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89% of people excluded from Assam NRC suffering from mental torture, finds survey

The Hindu
24 August 2019

They are unable to cope with the fear of deportation, separation from family members, it says.

About 89% of the more than 41 lakh people excluded from Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) have been suffering from extreme mental torture because of the fear of being marked as a foreigner and its consequences, a survey by the National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) has revealed.

The NCAT had conducted a field survey on the mental health of the NRC-excluded in Baksa, Goalpara and Kamrup districts from July 16 to 20. The report, “Assam’s NRC: Four Million Tales of Mental Torture, Trauma and Humiliation” was released on Friday.

Of the 91 respondents interviewed, 81 said they had been suffering from extreme anxiety due to the fear of deportation and of separation from family members as well as lack of money to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunals or approach the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court. Nine others were found to be suffering from moderate anxiety and one from mild anxiety — all for the same reasons.

This translates into 89% of the respondents suffering from extreme anxiety, 10% from moderate and 1% from mild anxiety. This, the study said, is leading to sleep disorder, appetite loss, affecting thought process and work, and causing a feeling of shame and isolation.

“If 41,10,169 persons stand excluded from the draft NRC at present, by extrapolating the survey, it can be said 36,99,152 persons are suffering from extreme anxiety and 4,11,017 from mild anxiety,” said NCAT coordinator Suhas Chakma.

‘Cruel programme’

All the 91 respondents said they felt insulted or ashamed of being excluded from the draft NRC, 88 feared family separation, 81 feared deportation, while 55 said they were suffering from trauma and depression.

Of the 91 respondents, 77 said they had been suffering from sleep disorder as a result of anxiety, 37 respondents said it affected their eating habits leading to appetite loss, 22 said it affected their thought process, while 24 said it affected their work.

“By national and international standards on mental torture, the NRC is a spectacularly cruel programme. Numerous studies across the world on immigration and deportation have shown that apart from often-lifelong physical effects, torture survivors suffer disproportionately from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, disassociation, disorientation and self-isolation,” Mr. Chakma said.

A majority of those who had given testimonies include those who were excluded from the draft NRC despite already being declared as citizens by the Foreigners’ Tribunals and who possess legacy data prior to March 24, 1971. This is the cut-off date for detecting foreigners or illegal immigrants as per the Assam Accord of 1985, on the basis of which the NRC is being updated.

The NCAT report also said extreme mental torture had forced at least 31 persons to commit suicide since July 2015.

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