Identifying the ‘Outsider’
An Assessment of Foreigner Tribunals in the Indian State of Assam
The State of Assam in the Union of India has a peculiar history of the movement of people from across India’s international borders into Assam. There is no credible way to arrive at specific numbers. Arrival of people in Assam has become a point that has been abused by those in power to utilise local sentiments regarding the dilution of ‘Assamese culture’. This article briefly discusses the timelines leading up to the preparation of the Assam’s National Register of Citizens that presently excludes approximately 1.9 million residents. The citizenship status of those excluded is to be determined by Foreigners Tribunals (‘FT’) functioning under the Foreigners Act, 1946 — a post-Second World War and pre-Constitution legislation whose validity is also in doubt. This article examines the Foreigners Act, 1946, as well as the constitution and performance of the FTs with reference to the yardsticks of the rule of law and constitutional values. Towards this end, the article analyses the law discernible from the judgments of the Indian Courts as well as some judgments of the Assam High Court and the FTs. It concludes by stating that the framework of adjudication by FTs is not able to keep up with the promise of effective adjudication under the Constitution of India. It calls for an urgent need for academic scrutiny of all aspects of the citizenship verification process in India.