(Above) Pradip Kumar Bhuyan and his wife Banti had worked to remove the names of illegal immigrants from electoral rolls of 2006; | express
GUWAHATI: Back in 2008, a lesser-known Assamese man started hogging the limelight for his sharp attacks on Paresh Baruah and his insurgent group, the United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) for, none, at the time, had the courage to speak up against the dreaded insurgent leader. Ten years later, Abhijeet Sarma is virtually a household name in the state. It was due to his — and that of an elderly couple’s — relentless efforts that the Supreme Court issued directive to the Centre to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the complete draft of which was published on July 30.
Over the past 10 years, 44-year-old Sarma, leader of the NGO Assam Public Works, really had to break sweat and spend his hard-earned money shuttling between Guwahati and Delhi to be present during the hearings of a PIL filed in connection with illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
Reminiscing of the events that led to the filing of the PIL, Sarma says he was concerned over the harassment of people wearing ‘lungi’ and skull cap and over the vote-bank politics on the issue of illegal immigrants.
“In 2008, we realised that the Bangladeshi issue was assuming alarming proportions and various parties were playing vote-bank politics. So, we started thinking how the issue could be resolved. One day, we visited the house of senior citizens Pradip Bhuyan and Banti Bhuyan. We told them about our plan. They were excited and ready to help us. They wanted to do something for Assam. We were lucky to have got their support,” says Sarma.
“Soon, Pradip started preparing a draft even as we began collecting data and documents on the immigrants. A senior advocate helped us prepare the draft. The next year, we filed the petition and that was the turning point. It was based on our petition that the Supreme Court issued an order in 2013 directing the Centre to update the NRC.”
He says the NRC publication made him “only 40 per cent happy” as it is just a draft. Those left out include a lot of indigenous people. So, there is no reason to be happy or excited. The APW mission is to clear Bangladeshis, not the locals, he says.
“This (draft NRC publication) is the first step. People who will be detected — whatever their number is — their names have to be deleted from the voters’ list. They should be made stateless, but given work permits,” he further says. Sarma admits it is “practically impossible” to deport the illegal immigrants.
“When the names of all illegal immigrants are deleted from the voters’ list, we will be 100 per cent happy. Secondly, vote-bank politics, donations collected in the name of fighting the issue and harassment of people on the suspicion that they are illegal immigrants have to be stopped. It is only then that we will be successful in the mission.”