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EDITORIAL

Unwarranted Meddling

Human rights of one group of people can never be at the expense of another, more so in a State like Assam overrun by Bangladeshi aliens, leaving indigenous people desperately battling for survival and political space. Back in 2005, the Supreme Court had likened this vast and continuing infiltration into Assam as an ‘external aggression’. The Gauhati High Court in 2008 while observing how Bangladeshi nationals with their brute numbers have become ‘kingmakers’ in the State, had warned that the day is not far off “when the indigenous people of Assam, both Hindus and Muslims and other religious groups will be reduced to minorities in their own land, and the Bangladeshis who are freely and merrily moving around the fertile land of Assam, will intrude upon the corridors of power”. Calling for strong political will coupled with public activism to free the State from Bangladeshi aliens, the court had noted how they were very often protected in the name of secularism by “branding them to be Indian minorities”. Against immense odds, an exercise to update the national register of citizens (NRC) has been undertaken under the supervision of Supreme Court. Now that it is reaching a decisive phase, an agency of the United Nations — hitherto silent about the plight of indigenous people here — has chosen to poke its nose into the matter at this juncture.

From the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHCR), four special rapporteurs recently wrote to the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressing serious concern over the “discrimination of members of Bengali Muslim minority in Assam” in getting access to and enjoyment of citizenship status. Seeking exhaustive clarifications about the NRC update, they have asked the Indian authorities “to ensure that the exercise does not result in statelessness or human rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of citizenship, mass expulsions, and arbitrary detention of Bengali Muslims”. The letter states: “Concerns have been raised that local authorities in Assam, which are deemed to be particularly hostile towards Muslims and people of Bengali descent, may manipulate the verification system in an attempt to exclude many genuine Indian citizens from the updated NRC”. It has also asked for data from the government on the ethnicity and religion of those individuals “who would find themselves excluded from the draft NRC, as well as those declared foreigners by the Tribunals” — besides seeking an official word on whether they would face detention or deportation. Not content with hinting that the State NRC authority is discriminatory, the UN rapporteurs have further questioned the role of Foreigners Tribunals, besides pointing out that the (amended) Citizenship Act of 1955 “grants citizenship at birth to anyone born in India on/after 26 January, 1950, but prior to 1 July, 1987”.

Such blatant meddling, by a UN agency or otherwise, comes about because India has always been perceived as a soft nation on matters like citizenship. Governments in this country have seen it fit to tweak and subvert citizenship laws to safeguard vote banks. It is such calculated political mischief by rulers in Delhi (and in Dispur) that encourages outside players to meddle into and lecture about citizenship issues. Assam in particular has long borne the brunt of the pernicious open door strategy of political parties, settling this State with foreigners in exchange of votes. An illegal migrant can easily get hold of all sorts of papers here to lay claim on Indian citizenship, and corner a host of government welfare schemes besides. A travesty of a law like IMDT Act, which had made it all but impossible to detect aliens, could have been enforced only in Assam before the Supreme Court mercifully struck it down in 2005. However, political dispensations at the Centre have tinkered with citizenship laws on different occasions (like in 1987 and 2004) to ensure that aliens will continue to rule the roost in Assam. And taking advantage of the fact that the country does not have a refugee policy either, the present NDA regime is hell bent on adding insult to injury by its proposed law to make citizens out of refugees (read Hindus) fleeing ‘religious persecution’ from neighbouring countries. Interestingly, the UN rapporteurs have also sought details about the “present status” of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, asking why it doesn’t include Bengali Muslims. To such vested interests both outside and within the country, there is but one reply that all right thinking people in Assam have been consistently giving. It is that the rule of law must prevail, including the law that grants citizenship on proper grounds and procedure. Religion should have nothing to do with grant of citizenship, or in humane treatment of refugees.

Rights of Patients

T here was a time when the doctor-patient relationship was based on trust. But doctors are no longer their own master, with many of them forced by private hospital managements to prescribe all sorts of diagnostic tests — so as to help pay for costly medical equipment. Then there are some doctors operating in syndicates, with juniors referring patients to seniors and seniors giving them entry into charmed circles. With treatment costs well nigh unaffordable nowadays, patients are frequently getting intolerant. Doctors are meanwhile complaining of the threat of violence under which they must work. Observing 25 June as Patients’ Rights Day, the Anamika Ray Memorial Trust which is in the vanguard of health activists, has exhorted patients to exercise their right to best possible, prompt and life-saving treatment, along with the right to be respected and kept informed, to take part in decisions, even to refuse treatment and leave a medical centre if need be. But patients also have the responsibility to eschew misconduct and violence; to be ethical, truthful and cooperative; as well as to meet their financial obligations after treatment.

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Sentinel Group