The past five years have been a roller coaster ride for India’s socio-political scenario with unique policies that were much talked about. Be it the GST or demonetisation, the RTI Amendment act or Citizenship Amendment Bill, each of these put out a wave of appreciation along with substantial opposition across the nation. One such policy which is not really a new one but has been much emphasised upon and even included in the ruling party’s manifesto is the National Register of Citizens or what is popularly known as the NRC. This is a term with which more or less every Indian is familiar, in some or the other way.
So, let’s quickly see what it is and why it is even required. The NRC is a Supreme Court supervised process under which people residing in the listed states that are close to the Bangladesh border need to present a series of documents to prove that they are legal residents of the state and have not indulged into any kind of illegal border-crossing. The initial states chosen for this operation are Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, because these are the states which have a considerable population of immigrants. In Assam, the NRC was first prepared in 1951 and is now being updated. Since 1951, Assam has experienced an influx from Bangladesh and hence it is very necessary to update citizenship status.
However, things are not as simple and as favourable as it looks. If we count some of the most visible attributes of the process, we can see there are many loopholes on administrative and humanitarian grounds that need to be revised.
The first out of these is that every citizen needs to present documents that certifies legal Indian citizenship of two generations of their families before them. Now here, problems took place even with the urban population who found it difficult to look for all the proofs or misplaced documents. We can imagine what it must’ve been like in rural areas. Many villages are affected by regular flooding during the monsoons and in this series of destruction, it becomes difficult to preserve any kind of document properly. And there has been no alternative suggested for such cases. So, will the people who have lost their citizenship proofs for two generations, be outrightly declared immigrants?
The next major drawback is a complete lack of communication and administration. Majorly, the announcements made in this context were through posters and print media, but what about remote villages and areas near the shore where these media are completely inaccessible? Even awareness camps were organised, yet they were abrupt and could not create adequate awareness.
The next issue that was a massive blow on the face of the population was inappropriate exclusion from the NRC list. Almost 40 lakh people were not included in the list even after presenting their documents. This was termed as a technical mistake, which in all fairness, is likely to happen in such a huge process of documentation but it is still not an excuse and it created a lot of uncertainty, fear and panic amongst people.
Some absolutely weird examples that came to light were – in a family of four, the parents and one of the twins was included in the list and the other excluded. A 16-year-old boy name Fulbar Ali and his sister found no inclusion in the list whereas the other members of his family of fourteen, made it to the NRC list. It took him huge effort to be present for the hearing as the norms say those who are summoned, need to face trial of court. One such case that made it to national headlines was the exclusion of Kargil veteran Sanaullah. Can there be anything more ridiculous that a person who has dedicatedly served the armed forces for years has been detained on the suspicion of being an illegal immigrant? He is now out on bail and awaiting justice.
The above instances were the outcome of mismanagement of administration and there is a provision to rectify the same. This is called the ‘Foreigner’s Tribunal‘ which came into existence back in 1964. It allows anyone who is unduly excluded to appeal for a rectification or enquiry for the same. However, it seems there has been no concretely hopeful step taken by the tribunal so far and the people who are in a situation of horror or uncertainty of leaving the country have still not received any positive verdict.
It is however not new to us that such a body functions really slowly or is almost futile and exists for the sake of rules. Another strange point associated with documentation part is that when a person is excluded from citizenship, there is no adequate reason presented and people have no clue on how to take their case further. If anything, now they have the burden of proving their citizenship yet again after already submitting the documents once. In this case, it has to be clear on what grounds one has been excluded instead of just giving a verdict.
Let’s now examine another angle which can be termed a loophole, rather a distortion from the actual agenda. The first thing is: why has a decades-old process suddenly become a major point of the BJP’s political manifesto? How do they think the NRC is more necessary than issues like education, employment and pollution? For example, what will a family do with NRC-approved citizenship if they have no jobs? Will they even care? The answer is no.
But, the communal angle given to this process has definitely instigated religious sentiments and people are looking at it from a different angle. The biggest proof of this is the associated Citizenship Amendment Act, in which only Muslim immigrants are denied any kind of refuge in India. In the end, it has become a blatant way of expressing religious bias, which in fact, has become normal in the past five years of BJP governance.
Exactly in the same way, one can see a strong sense of partiality and bias against the Muslim community in the process of the NRC. Statistically, 15 lakh out of the 40 lakh exclusions are Muslims. The belief in the stereotype that a major portion of this community lacks adequate education and information causes even more harassment. Every minor factor like their attire and appearance (that include the lungi and a skull cap or maybe a beard) are taken as excuses to term them “Bangladeshi” outrightly, even when they are not.
Also, a majority of the objections filed against inclusion are actually against members of the Muslim community. They are subjected to an undue scrutiny of facts that are otherwise excluded in Hindu dominated areas. So, is this just another tool to promote communal disharmony and to corner the Muslim population of country?
Now, the biggest and the most important question! What will happen to those who are not there on the list or let’s just say, will never find a place on the list? So far, the government has not made any official announcement of a deportation treaty signed with Bangladesh or any other neighbouring country whatsoever. If no treaty is signed, these countries will deny the acceptance of these refugees. The fate of those excluded from the NRC have previously just been limited to detention camps, but that is not a permanent solution. How can things be taken so lightly when great statements like “India is not a land of refugees” are making the rounds?
Are those excluded going to be killed through mass genocide or are there better plans for them? In that case, who is going to capture the properties that they have owned for over 5-6 decades? None of these questions have been answered by the government yet. Also, will humanitarian grounds not have any consideration in this context? Why as fellow citizens don’t we raise these questions? Maybe because we have the candy of nationalism with us, that we are blind to anything beyond it.
Besides all these drawbacks and distortions, the people of Assam, especially the Muslim community want to undergo this process, so that there are no further questions raised on their citizenship. They still have faith in the system as it is supervised by the Supreme Court of India.
The highest court of law has clearly rejected the recent plea of re-verification of inclusion, thereby proving that they will fully adhere to the facts. With the same hope, we wish that the government thinks seriously on each of the aspects listed above.