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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 37 New Delhi September 1, 2018

National Register of Citizens (NRC): A Dissenting Note

Sunday 2 September 2018, by Arup Kumar Sen


Over 40 lakh people in Assam, mostly belonging to the Muslim community, found their names excluded from the “complete draft” of the NRC, released in Guwahati on July 30, 2018. The BJP Government has already passed the burden of this document on to the Supreme Court. In the context of criticisms of this document, the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, stated: “I want to make it clear that the government has no role to play. Whatever is happening is being done under the supervision of the Supreme Court.” Immediately after the release of the NRC, the Supreme Court Bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R.F. Nariman observed: “...the Court would like to observe that what has been published is only the Complete Draft NRC which naturally being a draft cannot be the basis of any action by any authority.”

Apprehensions about the NRC have been expressed from different quarters even before the release of the Draft. A team of Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights bodies expressed their concerns to the Union Minister for External Affairs in their communication (June 11, 2018) : “...the NRC update has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship...Bengali Muslims have historically been the target of various human rights violations, including forced displacement, arbitrary expulsions and killings. In addition, since 1997, the Election Commission has arbitrarily identified a large number of Bengali people as so-called ‘doubtful or disputed voters’, resulting in their further disenfranchisement and the loss of entitlements to social protection as Indian citizens.”

A fact-finding team visited lower Assam-Barpeta, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Guwahati—from June 26 to June 30, 2018. They observed in their Report, titled Fact Finding Report on Assam: Doubtful Citizenship, Distorted Rights, “Many locals don’t have valid documents, due to various reasons: shift in geographical location, erosion of villages, floods, theft, the ravages of time, etc. Many women don’t have birth/ school/ electoral evidence/certificates, especially when they move to other villages after marriage.” The Report further observed: “Up till March 2016, the verification process was deemed to be fair and objective, according to widespread perception, including within the civil society. Its rules and guidelines were apparently being followed. Post April 2016 elections, with the BJP coming to power, difficulties, problems and accusations of bias began to stalk Assam.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which the BJP introduced in Parliament in 2016, was aimed at providing citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is apprehended in a report carried in India Today (August 6, 2018) that the Bill “...was primarily aimed at protecting the Bengali Hindu migrants from Bangladesh”.

The above developments propel us to argue that the communalisation of the citizenship question cannot be dissociated from the discourse of the NRC.

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