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NRC - A State Sponsored Move Towards Statelessness

NRC - A State Sponsored Move Towards Statelessness 
- Deepanwita Sengupta, Student of GGSIPU, New Delhi


National Register of Citizens also known as the NRC is actually a register which consists of the total and complete list people who are citizens of India living in the State of Assam. The main concern and issue over the years in Assam has been the case of ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’ who claim themselves to be the citizens of this country, they have also been termed as ‘infiltrators’ because they are considered to be ‘illegal immigrants’. To understand the rise of this issue we need to trace back all the way to the years 1947-51 during the initial years of India’s independence when Assam, then a colonial province, witnessed huge waves of migration being close to the border, and later saw an even bigger crowd started to take refuge in India by crossing the borders of Assam as it was a border state in independent India. Then the compilation of first National Register of Citizens was done in the 1951, after the first ever Census of independent India was completed that year. The first NRC consisted mainly of particulars of those people who then belonged to Assam and were residents of the same, the list was put together after numerous and large amounts of data was gathered from each and every village existing in the state with the records of every house and holdings and name and personal details of each and every person residing in the house and total number of residents of each house and later grand total of number of people in each village who were living there at that time. This was the time was when the world saw the partition of the Indian subcontinent with Pakistan which was the largest partition ever witnessed, and hence had led to massive communal riots which were a result of the vast amount of population exchanges that were taking place at the border as the division saw a large influx of Muslim farmers from East Bengal who wanted to settle in the predominantly Muslim concentrated Assam. The NRC was created based on the sole purpose to weed out and expel illegal immigrants who were thought to be part of a bigger Pakistani conspiracy to infiltrate India, this process continued over many years and then came in the 1971 war i.e. the Bangladeshi liberation movement which later saw the massive movement of Hindus and Muslim across the border from East Pakistan to West Bengal and Assam to escape rape, murder, forced conversion and poverty and in hope for a better life.


 Since then the Centre had made various efforts to send these refugees back to Bangladesh but were unsuccessful, but things changed as of 2014 when the Apex Court directed the Centre to update the NRC based on the 2009 amendment of Citizenship Rules. Citizenship is now being decided in the state of Assam based on the compilation of both the 1951 and 1971 electoral rolls and various other documents showing tenancy records, birth certificates or ancestral relations. This process of deciding citizenship is different from the rest of India, which is ascertained on the basis of birth. Now, the matter of discussion is what will happen to those who are found to be illegal immigrants? The main concern of those being deported is that they will be torn apart from their families just because they are not able to prove their Indian lineage, with main focus of the government being ‘mass deportations’ this process will render crores of people stateless and without any Fundamental rights or freedoms, moreover, will other countries even accept or welcome these people to live in their country or will NRC lead them to be citizens of nowhere. This step will leave the so-called illegal immigrants exposed them to atrocities, poverty, and constant violation of their human rights with no state to protect them. This step of the government of mass detention and deportation is nothing but an inevitable Humanitarian crisis waiting to happen which will lead to millions of lives at stake. The NRC is hugely unfair specially towards the backward class women who are usually not given access to education and necessary documents. The next concerning factor of this whole matter is the judicial front of it, i.e. people whose rights have been violated because of their names being excluded from the list can request for the restoration of their rights in front of Foreigners’ tribunals of Assam that have been established to look specifically into these matters, these quasi- judicial bodies have been given the power to decide whether these people are foreigners or illegal immigrants or not. But the biggest problem is that there are numerous flaws in this establishment and process which consists of problems right from the lack of proper legal aid to ex parte orders and judgments that declare people foreigners without even a proper fair and unbiased trial, hence violating the cardinal principles of Natural Justice. These tribunals are not well equipped to deal with these cases as there is not enough availability mature and judicially trained members. Higher courts can be approached, but is not quite practical as it will only make the process more tedious, expensive and unaffordable for these poor, unprivileged people. 


 Assam government recently did make its position clear in a panel discussion. People who are found to be illegally settled or illegally present in Assam will be deprived of their vote and right to property. Which means, that rights to health and education and livelihood would be upheld. So, this is basically saying that we are not moving people, we are not pushing them out, we are basically making them vanish from the electoral rolls and not let them hold permanent property. The thought of detention camps of hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people in detention camps is a nightmare. It is not what India should be doing. It’s not the thing which we should be thinking about because detention camps are the nightmare of the last century. Nothing has ever been said or clarified about the fate of those who are declared as foreigners, if whether they will be deported or continue to stay without any rights and privileges as citizens of nowhere is still a blur. But the only right thing to do will be the fact that the Centre will need to take active responsibility of those whose names are not on the list or of those who are deported in the future in furtherance of this process and take necessary measures to rehabilitate, restore and look after those people who are left stateless after this whole process. It is high time to execute this process efficiently, to save the lives of those at the brink of statelessness.