National register of Citizens
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TOPIC:General Studies 2:
- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- It is the register containing names of Indian Citizens. It was prepared first in 1951 after the conduct of the Census of 1951.
- It is used to identify who is a bona fide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants.
Updates in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam: To compile a list of the names of genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam and, in the process, detect foreigners (read Bangladeshis) who may have illegally entered the state after March 24, 1971.
Pre-independence: Assam’s demographic changes date back to the introduction of the plantation economy by the colonial state in the 19th century. The colonial state brought in tribal labourers from Chota Nagpur and Bihar to work the plantations and encouraged the migration of Muslim farmers from Bengal.
Post-independence: Migrations continued after Independence even as Partition solidified national identities. The ethnic, cultural and religious dimensions of the situation demanded sensitive and imaginative solutions from the political class.
- In 1970s, All Assam Students’ Union spearheaded a massive drive, popularly known as the Assam Agitation calling for the detection, deletion and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court finally ordered to complete the exercise by December 31, 2017, leading to the present updating of NRC in Assam.
Citizenship crisis in Assam after NRC release: Over 40 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants have been excluded from Assam’s draft National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Concerns highlighted in the process
- Process of adding person to NRC list is too complex and confusing – riddled with legal inconsistencies and errors.
- Instances of arbitrary rejection of the gram panchayat certificates.
- Robust non-transparent “family tree verification” process resulted in numerous instances of parents being on the draft list but children being left out. Each person who is left out will now have to prove not only his or her linkages afresh, but also the documents themselves before the appropriate forum.
- Faults on part of the Supreme Court
- Lack of proper monitoring process
- Failed to ensure legal clarity over the manner in which the claims of citizenship could be decided
- Failed to understand the implications of the results, and after effects as well as recourse that should be made available for people who have failed to be recognized as citizens of the State
- Inability to comprehend the further political and policy actions in case of loss of citizenship
Points to worry about:
- Other than the shock of being “left out”, there is a common thread that binds the ones who have been declared illegal migrants —the lack of any knowledge on what to do next.
- Even as the people who have been left out of the list are now required to file their claims and objections for re-evaluation, along with the requisite documents, the message has yet to reach the hinterlands of a state, where people are staring at a future where they are likely to lose their homes and their families.
- If in some pockets, the ratio of excluded to included is high, it could well reach a boiling point. At the same time, it will also impact the upcoming Panchayat elections if the ratio of excluded Muslims to Hindus is high. Then this could lead to vast polarisation, which could adversely impact the state, in future
- Detention Centres – A Human Rights Crisis
A National Human Rights Commission study in January 2018 stated that even as Assam had six detention centres in jails, in the absence of any formal agreement between India and Bangladesh to deport persons who have been labelled foreigners by the foreigners’ tribunal, “there is no prospect of their eventual freedom from this incarceration. At present, it appears that they may actually be detained for the rest of their lives.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has laid down guidelines, set in stone, for detention centres. However, barring the six detention centres spread across Assam, there are no provisions to house those who will eventually be rendered “stateless. “Detention must not be arbitrary, and any decision to detain must be based on an assessment of the individual’s particular circumstances; conditions of detention must be humane and dignified,” the UNHCR states, among a host of other guidelines that govern statelessness, asylum and detention.
- The detainees in these centres are not allowed to legally communicate with their family members.
- The “situation of grave and extensive human distress and suffering” in two of these detention centres—in Kokrajhar and Goalpara—the Centre has made no alternative arrangements to house or rehabilitate people who are omitted from the final list.
The entire situation has the potential to sow seeds of violence in the state.
Potential Genocide: Genocide Watch—an international organisation that seeks to pre-empt and prevent genocide and mass murder—has already issued an “early warning of potential genocide,” dubbing it as stage 7 alert. The organisation says that, “when Bengali Muslims in Assam are imprisoned in “foreigner” detention centres, the situation will move to Stage Eight: Persecution, the stage immediately preceding full genocide.”
Mass Deportation: The pathway to deportation is lengthy, and shrouded in processes that renders it virtually ineffective. In the absence of a bilateral agreement, it presupposes that the government of Bangladesh will acknowledge the identified persons (alleged foreigners) as Bangladeshi citizens.
The Way Ahead: It is important and essential for the union government to proactively come out with an equitable, predictable and transparent plan on the way forward, for those who will be identified as ‘foreigners’.
Connecting the dots:
- Assam has excluded four million people from its National Register of Citizens (NRC). Now, it doesn’t know what to do with them. Comment.
- Modern nations are products of migrations and cultural diffusion and all the richer for it. NRC process doesn’t seem alive to this reality. Discuss.
- Political parties must stop feasting on the complexities of Assam’s demography. Examine.
Write an Essay: Hope has been reduced to scraps of paper in Assam