While the home minister on Wednesday assured Parliament that everyone would get a fair deal, irrespective of their religion, the fear of the NRC targeting Muslims has to be addressed, and resolved before the exercise is carried out; it cannot be left for later.
It is not clear how the Supreme Court will view another verification of citizens via the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam since it has rejected the government’s plea to review the last such exercise, but that is what home minister Amit Shah has said will happen; he told Parliament on Wednesday that an Assam NRC will happen along with a larger exercise for the entire country. But, regardless of what the SC says, the government needs to have a much wider consultation on what is proposed before it goes ahead. To begin with, it needs to have clarity on what it plans to do with those who are identified as non-citizens, or illegal immigrants. Around 19 lakh persons were said to be non-citizens when the NRC exercise took place in Assam, but a large number of them were Hindus, and not the Bangladeshi Muslims that most thought had infiltrated the state in very large numbers; that is why the BJP in Assam rejected the NRC exercise as incorrect. Are such people to be allowed to stay, but not to vote, or will they be deported to where they came from? And, what would happen if, say, Bangladesh refused to accept them; would they be held in prison-type camps? It is not just that the government needs to clearly spell out its plan for non-citizens, this cannot be a unilateral decision; other political parties, and the country’s citizens need to be consulted on this separately.
There is also the fear that the move is predominantly aimed at removing Muslims since the Citizenship Amendment Bill promises to give citizenship to Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi, Sikh, and Christian refugees from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. While the home minister on Wednesday assured Parliament that everyone would get a fair deal, irrespective of their religion, the fear of the NRC targeting Muslims has to be addressed, and resolved before the exercise is carried out; it cannot be left for later. Indeed, the NRC can quickly degenerate into a communal one, with non-BJP parties like Trinamool in West Bengal already opposing it. Interestingly, as The Indian Express pointed out, in a reply to a Lok Sabha question last year in December, Shah had said that there was no proposal to extend the NRC to states other than Assam.
And, how are the poor and unlettered, and migrants to go around proving their citizenship since, often enough, they don’t have the documents required to prove citizenship such as birth certificates or bank/post-office accounts, and then records to prove their link with their parents/grandparents; the latter includes birth certificates, land documents, school-leaving certificates, ration cards etc. Since India has never had citizenship papers, millions will now have to go back to their villages to get these documents. It is possible that, despite all this, it may still be worth it—if, say, illegal immigrants who are not Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Sikhs, or Parsi are responsible for terrorist activities; but, surely this needs debating? Apart from its usual problems, in recent years, India has been buffeted by the impact of demonetisation and, even though they were well-intentioned, GST, and RERA; why do we want to add the adverse impact of an all-India NRC to this?