In such a conception, the deportation of refugees by India is not only unlawful but breaches a significant moral obligation
With the general election around the corner and NSSO data revealing that the unemployment rate has hit a 45-year high, there is a spike in concern for the economic security of the people. Several recent proposals whether the Congress's pre-emptive announcement of a minimum income guarantee scheme, or the Interim Budget's promise of a range of income transfers to farmers (albeit as low as 3 per day for a family of five) and a pension scheme for workers aged over 60 years in the unorganised sector, . or the government's announcement of a 10% quota for the "economically weaker sections" in the general category - might appear promising but raise. questions about their impact on the working poor.
If uplift of the poor is a priority, why not provide decent employment opportunities, minimum wages and social security to all workers? Why not spend on universalising access to, and provision of, basic public services to all? Why, contrarily, are there periodic cuts in social sector spending, including on public education and primary health; amendments in labour laws in favour of corporates; and privatisation and contractualisation even within the public sector?