Deciding Who Is a "Foreigner": The Situation in the Indian State of Assam from a Legal Perspective

Room 317
Level 3
Melbourne Law School
185 Pelham Street
Carlton

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social-equity@unimelb.edu.au

Guest Speaker: Talha Abdul Rahman

Presented with the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness

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. This has become a point that has been abused by those in power to utilise local sentiments regarding the dilution of “Assamese culture” by “outsiders”. This seminar discusses briefly the timelines leading up to the amendment of India’s Citizenship Act which carved out a special provision for Assam and ultimately led to the Supreme Court judgement directing the preparation of a National Register of Citizen (NRC).

While examining the Supreme Court judgement, the seminar then discusses the ad-hocism in rule-making regarding the inclusion into and exclusion from the register. It will highlight examples of the nightmare that befell fellow countrymen from Assam as a result of the NRC. When the Supreme Court ordered the preparation of the NRC in Assam, it also directed the creation of Foreigner’s Tribunals in Assam and left this task to the High Court of Assam. The seminar critically assesses these Foreigner’s Tribunals to show how a “wartime/colonial” legislation intended to remove foreigners from (British) India summarily is now being used, and how its working leaves much to be desired when it comes to compliance with the essential principles of the rule of law. It concludes by arguing that the Government’s sovereign power to count its “citizen” must only be exercised after judicial paraphernalia to remedy executive excesses is in place.

Mr Talha Abdul Rahman obtained his law degree from NALSAR University of Law in 2008 with several gold medals and then pursued a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University as Shell Chevening Scholar in 2008-2009. He has been practising in India since 2009 and has been an Advocate on Record before the Supreme Court of India since 2017. He has assisted Justice JS Verma Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law (2013), set up in the wake of the gruesome rape in Delhi. He has worked on various public interest matters, including the communal riots of 2012 in Faizabad, Muzaffarnagar Communal riots, right to privacy cases, matters concerning the reform of the criminal justice system, and appointment of an ombudsman. He advised NGOs in their engagement with the legal system. He is presently involved in litigation concerning the prescription of procedure for Foreigners Tribunal in India and those challenging the amendments to the Citizenship Law.