Dr. Adfer Shah 3 August 2018
The very process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is supposed to help identify Indian citizens residing in Assam in accordance with the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Assam Accord needs to be welcomed by one and all irrespective of political affiliations and ideologies. As per the current list of the NRC draft out of the 3.29 crore population of Assam, only 2.89 are valid Indian citizens, and a whopping 40 lakhs are out. Despite been overseen by the country’s Highest Court, Assam’s NRC draft has been highly politicised even linked to a specific religion, civil war and bloodbath when the draft is yet to be finalised as there are a whole lot of provisions for the left out people who can reapply, etc., Though one can’t deny the aberrations in the list out as evidence suggest that some prominent people, Retd. Sergeant, Indian Air Force, former Presidents’ family members (Former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s Nephew not on the list), a former MLA, people have submitted all the documents required, etc still are out of the list but linking the matter directly to a political agenda or vendetta politics is something extreme and jumping to conclusions.
Also, media and other quarters have over sensitised the matter more and hurriedly blown it out of the proportion and branded all the excluded four million as illegal migrants from Bangladesh which is untrue and a blind labelling merely. The social media had a mixed response, while some people even immediately branded the left out as infiltrators’, parasites, scum’s, Bangladeshis, vote banks and even leeches and human tapeworms some talked about the apprehensions of the left out, some about the politics being done and some raised questions on the future of the exercise.
The larger question is of India’s porous borders and constant infiltrations be that from Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka, etc., need to be seriously checked so that the mess at hand is not created again and again. Also millions of refugees are that from Tibet, Srilanka, Afghanistan and many other nations present in the country at the moment need to be well defined, well registered, well accommodated and well supported besides having a concrete plan to tackle the prolonged refugee crisis. Despite being a host to about ten million refugees from across the globe today India’s migrant problems are haunting and getting more complicated day by day. The crises at hand, apart from being humanitarian primarily have led to serious desperation, sense of alienation and scores of apprehensions among the natives (indigenous) who have been time and again ignored or appeased in the past out of political and other compulsions thereby making it more and more complex and monstrous.
India’s Assam question must not be stereotyped and politicised like it is now and the left out should be given all the time and opportunity to prove their domicile with all dignity and humanity. Those who are raising slogans against the refugees and linking migrants to the socio-economic problems in India, or treating all the migrants’ even natives and refugees as illegal immigrants owing to their particular religious affiliation or politics of hate (some politician recently said they should b shot if they don’t leave even when the list is not final) should be strictly warned by the State. Assam’s left out (except real illegal Bangladeshi migrants) need to be taken in with all dignity and love as this problem can have no other solution rather than accommodation. Also onwards both the country’s registration updating system and borders need to be infallible and tight on all sides so that this mess of decades is not created anymore.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was highly opposed especially by the north-eastern states needs some improvements like why should it mention Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians (and exclude Muslims) who flee religious persecution from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan may not be called as “illegal migrants” and why not whosoever. The absence of Muslims or the word “whosoever” in the bill itself reflects the exclusion of Muslims and which is why many see it as an agenda of Hindutva politics.
Also, anti-Bangla stance in Assam is not a healthy trend as it has been responsible for ethnic tensions and demographic aggression. People even term it as a witch hunt against ethnic minorities in Assam. In West Bengal too it is brewing a political storm and vote bank politics has already started. Some politicians are relating the Assam’s issue to West Bengal as well talking of NRC IN Bengal which is purely a deliberate politics.
The issue of NRC and Assam situation at the moment needs an all-party consensus and support to Supreme Court’s much needed and apolitical initiative rather than to be made a political agenda and fear-mongering for upcoming 2019 elections or branded as the ruling party’s plot against Muslims whatsoever. Such a blame game is not going to solve the issue, and there is another set of politicians who are demanding the same for other states. In reality, they hardly mean to curb the illegal immigration or infiltration in such states but to create a political storm to earn their brownie points. It is not the time for such debates and doing politics on serious issues is derailing the very purpose of it.
There has to be a be a permanent solution as this time the honourable Supreme Court of India is taking a lead role, and in future India’s border issues, refugee crisis, migrant concerns, expat issues need to be clearly defined apart from appropriate and legal restrictions on the illegal entry in India. We have to keep in mind that this issue is not about Muslims or non-Muslims, but illegal entry to India and constant infiltration is a potential national security threat and identifying illegal immigrants in any case must not be politicised or made a base for strengthening ones electorate but given due support so that the problem of steady influx of illegal immigrants is solved once and for all. The Assam’s NRC Draft that has unnecessarily been politicised needs not to be made into a crisis and divisive. It has already been well stated that the list will be followed by a thorough and transparent process of claims and objections and those who are left out have all options available.
As a growing south Asian giant and being the world’s largest democracy India needs to pose a severe moral question to its neighbours about social-political pressures under which their citizens leave the country and infiltrate in India. Even before that the situation of social justice within the country needs inclusivity, prompt delivery, and accountability.
(Dr. Adfer Shah is a New Delhi Based Sociologist and Associate Editor at Eurasia Review. Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)