Kudos to the BJP government for keeping its motto of “intention” and “courage” to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the country. The NRC is a register maintained by the Government of India containing names and certain relevant information for identification of Indian citizens of Assam state on the basis of their faith. The register was initially, specifically made for Assam. However, on 20th November 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah declared during a parliamentary session that the register would be extended to the entire country. Shah has clearly indicated that NRC will be applied nation wide and no person of any religion should worry. The register was first prepared after the 1951 census of India and since then it has not been updated until recently. This exercise is being done under the direct supervision of the honourable Supreme Court of India to get rid of the illegal migrants who have settled in Assam.
The NRC has been developed with the aim of segregating Indian citizens from illegal migrants. The centre’s view is very clear that no illegal immigrant will be allowed to stay anywhere in the country. The updating process of NRC started in the year 2013 under the strict monitoring and supervision of the Supreme Court of India. On December 31, 2017, a part draft NRC list was released and subsequently on July 30, 2018, the complete draft of NRC was released. It is a well-known fact that the issue of “foreigners” is still a live issue in the politics of North-East in general and Assam in particular. Many provisions promulgated by the Assam accord like the National Registration of Citizens came to effect after more than three decades of the signing of the accord.
Assam’s National Register of Citizens, currently being updated for the first time since 1951, is meant to be a list of Indians living in the state. One of the stated aims of the exercise is to separate citizens from undocumented migrants, or anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors lived in the country before midnight on March 24, 1971, or the eve of the Bangladesh war. During the Bangladesh Liberation war 1971, many illegal immigrants from Bangladesh came to India, mostly settled in Assam and West Bengal. The immigration continued even after the end of war. The Indian Government had to spent huge amount of public money for those illegal immigrants.
Immigration of illegal migrants from Bangladesh is a major problem in Assam. The flooding of illegal migrants has disturbed the political and cultural components of Assam. Assamese are feeling threatened by the ever growing power of migrants. The Bengali Hindus, who played a leading role in the struggle for India’s freedom, have perhaps been its worst victims. Between partition and 1971, when the Bangladesh Genocide that targeted the community occurred in which an estimated 3 million people were massacred by the Pakistan Army in one of the worst genocides in world history, the community was decimated. It is reported that almost 2 million people in Assam have been excluded from the final version of the National Register of Citizens in Assam that was released by the government recently. A total of 33 million people had applied for the NRC, of which 31 million made it to the final list.
The legacy of anti-immigrant sentiment in Assamese public sphere for more than a century has created an environment of deadly silence and trauma has taken control over the lives of several million people across the state. This legacy for more than a century now needs due consideration along with the colonial policies and schemes which enabled such a huge human population to move from one place to another.
Updating the NRC has been a decades-old demand, with various modalities and cut-off dates suggested over the years and many rounds of talks held and now it is done as per court order. But as the current trend in India, where politics is placed over the national interest, many opposition parties have started protesting. One must remember the benefits of bringing registered in the NRC is that it will form the basis for the detection of illegal migrants, inclusion will protect against harassment and a ticket to enjoying all the constitutional rights and safeguards and the benefits of government schemes.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)