Back in the late 1970s, the state of Assam was rocked by an anti-immigrant movement. After six long years of political and civil unrest, the Government of India and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) signed the Assam Accord to bring an end to the recurring cases of violence in the state.
More than three decades after the signing of the Assam Accord, the heinous process of identifying local residents and outsiders seems to have reached a conclusion (of some sort). The National Register of Citizens has been updated. Consequently, as many as 1.9 million people have been excluded from the list. Well, that accounts for nearly 6% of the state’s population (these are staggering numbers).
Four years is all it took for the authorities to label people as outsiders and citizens. Over the course of time, the movement gained a lot of momentum and involved a large-scale distribution of government machinery. Furthermore, it also became one of the most talked-about issues in contemporary ‘Bharat.’ Journalists across the country seem to have lost a lot of ink in recent times. There were protests, rallies, suicide attempts, etc. and in the end, we have an outcome that has left a lot of us, including the people in power, disconsolate, to say the least.
The NRC didn’t come into being four years back. Its history can be traced back to the aforementioned Assam Movement wherein the indigenous Assamese launched protests to counter the massive inflow of migrants (mostly from Bangladesh). Back then, the Bharatiya Janata Party is believed to have added the political push because it saw the exercise as an opportunity to fulfil an age-old promise, i.e. deporting immigrants.
Come 2019, the moment seems to have succeeded in identifying the immigrants, but with little benefit. The ‘cleansing process’ has incurred tremendous costs. Videos of protests have been doing the rounds on social media. Stories of men and women resorting to suicide over the non-inclusion of names in the NRC have taken media outlets by storm.
The problem doesn’t end here. In fact, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless people have been rendered homeless because of this exercise. Many of them have struggled to submit proofs of citizenship. Even the people in power believe that a large number of genuine citizens have been left out. Former Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, expressed his displeasure over the NRC list published on August 31 during an interview with NDTV.
Now, let us take a look at the bigger problem. The NRC fiasco seems to have intensified the communal divide, not just in Assam but in other parts of the country as well. Illegal immigrants are considered ‘pests,’ who ‘snatch jobs.’ After Assam, the ruling party seeks to implement the NRC across the country. Such a mindset has enough power to trigger communal unrest. The BJP has made matters worse by promising a path to attain citizenship to everybody except Muslims.
The NRC in Assam was implemented, keeping in mind the state’s history. It was an attempt to curtail the inflow of illegal immigrants. Implementing it in other states might end up complicating matters. Recently, the NRC was presented in West Bengal, until the state assembly ruled it out.
Simply put, the proposal is draconian and undemocratic. More than seven decades after independence, people are being asked to prove their nationality. Back in June this year, Md. Sanaullah, a Kargil War veteran, was detained by policemen in Assam after his name wasn’t included in the NRC. Reacting to the non-inclusion of his name, he said, “I am an Indian and will remain an Indian.“ Sanaullah is one of the many people who have been robbed of their identities by the state.