The Himanta Biswa Sarma government in Assam today took the decision to not prosecute Gorkhas living in the state under the Citizenship Act, 1955. In the weekly cabinet meeting held on Wednesday, the cabinet also decided that all cases pending in Foreigners Tribunals in the state against people from the Gorkha community will be withdrawn.
This was informed by the chief minister on Twitter today evening. This move comes as a huge relief from the Gorkhas in Assam, as they were fearing prosecution as illegal immigrants. They were not included when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state was updated in 2019, for failing to prove their citizenship.
While mostly suspected illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are listed as ‘D’ voters in Assam, a large number of Gorkhas also feature in this. Around 23,000 Gorkha voters in Assam are also labelled as ‘D’ voters in the electoral rolls in the state. The ‘D’ is added to the names of voters in the voter lists who are suspected of being illegal immigrants, and such voters are barred from voting in elections until their cases are settled in the Foreigners Tribunals and courts.
Exempting Gorkhas from prosecution under the Citizenship Act means that people from Gorkha community will be considered as Indian citizens without having to prove their citizenship under the Act. As the cases against them in the Foreigner Tribunals will be withdrawn, it means that the D tag from their names in the voter lists will also be removed in future.
The move comes two weeks after the Assam government had included the Gorkhas in the list of protected communities in the Sadiya Tribal Belts. On July 20th, the Government of Assam had issued a notification informing that the Moran, Matak, Ahom, Chutia and Gorkha communities are included in the list of protected classes in the Sadiaya Tribal Belt, provided they are permanent residences of the region. The tweet by Himanta Biswa Sarma came as a reply to Darjeeling MP Raju Bista, who had thanked the CM for the notification.
It is notable that in 2018, the union government had clarified to the Assam government that any member of the Gorkha community holding Nepalese nationality and who has arrived in India by land or air over the Nepal border even without a passport or visa and staying in India for any length of time shall not be treated as an illegal migrant. The GOI had said that if any such Gorkha carries any Nepalese proof of identity, they won’t prosecuted as illegal immigrant under the Foreigners Act, 1946.