This article is written by Prateek Singh from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad. This article talks about NRC, NPR & CAA, and whether this trio is useful or harmful for our country, with reference to NRC done in Assam and the criticism received from all over the world and the reason for those criticisms.
There has been a huge amount of hue and cry in our country over the matter of citizenship. Though this has been a ‘trend’ in this country since forever, the issue has certainly caught a lot of flame in recent years. Questioning people’s nationality and making them prove their loyalty towards the nation is the new normal of our society. As unfortunate as it sounds, the issue has been more fatal for people who have found themselves caught up in this. Outrageous statements have been made, violent riots have erupted, people have lost their lives, and whatnot. The worst part of it all is that it all seems to be well planned, strategized, and targeted towards people who belong to a certain faith.
What is NRC, NPR & CAA
NRC- To put it simply, NRC can be described as the National Register of People, a register that will have the list of all the country’s genuine citizens, even though it is currently only done in Assam, and as our leaders put it, there will soon be a national NRC.
NPR- The NPR is a database which contains a list of all the country’s regular residents. The goal is to provide a comprehensive identity database of individuals residing in the country. It is generated by house-to-house enumeration during the census’ phase of “house-listing,” which is held once in 10 years.
CAA- CAA stands for Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the act was passed in parliament on December 11, 2019. Under this act, the Indian government plans to give citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, which are people belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities.
This trio is supposed to provide people who have been called migrants belonging to the neighbouring countries and the idea is to provide them with an identity while purposely excluding the people from Islamic faith from the conversation. All three processes are interconnected and execution of each is important to attain the ultimate outcome. The ‘chronology’ is supposed to do justice to people and of course, a migrant with a Muslim identity is not invited.
What was the idea behind these
The idea of having NRC, NPR & CAA in our country was to maintain a register or have a track of the actual population of the country and to give citizenship to ‘persecuted minorities’ from neighbouring countries. To India the value of the National Citizens’ Register (NRC) is central. This offers a clear cut-off demarcation on who applies to be an Indian citizen and other citizens who have been residing in India illegally. In several instances, the NRC’s role has proven to be very helpful. In Assam state, where a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are known to live, their housing would have to be forfeited with the assistance of the NRC. That’s why all of India’s states use an NRC that is updated every ten years. With our evidently growing economy, it is important to have a clear picture of the exact number of people and foreign nationals residing in the country and whether that person is legal or illegal. This also plays a major part in awarding people their rights. As an idea, it wasn’t something that could be discarded outrightly or was absurd in demand. But somewhere down the line, it lost the track and became heavily controversial.
This set of ideas that appeared to be acceptable on paper is full of flaws which are totally not worth considering in actuality. The potential damage that awaits if it is pursued any further is nothing but a nightmare for India.
NRC- contradictory to parent laws
Keeping in mind that the NRC is an issue with active involvement on the part of the government and the Supreme Court of India, with the most prominent people in the field of law and with responsibility for safeguarding the rights and interests of the Indian people, this major flaw was the least expected of all. The NRC was found to be in violation of the 1955 Citizenship Act, section 3(i) of the Act states that anyone born in India on or after January 26, 1950, but before July 1st, 1987, is to be a citizen of India. But the National Register of Citizen has its own rule to consider anyone as a citizen of this country, which is that the name of the family members of the applicant should be in the first NRC prepared in 1951, or the second condition is that the names should be in the electoral rolls until midnight on March 24, 1971. The Citizenship Act of 1955 forbids citizenship to people belonging to the two groups,
- Diplomats’ children, embassies are considered to be the floating islands of a country, which means that wherever you are in the world, you will always be considered a citizen of your own country and that is the reasoning behind not granting diplomats’ children citizenship.
- Children of an alien enemy, it is self-explanatory why a country would grant citizenship to someone heir to a national enemy.
But the way the people of Assam are treated and the 1.9 million that was put under the light to get their citizenship revoked, this raises a question that we are going to treat the people of our own country the same way as the enemy of a nation gets. This has been criticized by prominent constitutional law scholars in our country, most notably by Dr Professor Faizan Mustafa, who said that under no circumstances can the rules breach parental law, because NRC is a rule that can not breach the Citizenship Act, which is the parent law that deals explicitly with citizenship issues, which provides the conditions under which everyone can be considered as a citizen of this country. They also breach several international treaties and conventions that India is a signatory to. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifically states that every child on birth will have the right to a nationality. Section 6(A) of the 1955 Citizenship Act arising from the Assam Accord, which classifies illegal immigrants into three categories,
- Those who came to the state before 1966 were to be granted Indian citizenship.
- Those who came to India between 1966 and 25th March 1971, were to be taken off the electoral rolls and then to be regularized after ten years.
- Those who arrived on the post of 25 March 1971 were to be detected and expelled under the law. Currently, the third category again contradicts the acquisition of the citizenship provision of the 1955 Citizenship Act, which states that someone born on or after January 26, 1950, and before July 1, 1987, would be considered a citizen of India.
Some stories from Assam
A woman named Amina Khatun found her name missing from the updated register produced in August, Amina Khatun married her brother-in-law and went through Brahmaputra river to live with her family. During this, she broke two rules, one, that no two sisters should get married in the same household, and the other, that the woman from the river’s north bank should not marry the person from the river’s south side. When the revised NRC list arrived, she was the only one in her family who was omitted from the list; all the others, including her sister and her three children, found their names in NRC. Another story is of Masuma Begum, who is a student from Lakhimpur district of Upper Assam, said that when the first draft of the NRC was produced on December 31 in 2017, her father was the only person from her family who had his name in the list.
Once again, on July 30th, 2018, when NRC’s final draft was published, Masuma was the only one who did not have her name on the list, everyone else was included in the list except for her from the family. Being confident that she has all the necessary documents to prove her citizenship, and also that her family includes people who serve the country as servants of government, this problem of her will be easily solved. But she was unable to do so because she did not follow the authorities’ order, which was that she had to be present at Lakhimpur for verification in 2 days. Hence, her name was cut off from the NRC’s list and now people like Masuma Begum and Amina Khatun would have to appear in front of the Foreigners tribunal to show that they have lived their entire lives, that they are a legitimate national of this country. They will have to present the same set of papers to the relevant authorities during the process of verification and appearance, which they have already presented during the NRC process.
These are the people who have had a sense of belonging to the nation throughout their lives, and god knows how many more Masuma Begum and Amina Khatun are there in the list of 1.9 million excluded people only from Assam. They are all going to have to go through this process, and many of them will eventually land up in those detention centres that the government plans to make in the future. What will happen to them is a question which will fail to answer even those who have put forward the idea that NRC will.
Now imagine this absurdity happening on the entire population of this country and especially on the Muslim population. Minister of Finance Himanta Biswa Sarma said that today’s NRC is ‘not an acceptable document’. It should be rejected and Assam should be a part of the national exercise of the same. The statement of this minister came after the Home Minister of India announced in the parliament that there will be a nationwide NRC exercise.
The entire NRC process in Assam was done on a mammoth Rs.1600 crore budget. Try to think about the things that could have been done with this sum, try to think about the number of people who sleep hungry every night who should have had food in their stomach which is the bare minimum necessary to live a life. This only paints the picture of one state, there are 28 states and 8 Union Territories which makes for a grand total of 36. As per the census of India, 2011 report, Assam is the 14th most populated state in India, it is best left on people to calculate the mammoth of a cost the country will have to bear in order to get the NRC done all over India. This is only the story of NRC, the allocated budget for NPR is Rs. 3941.35 crores and Rs. 3754.23 crores for census of 2021. For a country that has struggled with issues like poverty, unemployment(unemployment being on a 45 year high), lack of infrastructural development, pathetic state of medical facilities, etc. this is where this pile of money is being invested. This also raises a very important question, which political parties and their supporters seem to care least about, the question of where our priorities lie, what idea of ‘nation-building’ are we chasing, what goal are we trying to attain? Because this sure doesn’t look good for a nation which has so many important issues to deal with, India ranks 49th on poverty index, India still has more than 36 crore Indians who cannot afford 3 square meals a day. The money allocated to be spent on this program can be used for the betterment of all those people who still cannot meet their basic daily needs.
Impact inside country
Ever since the announcement of CAA was made, protests erupted all over the country, the protestors included students from various universities, people from civil societies, opposition parties, etc. The nationwide protest was mainly based on 2 issues, in the Northeast region, the protests were about the implementation of the Act in their areas. Protests at other places were because of the deliberate exclusion of Muslims from the entire plan and they feared that it was against the ethos of the constitution. People of the Northeast believe that this will cause harm to the culture that they live by and it will cause a rush of immigrants which will further put additional burden on the people. They claim that this act is deliberately excluding Muslims from the entire scheme of providing citizenship to migrants and refugees holds true if you read Article 2 of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, it clearly mentions all the major religions excluding Muslims in the name of persecuted minorities.
Students along with scholars, writers, and activists were at the forefront of the urban demonstrations. Muslims, who live in large numbers in many Indian cities, have joined in as well. Such demonstrators claim that the CAA violates secular values of the country by excluding Muslims— and risks transforming India into a majority state. The country’s Muslim community already faces political and socioeconomic marginalization, this will further damage the already damaged state of them. In the quest to take control over the protestors, the police force in all of India arrested thousands of students, the majority of which were injured during those clashes. Hundreds of lives were lost which included people from both Pro-CAA and Anti-CAA and policemen. This ignited violent riots and clashes in several parts of the country with Delhi and Bengal being the most affected. The riot in Delhi took the lives of people and lasted for weeks.
India grabbed major attention from around the world after the CAA was announced and protestors took the street to show their dissent. More than 100 students at Harvard University wrote an open letter to the Government of India expressing their solidarity with “the protest of the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act” and “deep condemnation of the violent suppression of student protestors at Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Milia Islamia University and elsewhere.”
Highlighting the fact that demonstrations and dissent are central to the nation’s secular and democratic structure, the students wrote: “The aggressive police repression of demonstrators, the use of teargas, lathi charges and physical violence in response to peaceful opposition, and the forced intrusion of police forces onto university campuses and consequent internet blockades are all deeply reprehensible.
A report in The New York Times raised concerns about the bill’s motives and curbing opposition, pointing out that “unarmed students” were attacked by police. Mr Modi’s government responded by calling out soldiers, shutting down the internet, and enforcing curfews, much as it did when it clamped down on Kashmir. Police officers in New Delhi beat unarmed students with wooden sticks, pull them away and send hundreds to hospitals. They shot and killed a number of young men at Assam.
UN-HR spokeswoman Jeremy Laurence called for the Act to be reviewed, saying-“We agree the new law will be reviewed by the Indian Supreme Court and hope it will carefully examine the conformity of the law with the international human rights obligations of India”.
Human rights/citizen rights
Human Rights– International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its report, recommended that the Indian parliament repeal the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA). According to the report, CAA is in violation of International Human Rights law and is discriminatory to the Muslims because it only considers the non-muslims to be fit for citizenship from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The report further said the government has tried to justify the rule, claiming it is trying to provide refuge for religious minorities abroad, escaping persecution. That claim, however, is belied by the exclusion of many other vulnerable groups that have sought refuge in India, such as the Sri Lankan minority Tamils and Bhutan ethnic Nepalis. It also effectively excludes other oppressed Muslim minorities from Afghanistan such as the Hazaras, Pakistan’s Shia and Ahmadiyya and Myanmar’s Rohingyas. The report also criticized the way police have tried to handle the situation, it said: “The police, however, have been quick to arrest critics of the policy and disperse their peaceful demonstrations, including by using excessive and lethal force,”.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of HRW said, “India’s prime minister has appealed for a united fight against COVID-19, but has yet to call for unity in the fight against anti-Muslim violence and discrimination.” Government policies have opened the door to mob violence and police inaction, which have instilled fear among Muslims and other minority communities across the country.
Citizen rights– The citizens of our country are entitled to enjoy the rights which are conferred to them by the Constitution. The rights include, right to life, right to live with dignity, right to vote, etc. and these rights are to be protected at all costs except for certain emergency situations, under which these rights will be curbed for the better of society. But the plan that has been laid down to undertake the entire process of these three programs, as it has been proved in Assam and is mentioned above, carries along with a huge risk of legitimate citizens ending up in one of the detention centres, the name detention centre is a flowery version of the word jail. Once you are there, you don’t have any rights with you, you are nothing but a slave surrounded by those walls.
The ruling party has stated repeatedly that any opposition to the act passed by the Parliament is an insult to democracy and parliament itself. But if we have a look at the past, our current PM Narendra Modi opposed the Land Acquisition Act passed by the parliament. He went on to bring an ordinance to change it and then he reissued it several times. This makes their harsh actions against all those who are in opposition to this act and the labelling and name-calling they are doing on the protestors, a little bit ironic. In any democracy, different acts passed by the Parliament are opposed.
Persecuted Hindus and other minorities were always given the option of applying for Indian citizenship. It has always been within the Union Government’s powers to either give them citizenship or refuse them. In addition, in the last six years, 3914 people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh have been granted citizenship during the Modi regime itself. This included 2,830 Pakistanis, 912 Afghanistanis, and 172 Bangladeshis. A huge majority of those were non-Muslims. In the 60s and 70s, 4.61 lakh Tamils and 2 lakh Burmese had been granted Indian citizenship. People of Indian descent from Uganda, Kenya, and so on faced persecution and fled from those countries. They received Indian Citizenship. This beats the entire purpose of CAA or what the ruling party tried to project in front of the people of the country. If the idea was to give citizenship to the persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries, they were getting citizenship before CAA was made into a reality. Even if there is a defence of ‘easing the process’, you cannot have the liberty to ease a process by risking millions of life and if we go by the data that came out of the riots and unrest all over the country, lives were lost and easing a process is not a good enough justification for the loss of all those lives. The BJP has been a political party that has its strong affiliation to the right-wing politics and on several occasions, they have been very vocal about their dislike towards the Muslim community. One of the major points that have won them the elections twice for the centre has been the highly talked about Ram Mandir issue, which is a religiously charged issue between Hindus and Muslims, it was eventually settled in a judgment by the Supreme Court.
This all is a big setup to make the lives of Muslims of this country more miserable than it already is. Someone’s life, their family, their future cannot depend upon someone’s word like it is being said that the officers who will go door-to-door to collect information during the process of NPR, they will be local officers and they will have the power to label anyone as a “doubtful citizen”, and then that very “doubtful citizen” will find his whole life being ripped apart time to time. This one-term poses such a huge threat to so many lives, the incomprehensible power that is being vested in that one person, the damage that it can do is beyond our thinking.
Professor Faizan Mustafa, a constitutional expert in our country said about the “doubtful citizen” term, his words “In a polarised environment of today, Muslims, liberals and political dissenters will be the primary targets of exclusion through this draconian provision. Similarly, poor people, illiterate, landless, women, and orphans may be marked as doubtful citizens. This will also lead to a lot of corruption as these officials may seek illegal gratification to remove the doubtful tag.”
This is not something which will require a genius to figure out that it is totally outrageous and the people who have been showing their dissent are making far more sense than this government. But, this government has somehow been successful in convincing a better part of our population that this is being done in the national interest while in reality all this is doing is do irreparable damage, something which we might never come out of in our lifetime. The arresting of peaceful protestors, students and the categorization of society shows their desperation regarding the execution of this plan, something which they will feed off of for years to come. If you give citizenship to migrants in the name of persecuted minorities and you make sure your right-wing affiliated population takes note of it, this will bear fruits for years to come, this will create a vote bank who will, in turn, satisfy their greed to be in power for a foreseeable time. Lessons should have been learned from what happened in Assam, people who have served in the Army, people who have given the highest sacrifice for their motherland, they found themselves trapped in this.
If you try to make sense out of this, you will realize that this exercise holds a potential threat to our society if it is misused or if it does not maintain the integrity of justice to all. Putting the lives of millions at risk is not justified by any action, rejecting the international criticism you have been receiving for pulling off an absurd and foolish move is not going to repair the damage that has been done. Putting students in jail, beating them ruthlessly, and causing harm to their property is never going to be a justifiable action in the eyes of a right-thinking and sane society. Mocking the plight of millions, trying to weaken the efforts of hundreds of thousands by saying that if they show dissent, they are disrespecting the parliament and the apex court is not going to reverse the negative effect of your actions. Giving so much power in the hands of people who will work for you or work on your words, that they can ruin anyone’s life is not going to make you a leader. What will, is you taking care of your population, the people who put you in a position to make decisions for their benefit and that is exactly how you should wish to be remembered in history.
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