Syllabus: General Studies Paper 1 (Modern History)
Trace the history of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the socio-political and religious dynamics surrounding NRC. Analyse how judiciary has failed fulfil its duty as the last protector of rights.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register of Indian citizens. First prepared after the 1951 Census of India. The purpose of the NRC update was to identify illegal immigrants in Assam, many of whom migrated to Assam from Bangladesh during the 1971 war with Pakistan. There were migrations even before from 1947 onwards. This is a sensitive issue and many in Assam complain of mass infiltrations from the eastern border eroding Assamese culture, eating up lands, and changing the demographics of the region. However, citizens of India are being harassed of being illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, this has also become an issue of vote-bank politics in the country.
History of NRC:
- National Register of Citizens, 1951 is a register prepared after the conduct of the Census of 1951 in respect of each village, showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein.
- The issue of its update assumed importance as Assam witnessed large-scale illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan and, after 1971, from present-day Bangladesh.
- This led to the six-year-long Assam movement from 1979 to 1985, for deporting illegal migrants.
- The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led the movement that demanded the updating of the NRC and the deportation of all illegal migrants who had entered Assam after 1951.
- The movement culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.
- It set March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for the deportation of illegal migrants.
- Since the cut-off date prescribed under articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution was July 19, 1949 – to give force to the new date, an amendment was made to the Citizenship Act, 1955, and a new section was introduced.
- It was made applicable only to Assam.
- There had been intermittent demands from AASU and other organisations in Assam for updating the NRC, an Assam based NGO filed a petition at the Supreme Court.
- In December 2014, a division bench of the apex court ordered that the NRC be updated in a time-bound manner.
- The NRC of 1951 and the Electoral Roll of 1971 (up to midnight of 24 March 1971) are together called Legacy Data. Persons and their descendants whose names appeared in these documents are certified as Indian citizens.
- In 2005, a three party meeting headed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to update the NRC.
- In 2010, a pilot project of updating the NRC list in two revenue circles –Barpeta and Chaygaon was started but was called off after violent protest left four persons killed and several others injured.
- In 2015, applications were invited around 3.3 crore people in Assam applied and around 6.6 crore documents were submitted.
- There are about 40 lakh applicants who are left out of the final draft of the NRC. The final NRC draftwas published on July 30th, 2018.
Socio-Political and Religious dynamics
- The initial publication of the register has caused confusion as many legal residents of Assam have found their names missing. 40 lakh applicants who are left out of the final draft of the NRC.
- The influx of migrants from East Pakistan/Bangladesh to India, especially the North East, was a sensitive and emotional issue. The riots of 1964 and the India-Pakistan War of 1965 resulted in the out-migration of a large number of Hindus from East Pakistan.
- Another massive out-migration from East Pakistan was triggered in 1971 when the Pakistani military establishment tried to suppress Bengali nationalism through brutal military force. ‘An estimated 10 million persons, including 6.7 million Hindus, were forced to take refuge in India
- A majority of these migrants/refugees who spread over North East, West Bengal, and Bihar were, rehabilitated as per International Conventions and Protocols on the status of Refugees.
- Political parties used this controversy beyond Assam or West Bengal by sending multiple messages across the country on appealing themes like patriotism, national security, demographic balance, stability, and culture.
- The sudden appearance of a separate category of “original inhabitants” in the list. It is governed by the Citizenship Rules of 2003, which does not define “original inhabitants”. Even though the category has reportedly been withdrawn, it is not clear what criteria had been used in the first place.
- The possible disqualification of lakhs of applicants who had submitted panchayat documents as proof of identity. The Guwahati High Court said they had no statutory sanctity. This left about 48 lakh people who had submitted such documents in the lurch.
- There is a renewed conviction that the exercise of counting Assam’s citizens is a political one, and the new register will be a document of exclusion, not inclusion.
- The issue has become much larger than a cut-and-dried question of who is an Indian citizen and who is not. There are important humanitarian concerns at play, concerns that go beyond identification and numbers.
- Nearly five decades have elapsed since the cut-off date of March 25, 1971,and individuals who have sneaked in illegally have children and grandchildren by now.
- Muslim fears
- Growth of Muslims from being 24.68 per cent of the State’s population in 1951 to 28.43 per cent in 1991 and 34.22 per cent in 2011. The growth rate of Hindus (41.89 per cent) from 1971 to 1991 was indeed much lower than that of Muslims (77.42 per cent).
- There is a lurching fear among these sections that excess growth rate of Muslims in the State may ultimately outnumber other religious communities.
- Compounded older fears of discrimination that haunt Muslims in the state, which has never quite recovered from the Nellie massacres of 1983.
- The concerns of the Bengali speaking Muslims have peaked due to the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955. The amendment would allow illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship.
- It embodies the paranoia of a volatile state.
- Paper issues
- The process depended on countless fragile, fading documents, where entire family histories may be wiped out by a spelling mistake, a name misheard by surveying official decades ago, a page missing from an old electoral roll.
- The bureaucratic ledgers are permeated by memory and hearsay, the document flickers between the official and the personal. It may have been this subjectivity in the counting process that laid it open to charges of political manipulation.
- In all least 10 districts the records are incomplete or unavailable.
- The concern for many in India is that a number of people may be deprived of citizenship through this process.
- Forged documents
- Authorities detected a sizeable number of cases of persons trying to use forged documents to establish their Indian citizenship. Most of the persons who submitted forged documents are suspected to be illegal migrants
- Delay in process
- Most of the documents sent to authorities outside Assam are taking a lot of time. For instance around 65000 documents were sent to different authorities in West Bengal, only 30 have been sent back after verification so far.
How judiciary has failed to fulfill its duty as the last protector of rights
- Question of citizenship in Assam
- In the State of Assam, there are two ongoing processes concerning the question of citizenship.
- The first includes proceedings before the Foreigners Tribunals, which have been established under an executive order of the Central government.
- The second is the NRC, a process overseen and driven by the Supreme Court.
- While nominally independent, both processes nonetheless bleed into each other, and have thus caused significant chaos and confusion for individuals who have found themselves on the wrong side of one or both.
- Abdul Kuddus v Union of India
- Abdul Kuddus, a resident of Assam had been declared a foreigner by the Foreigner’s Tribunal
- But his name had appeared in the final draft of the NRC for Assam along with his family
- The Supreme Court rejected the petitioners’ arguments, and held that the “opinion” of the Foreigners Tribunal was to be treated as a “quasi-judicial order”
- A person’s citizenship is a basic human right.
- Declaring people foreigners in haste without judicially verifying their credentials can leave many human beings stateless.
- Under such circumstances, the Tribunal must uphold their fundamental constitutional promises and function with complete independence, without any hint of arbitrariness or discrimination in the adjudication process
The need of the hour therefore is for the Union Government to allay apprehensions presently in the minds of the people of Assam and take steps to contain any adverse fallout after the publication of the final draft of the NRC. At the same time, it also needs to spell out what it intends to do with the persons whose names do not figure in the final NRC.
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