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Citizens Yesterday, Aliens Today

Citizens Yesterday, Aliens Today

They were the citizens of India till the morning of July 30, 2018. Many of them have ration cards; their names are in the electoral rolls; they were voting in elections for panchayat to Parliament; they have the Aadhaar card – the ‘mother of all identity cards’; many have passports; and they have properties registered in their names dating decades back. Yet on that fateful morning, they were left with their jaws dropped. They found their names missing from the final draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) – a one of its kind list of citizens in Assam, the only State preparing such a record of citizens.

The inefficiency and illogicality of preparing the NRC is clear from over 40 lakh missing names which include even the kith and kin of former President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. The names of relatives of MLAs are missing; thousands of Gorkhas settled in the State several decades back are not included in the list; names of thousands of descendents of Adivasis who had been settled there by the British are reportedly not in it. Though majority of the missing names are of Muslims, there are also thousands of Hindus who are left high and dry. People living in Assam for generations have become aliens in their own land.

The preparation of the NRC is the result of an agreement between the Union Government, the leaders of the All Assam Students Union and the Assam Gunasegaram Parishad in 1985. The purpose was to detect and deport illegal migrants who entered the State after March 25, 1971, the day when the Bangladesh Liberation War began. None can find fault with the government’s effort, monitored by the Supreme Court, to identify the illegal migrants. The problem is with the apparent bias and partiality witnessed in the process. While most of the affected are Muslims, the BJP has no problem in allowing people of other religions, especially Hindus who have entered the country illegally, to settle down in the State. A case in point is the proposed Bill to modify the Citizenship Act of 1955 which will allow religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan – mostly Hindus – to settle down in India if they have entered the country before 2014. This double standard on the basis of religion makes the government’s action on NRC suspicious.   

One major reason for the migration of people to India from Bangladesh is the porous border between the two. The government that took up the massive work of identifying migrants deploying as many as 55,000 employees, spending a humongous amount of money, has not been able to complete border-fencing which could nip the problem at the bud. The real solution lies in preventing people from entering the country. Even if the illegal migrants are identified, it will not be easy to deport them as it will become a humanitarian issue, defying solution. There are three major issues staring at the government: one, to include all the genuine citizens in the NRC; two, action against those who have been identified as illegal migrants; and three, to plug the porous border at the earliest. The government should see to it that those who have made Assam their home for generations should not be rendered state-less when the final list is out.

(Published on 06th August 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 32)