Now that the National Register of Citizens is apparently being taken to the whole country, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill is listed for passing in Parliament, it is time Indians outside Assam wrap their heads around what the project is about.
The NRC and Citizenship Bill are obviously meant to uproot the secular foundations of India and establish India as a de jure Hindu Rashtra. That is reflected in the geography of the Citizenship Bill, which covers Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but not Myanmar or Sri Lanka. The map in question is the map of Akhand Bharat. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not shy about this, and nor are its supporters embarrassed about their support for it.
The NRC project originated in Assamese subnationalism but has since been hijacked, along with Assam Agitation leaders, by Hindu nationalism. The roots of the movement in Assam lie in the Partition of India in which the Sylhet district of Assam went to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1947. However, to the dismay of many Assamese, the Sylheti Hindus did not go to East Pakistan. Instead, they were driven out of that place in the religious riots following Partition, and gradually trickled into India, and especially into West Bengal and Assam.
The genesis of both the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill lie in that history.
The aim of the NRC is said to be to identify and evict illegal migrants, but this is where the BJP government — and, indeed, any government — faces a problem. How is the state to detect who is illegal and who is not? And how is the Indian citizen to prove that he or she is one? If we go by what happened in NRC in Assam, only having a driving licence, passport, voter ID or Aadhaar card, or even all of those documents, will prove nothing unless you were born a very long time ago. In the case of Assam, the cut-off date was March 24, 1971, so your documents would have to be older than that. In the rest of India, the cut-off date is likely to be sometime in 1951, the year demanded as cut-off by several Assamese organisations.
If you are not old enough to produce proof of your own presence as an Indian citizen through documentation from before the cut-off date, you will have to prove that your parents and grandparents were Indian citizens by that date. How do you prove to the government clerk that your parents were there, and that they are your parents and not someone else’s?
Well, in the case of Assam, there was a partial NRC in 1951 — it did not cover the entire state — and if their names were on that, and you could prove your relation to them, you were in. Alternatively, if their names appeared in electoral rolls before March 1971, that would also get you in.
The problem that arose in many cases was that the ancestors’ names did not appear in the 1951 NRC or the voter rolls before 1971. This could happen for any reason. For instance, the village of the ancestors’ residence may not have been visited by the census enumerator in 1951. The ancestor may have been working in some other state while his vote was in Assam, and not bothered to come back to vote. Or the ancestor may have voted, but his or her name may have been spelled incorrectly in the election documents. The ancestor may have been illiterate or poorly literate and may not have known at all that the name was wrongly spelled.
Any of those seemingly insignificant events from 1951 to 1971 will now determine whether you are a citizen of India.
The most difficult part of the problem in many cases is for people to prove that their ancestors were their ancestors. For instance, women whose surnames changed after marriage have to establish that their parents are their parents. In rural India, where people used to be born at home and not in hospitals, there were no birth certificates. A large part of the population was illiterate and did not have any school or college certificates. If there is an ancient family ration card from 50 years ago with everyone’s names, they are in luck. Otherwise they might be in trouble.
The problem of proving that your parents are your parents can face others too. A friend in Guwahati who is an editor was asked to prove his relationship to his father. He offered to undergo a DNA test but the DNA test is not recognised as proof.
The NRC in Assam, conducted under the supervision of an Assamese Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and with the BJP government of “jatiyo nayak” Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, was such a disaster that the Assam BJP itself rejected it, as clearly stated by senior Assam BJP leader and minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Amit Shah has also said in Parliament that the NRC will be conducted again in Assam with the rest of the country.
The problem for the BJP is that at least in Assam, despite all the right people in all the right places, and somewhere in the range of Rs 1400 crore spent, the result of the NRC is that way more Hindus than Muslims have been left out. The rhetoric that Hindus will not be affected and Muslims will be targeted is what the BJP wants to project, and its supporters want to believe. However, that is not true. In Assam, at least 14-15 lakh of the 19 lakh finally excluded are Hindus — which is why the Assam BJP now wants a second NRC there.
That is likely to happen in every state and especially in states such as Tripura, whose BJP government itself has been opposing the NRC. Only the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is likely to be an exception, because of its Muslim majority, and the fact that only a small part of that majority is likely to apply for inclusion in the NRC.
No matter how many times the NRC is done, the basic problem of sifting Indians from foreigners in a poor country on the basis of documents from 50 or more years ago will remain. At the end of the day, in a national NRC, crores of Indians from all states regardless of faith will find themselves spending their life savings proving they are Indians.
The NRC will thus fail to achieve what Amit Shah is advertising, namely, the eviction of Muslims. Its twin, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, will similarly fail to achieve what it promises, namely the granting of easy citizenship to Hindus, because of similar issues of documentation and implementation. The final result will be that state government officials will be burdened with extra work day and night for years, thousands of crores of rupees will be spent, and poor Indians across the country in their millions will be left running from pillar to post, but eventually nothing will come out of it.
At the end of the day, a handful of unscrupulous politicians will be the only beneficiaries.