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Assam has been one of the epicentres in regards to the on-going protests. The NRC (National Register of Citizens) has certainly put people in a state of constant fear of being declared as a non-resident or an illegal immigrant. The affected persons are being classified as “non- registered citizens” as per the NRC.
The remedial measure that has been taken by the government is to put these non-residents to the detention centres established by the government for the sake of these people. It is also evident to note that the Prime Minister in a recent rally denied the existence of any detention centres in India. At present, there are 6 active detention centres in Assam.
These detention centres have all the basic facilities required for survival and a decent living such as medical and educational facilities. A large number of people have been shifted there already. But, as per the reports, as many as 28 deaths have been recorded in these camps which put a question mark on the administration of these detention centres as well as the condition of the people currently in detention.
The reason put forward by various authorities suggests that these deaths are mainly due to mental reasons and not because of any ill-treatment or lack of appropriate facilities. The mental pressure on these detainees is significant as no paroles are provided. The people are separated from their families and could not work.
The immigration problem in Assam can be traced back to four decades, where the deemed immigrants are dispatched and it has been suspected by most that they are forced to live in inhumane conditions.
Legality of detention centres
The camps for illegal immigrants have been the most discussed upon matter nowadays and have taken a form of a crucial political debate as the opposition parties and the ruling party or the government are exchanging different views regarding the same. The current government is under a lot of pressure as plans for setting up of detention centres around the country in view of a nation-wide NRC has been pertinently opposed by different lawmakers.
The camps in Assam were already established much before the recent NRC, so as to combat the situation of illegal immigrants in the state which posed a threat to the demographic and cultural uniqueness of Assam. The first detention centre was set up after the Union Government authorized the state of Assam to commence with the establishment under the provisions of Section-3(2) (e) of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Para- 11(2) of the Foreigners Order, 1948.
These camps in particular came into light after as many as 19 lakh people were identified who were not in possession of proper citizenship documents and hence, were to be allocated in these centres.
Fundamental and Human Rights violation
Many citizens are now the victim of NRC. On one hand, the government’s initiative to identify the illegal immigrants is justified on the grounds that it has become necessary to take some concrete actions against these immigrants and on the other hand, there is a constant unrest amongst the citizens so as to ensure their citizenship.
There is a wide possibility that the immigrants came as to procure shelter as they are not able to survive and maintain a proper life in the neighbouring countries. Detaining these immigrants in these camps has been observed by many as a direct violation to the Fundamental Rights such as Article-14 (Equality before Law), Article-21 (Right to Personal Liberty), etc.
The detention is in contravention of the basic human rights that are enjoyed by everyone. The question of Fundamental Rights can pose a serious problem as these rights are for the citizens of India, but certain extent of protection is also provided to the foreigners. The rights may not be enforceable, but a certain duty is upon the government to properly look after the immigrants as India is a welfare state.
If the reports are true about the conditions of these detention camps, then a proper probe in to the matter is required so as to protect the interests of the people detained in these camps. No person should be subjected to any kind of unjust treatment, whether he/she is a citizen or not.
Fate of non-citizens:
The fate of the non-declared citizens is hanging by a thread as the countries from which they have originated is not willing to take them back. The only option with the people is to trust the government and duly accept the treatment as prescribed by it.
The government is working hard to properly colonize the detainees and create a decent process of accommodation for them. The present scenarios dictates that these citizens won’t be deported or jailed, but will be put in detention camps. The people are provided a chance to be heard and to provide for alternate documents or evidences regarding their citizenship. All the non- registered citizens are not illegal immigrants, rather they are to be treated as undocumented individuals, who for the time being are not able to prove their citizenship.
A further and more comprehensive filtration is a need of the hour in order to classify the illegal immigrants from legitimate Indian citizens. Individuals excluded from the list can appeal to the specially formed tribunals called Foreign Tribunals.
This further means that, the process for disposing off cases will become more cumbersome as the courts and tribunals will be overburdened with these types of cases. The major problem that has surfaced regarding these newly formed tribunals is the reports of bias attitude and inconsistencies.
The NRC is a very unprecedented piece of legislation that has seen immense protests from all parts of India. The opposing views are not only limited to India, but has also attracted undue attention of international bodies.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 may be witnessed as a classic defence to dodge the aftermath of Assam’s NRC as it provides for the citizenship to illegal immigrants, but on certain conditions.
The political outlook in the country is definitely experiencing some variations as no definite plan for the treatment of these undocumented individuals can be taken up.
It is pertinent to note that no clarity has been provided in respect of these citizens as whether they will be eligible for welfare schemes or government subsidies or be allowed to own a property. One thing is definite from the present conditions, that the citizens in question won’t be able to register themselves as eligible voters.
There is a major possibility that once the detainees are released, they may be provided with a work permit. The fear of being trapped in a legal limbo is just one of the many problems faced by these individuals as it is a long way ahead, not just to provide evidences or appropriate records, but also to establish themselves as a citizen of India.
Author: Jatin Budhiraja from Amity Law School, Noida.
Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.