Confusion, hope run high among Assam's Hindu Bengalis

Confusion, hope run high among Assam's Hindu Bengalis

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The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, on December 10 did not please Bapi Sarkar, a youth belonging to Hindu Bengali, the community which is at the heart of the controversy regarding the amended citizenship law.

This despite the fact that the name of his mother, Shila, was left out of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) released in August this year.

"The BJP government wants that Hindu Bengalis, who were left out of the NRC to declare themselves as migrants from Bangladesh before applying for citizenship through this amended act. But why will my mother declare herself as a Bangladeshi? Her name was dropped despite submitting a copy of the passport issued in 1954 in my grandfather's name as a legacy document. We hope her name will be cleared by the foreigner Tribunal. So the government should open the tribunal first instead of pressing the Hindu Bengali left outs to apply for citizenship through this act," Sarkar, a resident of Kharupetia in Udalguri district told DH.

Bapi is equally hopeful that name of his elder sister, Gopa, will also be cleared by the tribunal as his and his younger sister's named were included in the final NRC list.

"Like us some members of the same family were left out. So they don't require this law," he said.

The NRC is being updated in Assam with March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date and 19.06 Lakh applicants were left out of its final list. 

According to Assam minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma, 5.42 lakh people in Assam would benefit from the amended law.

The amended law seeks to allow Hindus and other non-Muslim migrants who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and migrated to India till December 31, 2014, after a stay of five years.

This, however, triggered massive protests in most parts of Assam and rest of the northeast as indigenous people fear that the amendment would reduce them into minorities by giving citizenship to a large number of Hindu Bengali migrants from Bangladesh.

Sarkar said that the post-1971 Hindu Bengalis living in Udalguri and three other neighbouring districts under the Bodoland territorial Council would also not be benefited from the amended act.

Modi government had excluded the areas under the three autonomous councils in Assam from the law's purview.

Assam has two other autonomous council in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao (three districts).

These councils were set up under the Sixth Schedule under the Constitution for autonomy and welfare of the indigenous community.

"There is a huge Hindu Bengali population living under these councils. So the post-1971 migrant Bengali Hindus living there will not get citizenship through this act," said Sarkar, a leader of All Assam Bengali Youth Students Federation.

Assam has nearly 50 Lakh Hindu Bengalis. Some other leaders of the community, however, have expressed hope that the amended act would end the citizenship crisis faced by many Bengali Hindus, who could not produce pre-1971 documents for inclusion in the NRC.

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