Amidst much apprehension, the first partial draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on the night of 31st December, 2017. While many including those in the administration feared some kind of violent outburst, there has been no such response to this much awaited publication.
The first draft which had only the names of 19 million people out of 32 million people did not lead to any chaos because of repeated dissemination of the information that as NRC updation is a mammoth task, the verification of a large number of applications are yet to be completed. As such the people had an idea that a large number of names will not be there.
Nonetheless the presence of such a low percentage of names from districts like Dhubri, Barpeta, Goalpara etc have left some people perplexed. The supervision of Supreme Court has however pacified people that genuine citizens will not be left out in the final draft. Even after the publication of first draft, the process of remaining verification is being undertaken at a fast pace to ensure that the draft is updated soon.
A large number of names were left out because the Panchayat certificate provided as a link for married women is to be reverified. Names of almost 1.5 lakh Doubtful Voters are also to be included in the NRC only after they get cleared from the Foreigners’ Tribunal.
Applicants have to undertake a tedious process to get their names included in the updated National Register of Citizens. They have to either prove with documents that their names appeared in the NRC of 1951 or in any of the electoral rolls till 1971, or in any one of the 12 other documents provided they were issued before 1971. Those who are descendants of persons possessing any of the above documents also require to produce or any of the other six specified documents to prove their relationship to their ancestors.
The NRC updation has found support from every segment of the socio-political class of Assam. Partition and the formation of Bangladesh, saw a large number of both Muslims and Hindus come from erstwhile East Pakistan. As a result the ‘outsider’ question has always been a burning one in Assam’s political scenario.
The six-year-long Assam Movement was also fought on this very line – to ensure that outsiders are not given any kind of refuge in the state. The Assam Accord earmarked a date also – 24th March, 1971 as the cut-off date for accepting migrants. While NRC updation was not specifically mentioned in the Accord, there is a belief that it will help in finding out illegal immigrants.
The bogey of Bangladeshis has been conveniently used by political parties in subsequent elections to secure their respective vote banks. Many are hopeful that the NRC updation will to some extent end the ambiguity surrounding the question of illegal migrants.
To start with it will give some idea about the probable number of such immigrants. It will also hopefully mitigate the stigma that Muslims of East Bengal origin is subjected to. Owing to their religious and cultural backgrounds, many a time, people belonging to this community are picked up for being suspected foreigners. Many believe that once their names are included in NRC, they will be spared such harassment.
One cannot deny the importance of this updation process. People have tried their level best to provide all the required documents. But can we conclude that an updated NRC will put forth some semblance of solution to the problem of illegal immigration?
Already there are dubious articles doing rounds which claim that many ‘doubtful’ citizens have also succeeded in getting themselves enrolled in the NRC. This seriously questions the credibility of the process and also makes one feel that even after the completion of the process, the cloud of suspicion will continue to hover around those people.
There is a belief that a completed NRC will provide us with an idea about who is an illegal immigrant. In short, lack of documents will point to the dubious nature of someone’s citizenship. In fact when the process of submission of documents started in 2015, many people from indigenous communities like the adivasis, tea tribes etc lacked such documents.
While the citizenship of these people should not be a matter of doubt, providing documents to prove it will be difficult. Many cases of doubtful voters has to do with small discrepancies in documents – be it the spelling of names, or changing surnames with marital status, the similar problem may present itself during the NRC updation.
If because of some discrepancy in documents, even one family member’s citizenship is not proved, he/she will be sent to the detention camps. From a humanitarian perspective it will be tragic as it may leave families broken. Once the final draft is prepared, there is a provision that both inclusion and exclusion of names may be contested. This might lead to a chaotic situation.
There is also an absence of any clear policy as to what will be done about those who are proven to be non-citizens. Will they be deported to the country of origin? Even after SC directed the central government to initiate talks with neighbouring countries regarding deportation, nothing has been done. Even if someone entered the country just after 1971, that person lived here for five decades. How feasible it will be to uproot such families and send them off somewhere?
Will NRC updation end or stop illegal immigration? These are questions yet to be answered. Amidst such confusion, political parties are also gaining brownie points assuaging the fear of the commoners. Be it Madani or Mamata Bannerjee, their remarks might create newer social cleavages in Assam on the basis of language, culture.
The Bengalis of Barak valley are fearful that a large number of people from there will be left out. But instead of assuring them, political leaders are busy targeting each other. While almost everyone looks hopefully towards a completed correct NRC, the inherent contradictions should not be overlooked. The government’s proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which will provide citizenship to those who entered India till 2014, the NRC updation with a base year of 1971 will be a futile exercise.
Parvin Sultana is an assistant professor in Pramathesh Barua College, Gauripur. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.