Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement on the NRC and the Citizenship Bill has brought Assam into the limelight this year.
NRC was mentioned in BJP’s Manifesto for General Elections 2019. Working on their commitment, BJP released the Final NRC status on 14th September 2019. The ministers from the ruling party are now giving statements that the NRC will be implemented in other states as well.
As there is a possibility of NRC being implemented across the country, it is important for you to know about NRC, its timeline and all the factors that come into play.
What is National Register of Citizens (NRC)?
The NRC is a list or a register of Indian people in the state of Assam. It was created on the basis of the 1951 census by making a list of people living in each house in each village in the state. It was published only once in 1951. This was done as illegal immigrants entered the state during the partition.
The NRC is now being updated to identify and take action against illegal migrants who entered India after the Bangladesh Liberation Movement. It is no longer based on the census but on the original NRC list and the state electoral roll. The freeze date for the same is 24th March 1971.
Assam, due to its geographical location and fertile land, has always faced the challenges of large-scale immigration from outsiders.
This has led to the distortion of the Assamese cultures and traditions. Further, economic and other opportunities meant for them are being stolen.
These Illegal immigrants have often contributed through disrupting law and order.
The last straw expressing their need to weed out illegal immigrants was when these immigrants – both Hindus and Muslims from Bangladesh invaded the political sphere and started influencing decision making. Due to their large number, their influence on the electoral process made the demand for NRC stronger.
1826-1947: Imminent migration noticed into colonial Assam
1951: NRC was prepared and published based on the 1951 Census
1971: Extensive migration of illegal immigrants due to the Bangladesh Liberation War and crackdown of the Pakistani Army in March 1971
1979: Assamese noticed major issues of Law and order. Further, a sudden increase of Muslims in the voter’s list indicated significant interference by illegal immigrants in political affairs. This began a six year protest led by the All Assam Student Union.
1985: The AASU signed an agreement with the Union government famously known as the Assam Accord. The Assam Accord decided to grant citizenship to foreigners who entered India between 1951 and 1961, give citizenship rights excluding voting for 10 years to those foreigners who entered India between 1961 and 24th March 1971. Anyone illegal immigrant who entered India after the midnight of 24th March 1971 was to be deported.
After 1985: The subsequent governments fail to update the NRC and forward the process of removing illegal immigrants.
2005: Pilot project to update the NRC conducted. It ends abruptly as the efforts lead to violence and possible communal clashes.
2009: With pressure mounting from the AASU and others from Assam, Assam Public Works NGO files a petition with the Supreme Court.
2013: Groundwork begins by the Registrar General of India for restarting the updating of NRC.
2014: The SC directs the government to undertake the matter in a time bound manner and decides to personally keep a watch on the actions and resolve any arising disputes during the process.
2015: The application process begins to update the NRC. It mentioned 12 documents other than the presence of the name of the person or his bloodline in the 1951 census or the state voters list made before the freeze date. Bloodline was traced with a family tree being plotted and extensive measures were taken to ensure that there are no loopholes.
31st December 2017: The first draft of the NRC was published. 1.9 crore names were published out of the 3.29 applicants. The Registrar General of India told that the verification of remaining applicants was underway and the subsequent draft would be published.
30th July 2018: The second draft of the NRC was released. Around 40 Lakh people were excluded. People were directed to apply to the NRC Sewa Kendras if their name is not present. The SC issued a statement on 31st that no coercive action will take place against those whose names are not mentioned.
14th September 2019: Final status of all NRC applicants is published. This list excluded about 19 Lakh people. These people facing statelessness have been directed to file an appeal in the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The government also asked people not to panic as the full opportunity will be given to prove their citizenship. Notably, criticisms poured in as reports of Public Servants, Army officers, Family of Political leaders who held posts as high as that of the President were excluded.
Criteria for Inclusion and Exclusion
- Persons whose names appear in the NRC list of 1951 and their descendants with proof of their bloodline.
- Persons whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March 1971 and their descendants with proof of their bloodline.
- People who came from another region on or after 1st January 1966 but before 25th March 1971 and registered themselves with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and were declared as Indian citizens by the Foreigner Tribunal
- All Indian citizens including their relatives who moved to Assam after 24th March 1971. They need to provide proof of residence in another part of the country as on 24th March 1971.
- D’ voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. Their names will be included only when the appropriate Foreigner Tribunal declares them as non-foreigners. D voters are those whose names were disqualified from the voter’s list as there was considerable doubt about their citizenship.
- Any person without any acceptable proof of residence in India before the freeze date
- Any person who is in D voters list will be excluded if citizenship cannot be proved
- Any person whose case is pending in front of Foreigner Tribunal
- Descendents of the above people
Advantages of NRC
- The Pre-1971 immigrants will finally receive a definite identity and place in Indian society and will avoid further discrimination in the name of being outsiders.
- They will also receive the complete benefits of being Indian in terms of being included in reform policies, voting rights, and governmental policies.
- The NRC will provide an accurate and verifiable number of illegal immigrants. This is important to take ahead of any further debate in this regard and make policies on the fate of these people.
- An updated NRC has the potential to deter any future illegal immigrants from entering India with the belief that they can integrate into society and pass off as Indians.
- The government is taking all possible steps to ensure a procedure which is convenient for the public. Foreign Tribunals in Assam have increased and now, every state is directed to have an FT.
- The Supreme Court and the government have made it clear that no coercive action will be taken against the people, not in the list and sufficient opportunity will be given to them to prove their citizenship
- The people not in the list are responsible for procuring documents to prove citizenship, not the officials. Common people may not only find this difficult but this also a case of the government shifting the blame on citizens.
- The humanitarian concern of making lakhs of people stateless is concerning for a nation like India which is well respected across the world. The EAM even received a letter from the UN asking for an “Elaborate description of the government’s plans” on NRC.
- Political Parties have turned the Insider-outsider debate into a Hindu-Muslim debate for electoral gains. It is to be noted that Bangladeshi Hindus are also a major part of illegal immigrants.
- A significant issue with the NRC is the uncertainty over what happens to those people, not on the list. Neither the government which is undertaking the process nor the judiciary which is overseeing the process has an answer to that.
- The possibility of sending them back to Bangladesh is bleak. Dhaka has never recognised the infiltration officially. It is already dealing with taking in the Rohingya refugees and will not be willing and does not have the capacity to take in more.
- Keeping lakhs of people in detention camps is unlike for a civilized country like India. Further, the infrastructure and monetary requirement for that is considerable. It also goes against the ideal of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or the world is one family.
- It is also against the Policy of “Neighbours First” followed by India. Bangladesh and other countries like Nepal must be respected as per this policy. No treaty is signed in this regard and an attempt may harm diplomatic relations.
- The NRC has created a situation of fear and panic in Assam. The uncertainty and apprehension of being stateless are significant. The government’s statements and its actions have had contradicting effects.
- The discrimination faced, especially by the Muslim population of Assam is disturbing. Not only is the bill considered undemocratic, but with its new outsider column in the application, it is clearly a dividing factor, even for legal citizens.
- The fact that NRC may come close to handling the current illegal immigrants but is doing nothing to stop infiltration happening across the border every day is deeply concerning.
Citizenship Amendment Bill and Clause 6
- The Modi government has begun the process of implementing the Citizenship Amendment Bill across the country which has been met with increasing opposition from Assam, including Allies of the ruling party.
- The bill seeks to provide citizenship to illegal Sikhs, Hindus, Parsis, Christians, Buddhists, and Jain Immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as they are victims of Minority prosecution. It also wishes to reduce the 11 years term required for citizenship by naturalisation to 6 years.
- The bill will act as a shield for the illegal Bengali Hindus in Assam and nullify a major part of NRC. The Assam Gana Parishad, an ally of the BJP has threatened to break ties if the bill is passed. Further, religious discrimination has been called out by all opposition parties.
- To pacify the people of Assam, the union cabinet recently approved a committee to look into the provisions and recommend ways to constitutionalise what is popularly known as Clause 6.
- Clause 6 of the Assam Accord was added to preserve and protect the linguistic, social, cultural, regional identity of Assamese people.
- These developments have further left the destiny of NRC in the air.
The government has plenty of challenges in front of them. From the flaws in the process itself to the difficult decision of what next and the side by side implementation of NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Bill, the future does not look stable. The idea of providing a work permit to these immigrants is doing rounds but its implementation is not going to be easy. The NRC is definitely one of the biggest challenges in front of NDA 2.0 and all eyes are now on the next move of the government.