A woman post-marriage has migrated to Assam, submitted documents from Bengal dated 1934, marriage certificate, school admit card, yet been declared foreigner and is facing a harrowing time. Imagine an honorary Lieutenant in the Army who fought in the Kargil War is suddenly declared a foreigner, the name of Kamal Mazumdar translated to ‘Lotus’ Mazumdar, the trans community has been excluded owing to a ‘lack’ of documents because of deep-seated stigma around gender non-conformity; chances are their families may not even mention them as their children in official records and another section’s inclusion only pertains to the gender they no longer identify with.
The National Register for Citizens (NRC) has been a colossal exercise in attempting to ‘weed out illegal immigrants’ from Assam, an exercise that was always riddled in controversy and chaos. The NRC aimed at identifying illegal immigrants was published on August 31, 2019, after five years of being monitored by the Supreme Court and with its publication, it became even clearer that the whole exercise has been a huge mess.
Nearly 2 million people have been excluded in the final list facing the possibility of being rendered stateless. Heart-wrenching stories have emerged of how families have been torn apart. Parents missing from the same list, for people who don’t have documents to prove their citizenship, whose belongings have been washed away in flooded areas, have struggled to be heard to prove that they are in fact Indians. In a huge political irony, the BJP which has championed the NRC and even called for it to be replicated across India is today shocked that the final list has a large number of Bengali Hindus in it.
Foreigner tribunals already have controversy around it. The number of tribunals has gone up by 222 being headed by 35-year-old advocates with very little judicial experience who are going to decide somebody’s citizenship. This has never happened before in the country has put people in apprehension and dire straits. People from all communities are caught up in this.
A cocktail of incompetence, lack of understanding of our residents and citizens and the difference between the two, lack of empathy in general from the government, and asking people to show documents whether they are from Bundelkhand, UP or Kolkata or Silchar or that they are here from the midnight of March 24, 1971 or that not one but both of their parents belong to this country, then much of this country would not be able to prove its citizenship!
The government has failed to recognize that they themselves are supporting our NRIs abroad who seek green card after residing there only for five-six years. There are people here for 40 years and more and now, that’s not enough?
Some of the constitutional challenges to the current citizenship law pending before a constitutional bench remain an extreme disappointment from the Supreme Court. Bangladesh has no refugee treaty with India. The government needs to have some kind of humane touch to this whole thing.
The way the procedure and the issue of NRC is progressing is a matter of threat to the upholding of human rights in our country. This is something that we must take very seriously as we are staring at a huge humanitarian crisis. It is not worthy of replication across the country.
It is not about the deportation of so-called undocumented immigrants to Bangladesh. It’s about stripping a section of Indians of their rights, herding them in detention camps and harvesting votes by invoking the bogey of ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators.’ For lakhs of people, what the future holds is uncertain as ever.
Only a long court battle is certain, while a stateless identity with curtailed rights is a possibility. Deportation, if it ever happens, appears a long way away. So when jingo-baazi (jingoism) trumps the capabilities of the Indian bureaucracy to detect illegal immigrants based in decades-old papers, poor records will manifest poverty and common people struggling with lives are ground realities – and then the NRC.