By Saarthak Anand
The much-awaited first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), released on 31st December 2017, has become a cause of anxiety among certain sections of Assam’s population. Only 19 million out of 32.9 million applicants have been able to make the cut. Authorities, however, have sought to allay fears by emphasising the fact that the verification process is still underway, and subsequent drafts will contain the names of all genuine citizens.
In a midnight press conference held in order to announce the release, Registrar General of India, Sailesh, tried to address such concerns. “This is a part draft. It contains 1.9 crore persons, who have been verified till now. The rest of the names are under various stages of verification. As soon as the verification is done, we will come out with another draft”, he said.
The application process for NRC had started in May 2015 by the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government. According to reports, 65 million documents were received from 6.8 million families across the state. The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the entire process, had ordered that the first draft be published by 31st December.
Asymmetric rates of enrollment
Notably, there are many MPs and MLAs who have failed to make it to the list. This includes the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) President and Lok Sabha MP, Badruddin Ajmal, as well as his brother, MP Sirajuddin Ajmal. While there are members from almost all communities among the excluded, the verification process has been slower in the minority-dominated districts of Barak Valley, central Assam, and lower Assam, with the proportion of applications included in the first NRC draft much lower than the state average of 57 percent. In the Assamese-dominated districts of upper Assam, on the other hand, 90 percent of the applicants have made it to the list.
NRC is not a solution in itself
The detection and expulsion of aliens is something that had been promised by several political parties. This issue, however, has been created and allowed to intensify by successive governments, who had been turning a blind eye to illegal immigration on account of compromises associated with vote-bank politics. This has led to illegal immigration becoming a dreadful reality in Assam. The extent to which the NRC will address the problem is, however, not very clear.
Almost four decades have passed since March 25, 1971 – the cut-off date for determining illegal migrants into Assam. Subsequent generations of such migrants, who might be declared illegal once the NRC list is finalised, have known to be citizens of no nation but India till now. In addition, the NRC does not even attempt to look at the root cause of the problem: The border with Bangladesh is yet to be sealed.
The Bharatiya Janata Party – in power in both the state as well as at the centre – has managed to turn this issue about the Assamese and the non-Assamese into one based on religion. In the party’s campaign for the 2016 Assembly elections, the line between anti-immigrant sentiment and that against Muslim migrants had been significantly blurred. Furthermore, the Citizenship Amendment Bill, introduced by the Central government in the Lok Sabha in 2016, aims to make illegal migrants who belong to six communities viz. Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship of India. This only goes on to betray a sense of bias against a particular community.
While measures against illegal immigration need to be implemented, humanitarian concerns have to be kept in mind. The NRC list is a welcome step, but not an exhaustive one. Moreover, it needs to be free from political considerations, and must not become a tool for targeting certain groups. The bar needs to be set equally for all.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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