•      Sat Apr 13 2024

Gorkhas Excluded From NRC in Assam Say They Won’t Go to Foreigners’ Tribunals

Guwahati: Members of Assam’s Gorkha community have said that they will not go to Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs), and instead take legal recourse if any community member has to attend an FT trial for being excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangha (BGP), a pan-India organisation and one of the parties to the NRC case at the Supreme Court, has estimated that there are more than one lakh Gorkhas excluded from the NRC, of the community’s 25 lakh total population. The leaders claimed that these Gorkhas were excluded because they were ‘arbitrarily’ tagged as doubtful voters, and a majority of them were not even served notices.

Sukhman Moktan, BGP national president, said at a press conference on Sunday, “Gorkhas being tried in FTs is an insult and we can file defamation cases against the system for challenging Gorkhas’ citizenship, and for Nepali-speaking people being taken to FT courts. We will not, under any circumstances, go to FTs. We have our papers and proper documents to prove that we are Indian citizens.”

Moktan was vague what he meant by ‘the system’. The Wire spoke to Nanda Kirati Dewan, BGP national secretary, for more clarity.

“They all have been randomly marked as doubtful voters. We only have the Border police to blame. We also feel there is a discriminatory attitude towards our people. Gorkhas in Assam have a long history. Despite this, how can people be excluded?” Dewan replied.

“Nepal is not marked as a specified territory as mentioned in the Assam Accord. By filing a defamation case against the system, it could be against the unnamed persons or officials responsible for our people’s exclusion. There are between 20,000 and 22,000 Gorkhas tagged as doubtful voters. If we calculate that an average Gorkha family has more than two children, the total number of those excluded from the NRC comes to more than one lakh,” he continued.

The BGP’s main bone of contention is that the state government has failed to file a fresh case, despite a direction from the Gauhati high court, in order to legally implement a Ministry of Home Affairs notification which was issued last year. The clarification from the MHA’s foreigners’ division, issued in September 2018, stated that members of the Gorkha community fulfilling any of the conditions laid down in Article 5 of the constitution shall be considered Indian citizens, and not referred to an FT.

The MHA notification had said:

“The letter dated 24 September 2018 stated that the members of the Gorkha community who were Indian citizens at the time of commencement of the Constitution, or those who are Indian citizens by birth, or those who have acquired Indian citizenship by registration or naturalization in accordance with the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 are not “foreigners” in terms of section 2 (a) of The Foreigners Act,1946 as well as the Registration of Foreigners Act,1939, therefore, such cases will not be referred to the Foreigners Tribunals.”

The state government, though, has been lackadaisical about implementing this notification, the BGP alleges.

The Assam government, in December 2018, had filed an interlocutory application at the FT monitor bench of the Gauhati high court. The bench, however, said that this was not within its jurisdiction. BGP leaders said it should have been filed at the foreigners’ division bench. The leaders said that if the state government doesn’t do its duty as directed by the Union government, they won’t hesitate to take the state government to the Supreme Court.

“If the state government had filed a writ petition, it would have been clear whether the Gorkhas would have to go to the FT or not. The notification issued by the MHA last year was the result of a memorandum which was submitted to the home minister on July 30, 2018, by a delegation of the All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union. The Gauhati high court had directed the state government to file a fresh writ petition before an appropriate bench to legally implement the MHA notification. The state government has to do its duty, or else we will make it a party and contest a case to ensure that Gorkhas are not taken to FTs,” said Nityananda Upadhya, president of the Assam state BGP.

He said that there are around more than 2,000 FT cases pending and another 35-40 cases pending at the high court. He also said that one Dilip Chetri, a Gorkha, has been kept in one of Assam’s detention centres.

On September 21, a BGP delegation met Assam chief secretary Alok Kumar. The delegation had asked for an empowered committee to look into Gorkhas’ citizenship issues. The chief secretary had assured them that their suggestion would be considered. Before that, on September 2, a BGP delegation had met Satyendra Garg, joint secretary (NE) home, and expressed their concerns over the exclusion of Gorkhas from the NRC.

As BGP leaders run from pillar to post, it is the excluded people who are waiting with bated breath. Among them is Manju Devi, granddaughter of freedom fighter Chhabilal Upadhyay. Upadhyay was a member of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. But now, Manju Devi and her two children have been excluded from the NRC on account of her doubtful voter status.

“My husband’s name is on the list. In the draft and the final list, it was shown as reject due to doubtful voter. It is quite shocking for us to be excluded. After our exclusion from the final draft, I approached the border police, asking why we are being tagged as doubtful voters. I also wrote an application to file a case. Then I filed an RTI query. In the reply, I was told that that the border police had put the doubtful voter tag. I am waiting for the state government to act. If it is not fruitful, I will approach the court,” she told The Wire.

Durga Khatiwada, a Sahitya Akademi winner whose name was dropped from the additional exclusion list published in June this year. His name then appeared on the final NRC which was published on August 31 2019. Durga is seen here with his wife. Photo: Gaurav Das

Another prominent Nepali name excluded from the NRC is Sahitya Akademi award recipient and writer Durga Khatiwada. He told The Wire that he was marked as a doubtful voter in the 1990s, but he was declared an Indian citizen in 2015 by an FT court in Guwahati. His name was included in the final draft NRC, but a year later excluded from the additional exclusion draft.

“My name appeared in the final list published on August 31. I attended multiple hearings. My younger daughter and son were also not included in the second draft. At one point, I thought of returning my award in protest. I feel for my fellow Gorkhas and Nepalis who have been excluded. I think the state government should help them,” he said.

The Gorkhas in Assam were recruited by the British as part of the Assam Light Infantry. The 1815 treaty of Segowlee, signed between the East India Company and Nepal, throws light on the history of Gorkhas in Assam. The BGP also went on a week-long tour of multiple districts in Assam to know about the ground reality of Gorkhas excluded from the NRC.

(Source: The Wire, India)