CJP’s application sought directions from the apex court that drew attention to the Constitutional, legal obligations and prayed, specifically that no child excluded from the NRC is either sent to detention camps nor separated from their parents in Assam.
In November 2019, CJP (Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai) had filed an Intervention Application for Directions in a writ petition case, Assam Public Works vs. UOI (274 of 2009). This application filed by CJP filed in representative capacity concerns cases of children even when their parents and, in some instances, the relatives/guardians of the children are part of the NRC. In view of the points put forth by CJP, the apex court considered the issue and in the interim of giving a final decision in the Intervention Application, directed Assam government to ensure that children whose parents names are included in the NRC in Assam are not sent to detention camps.
What the application says
Through this application, CJP sought to bring to the notice of the Supreme Court that Assam is in a state of humanitarian crisis as a direct result of mass exclusions from the final list of NRC published on August 31, 2019.
CJP even submitted that almost 100 persons have lost their lives as a direct result of the citizenship issues involved in the publication of the NRC which include 27 recorded deaths in Assam’s Detention Camps, which has now risen to 29 recorded deaths.
CJP brought to fore the point that children have been excluded from the NRC Final List even when their parents are included which amounted to direct contravention of the State’s obligation towards children as envisaged under Article 15 (3), Article 39 (e) & (f), Article 45 and Article 47 of the Constitution of India, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. Along with the Application was also attached a list of 61 of such excluded children.
In order to illustrate the severity of the issue, a detailed list of 61 such children themselves excluded while parents were excluded. The case studies of 3 children were also detailed to help the apex court understand the ground realities and sufferings of families separated due to this arbitrary process of NRC.
These included the story of Hasmat Ali who has three minor children. While his and his wife’s name was included in NRC, their children’s names found no place in it and since then he has had to rush from one hearing to another which are held at far-away places, collecting all kinds of documents, incurring large expenses, even taking money on loan, to ensure his children do no end up in detention camp. Each of the 61 children excluded from NRC have a similar story of struggle and financial distress from which it will take a much longer time to recover.
To strengthen their point CJP also cited the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which India has ratified which makes it obligatory under Article 8 for all State Parties to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. Also, Article 9 holds State Parties responsible for ensuring that a child is not separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.
The said application prayed the apex court to pass orders to the office of the Coordinator to immediately take steps to ensure that no child is left out of the NRC especially in cases where the parents/guardians/caregivers are included in the list. It also asked that in the interim, the court pass orders directing state of Assam not to take any coercive action against the children or separate them from their families.
In its order, given on the January 6 hearing, the Supreme Court directed the Assam government to ensure that no children of parents whose names have been included in the final NRC list be sent to detention centres or be separated from their parents until the said application by CJP is fully considered.
CJP’s Assam connect
In the said application, CJP has made a mention of their campaign in Assam to help those affected by NRC process. About the NRC final list, it says, “the Final List published on 31.08.2019 has unreasonably and unfairly excluded the names of certain sections of persons which essentially results in violation of the basic principle of family unification by excluding members of a family.”
CJP’s work in Assam includes attending to calls received on a toll-free helpline number created by CJP so people can reach out to them for help. It is because of the inaccessibility of the topography of the State to vast sections of the marginalised and agrarian population that the idea of a Toll Free Helpline number was conceived. CJP’s on-ground work continues on a month to month basis under difficult circumstances which amounts to providing para-legal aid to marginalised sections of the rural population, 62% of the affected being women.