Pradip Kumar Bhuyan and his wife Banti.
Pradip Kumar Bhuyan and his wife Banti.

How one couple fought for the NRC in Assam

Calls for removing 'illegal immigrants' from the electoral rolls were growing since 1979, and the flashpoint was the genocide that claimed nearly 2,000 lives across 14 villages on 18 February 1983

Guwahati/ Kokrajhar: The Nellie massacre of 1983 was a turning point in Assam’s troubled history, and the raging differences between the state’s indigenous population and illegal immigrants, mostly Muslims, from across the border.

New Delhi’s decision to hold elections in the border state that year, coinciding with the peak of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) agitation against the influx from across the Bangladesh border, was just the trigger.

Calls for removing “illegal immigrants" from the electoral rolls were growing since 1979, and the flashpoint was the genocide that claimed nearly 2,000 lives across 14 villages on 18 February 1983.

The agitation, spearheaded by the indigenous people demanding their right on the land and jobs, continued until the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.

While the agreement called for “foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 to be given full citizenship rights, including the right to vote," it mandated “all those who had come to Assam after 1971 were to be deported".

In Assam’s hinterlands, especially in pockets with a sizeable Bodo population, the Assam Movement still forms the genesis of the demand for a National Register of Citizens (NRC). “After the 1971 war, these areas which had a predominant Bodo population were slowly replaced by Bengali Muslims, and it turned into a fight for identity and land," said a senior state police official, who did not wish to be identified.

While a 2005 tripartite meeting between the centre, the Assam government and AASU decided to update the NRC, Pradip Kumar Bhuyan and his wife Banti, started working relentlessly to remove the names of all illegal immigrants from the electoral rolls of 2006.

“The Bhuyans spent their personal savings to approach the Supreme Court to update the NRC within a specified time limit. But neither the UPA government nor the state government did anything much to further the matter," said a person familiar with the developments.

The Bhuyans then approached Aabhijeet Sharma, president of Assam Public Works, an NGO, to file a writ petition before the apex court in 2009. It was not until 2014 that the Supreme Court finally asked the NDA government to start the process of updating the NRC.

Today, the Bhuyans keep a very low profile in Assam, and had it not been for them, work on the registry would not have come this far.

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