The National Register of Citizens in India: The Plight of the Transgender Community

Image Source: The Better India

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of all bona fide Indian citizens. It was first prepared after the Census of 1951. In 1978, a by-election was conducted in Assam after the death of an MLA. During the election, observers noticed that the number of registered voters had grown dramatically. Thus a long-drawn agitation was launched, claiming that the foreign nationals, especially Bangladeshis, had settled in the state illegally. It resulted in an insurgency and cost Assam many lives.

In 1985, the Assam Accord was signed to put the movement, which demanded that illegal settlers be deported. One of the cornerstones of the document was a promise to weed out illegal migrants from the voter lists. However, nothing much happened over the decades. In 2014, the Supreme Court asked the state government to update the 1951 NRC in a time-bound manner.

The base year has emerged as one of the most debated issues with regard to the N.R.C. list. According to the accord, all foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 would be given full citizenship, including the right to vote. However, those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported. The immigrants who came between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for 10 years but given all other rights of a citizenship.

After the SC directive, the then Tarun Gogoi (Congress) government allowed the cut-off year to be fixed as midnight of 24 March 1971. The following Lok Sabha and state elections where the BJP won big, the base year became a major political issue. However, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which the ruling BJP espouses, might push the base year further to 2014 under special cases.

The names of 40 lakh applicants did not find a place in the historic document, which was published in Assam on 30th July 2018. According to the Registrar General of India Sailesh, 2.9 crore names out of the total 3.29 crore applicants were published. The first draft of the NRC was published during the intervening night of 31 December and 1 January, and contained 1.9 crore names.

A day after the second draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released; the Supreme Court said that all those persons whose names haven’t been included in the list must get a fair chance to prove their claims. Attorney General KK Venugopal requested the apex court to issue orders for no coercive action unless full opportunity is granted to everyone.

The Centre told the Supreme Court that it is contemplating taking biometrics details of over 40 lakh people, whose names did not figure in the final NRC draft in Assam, to avoid their influx to other states on false identity. “To allay the fear of states, the government is contemplating to collect biometric data of over 40 lakh people, so that if declared foreigners escape to another state under a false identity then they may be tracked by authorities concerned,” Venugopal said.

The Supreme Court, on its part, made it clear that publication of draft NRC can’t form the basis of action against anyone by authorities and that the legal process will have to be followed after giving the due opportunity to those whose names are missing. It further asked the central government to lay down the standard operating procedure on NRC and submit it for approval. Towards the end of the hearing, an association of transgender persons requested the bench to give 20,000 transgender persons a second chance to fill NRC forms.

Assam, which has faced an influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC, which was first prepared in 1951. The procedure of producing a complete list for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a tedious one. The first part publication draft of NRC Assam was released on December 31, 2017 midnight. However, due to floods in the state, many NRC verification centres were affected forcing the government to extend the date of second publication which was earlier scheduled to June 30. As tension strives among the citizens of Assam to see their names in the NRC’s second draft, transgender persons in the state will now file a petition in the Supreme Court to ensure that their names are included in NRC.

In 2014, the Supreme Court delivered the National Legal Services Authority vs Union of India verdict, which directed the state to recognize the gender identity of transgender persons and ensure that they are given entitlements and benefits. Violence, non-acceptance by family, and hijra gharanas are some of the important factors that propel them to migrate, both within the state and outside it.

Swati Bidhan Baruah, the President of the All Assam Transgenders’ Association, told The Telegraph that they decided to move to the apex court on July 22 as she did not receive any update on her plea to the NRC officials in this matter.  She added, “The government is neglecting the transgender population, which leaves them vulnerable to being deported or sent to a detention centre. As per NALSA judgment, the community has the right to claim their transgender identity, and the government must take this into account. How will transgender persons who’ve been disowned by their birth families apply for NRC list when they don’t have a single document to prove their citizenship?  Many transgender persons were compelled to leave their homes owing to the stigma still prevalent in our society. Those chased out of home cannot go back to fetch documents required for the NRC. Since many changed their sex, they are confused about how to fill up the NRC application. Although there is an option of “others” in the application, there is no clear instruction on what documents they need to submit in support of their being transgender. We will apprise the Supreme Court of all these problems and request a special provision for us,” Baruah was quoted in the same report.

On the other hand, NRC officials informed that they were unable to include any names without legal documents as approved by the Supreme Court. They further added that transgender individuals whose names do not appear in the second list can submit their papers only after the publication of the final draft.

A 26-year-old transgender woman who lives in Hojai district with her hijra family said her name is in the NRC draft, but it is in the male name and gender assigned to her at birth. What’s more, she is shown as being part of the district in which she does not live anymore.  The transgender woman, who did not wish to be named, was born in Dhubri district to a Muslim family and left home as a teenager. However, her father submitted her documents during the recent NRC updation drive.

Another 26-year-old transgender woman from Hojai district, whose birth family lives in Silchar district, does not know if her name is on the list. Even if it is, there is a more pressing concern. “I don’t have any document that proves that the person in the NRC is the same as me. My concern also is that no one from my village should get to know that I am a transgender person,” she says. She has a PAN card in her chosen name and gender, and has applied for an Aadhaar card.

Ashish Kumar Dey, secretary of Gharoa, a non-profit organisation that works on HIV/AIDS prevention in central Assam, said: “They need the same legacy documents, like their birth certificate, father’s ancestry documents. How will they procure these documents? Secondly, the change in gender and name has to be acknowledged by the NRC.”

As per the 2011 census, there are 11,374 transgender persons in Assam, but the number is likely much more, say activists. While the claims, objections and corrections procedure regarding the final NRC draft, released on July 30, will begin in August, there is no plan in place for transgender persons, whose chosen name and gender remain excluded from the draft. The claims/objections procedure stipulates that applicants are only allowed to submit their claims at the seva kendras (service centre) where their application was filed.

This post was contributed by Jayshree Sharma.

[i]Debarshi Das, The Spectre of Citizenship: History & Politics of NRC in Assam, accessed at < http://raiot.in/the-spectre-of-citizenship-history-politics-of-nrc-in-assam/ > on 5th August, 2018

[ii] BS Web Team, NRC final draft is out in Assam: What it means and top 5 developments, accessed at < https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/nrc-final-draft-is-out-in-assam-what-it-means-and-top-5-developments-118073000325_1.html > on 5th August,2018

[iii] HT Correspondent, Gender, address dilemma for Assam’s third sex in draft NRC accessed at < https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/gender-address-dilemma-for-assam-s-third-sex-in-draft-nrc/story-axnTBuJ57kcFcW8NThyzlN.html > on 5th August,2018

[iv] Madhurima Sarkar, Assam NRC List: Transgenders Will File a Petition to the Supreme Court Ensuring Their Names in the National Register of Citizens,  https://www.latestly.com/india/news/assam-nrc-list-transgenders-will-file-a-petition-to-the-supreme-court-ensuring-their-names-in-the-national-register-of-citizens-268674.html

 

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