The National Register of Citizens of India was first prepared after the 1951 Census of India. In 1951, Assam had 80 Lakh citizens and it became the first state where the updating of the NRC was taken up.
In Assam, the eligibility of Indian citizenship is based on the register that was compiled in 1951 and other documents such as land, tenancy records, passports and permanent residential certificates up to 24th March 1971. An individual residing in the present state of Assam is still eligible to get his or her name registered if they can submit specified documents issued up to the midnight of 24th March 1971 with his or her name or in the name of his or her ancestors.
The present updating of NRC started in the year 2013 when the Supreme Court ordered it to be updated. Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinto Fali Nariman has been monitoring the process conducted by Mr Prateek Hajela, IAS designated to carry this out in Assam. The objective of the register is to identify illegal immigrants residing in a state. In August of 2019, 19,06,657 persons were excluded and not found eligible in the final NRC in the state of Assam alone.
After so many years, the Indian government has undertaken such a mammoth task in one state pursuant to a demand by the local ethnic majority that involved the identification of genuine citizens of India. Now Home Minister Amit Shah has announced the proposal for a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
The proposal has been criticised stating that the implementation of NRC in Assam has largely excluded Muslims. Shah refutes this by stating that NRC did not provide for faith-based exclusions. ‘The NRC has no such provision that says certain religions will be excluded from it. All citizens of India, irrespective of religion will figure in the NRC list’.
West Bengal’s Chief Minister, Mamta Banarjee has retorted that her government will not allow the NRC to be implemented in West Bengal. She said that NRC in Assam was a part of the Assam Accord signed during the tenure of former PM Rajiv Gandhi and that the exercise can never be implemented across India. Bengal shares a border with Bangladesh and has 30% Muslim population.
While India has taken a stand to send back Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, the government has planned to re-introduce the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Parliament that envisages the grant of citizenship to refugees from minority communities like Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Muslims and Jews have been kept out the bill even though these are some of the religions that fall under religious minorities.
The fate of those who are stateless have not been confirmed. They are at risk of deportation or sent to detention centres.
- India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention and therefore does not require to provide a safe haven to people seeking asylum from other countries.
- The process of NRC can create fissures between people, especially because the authorities have not been able to curb fraudulent data that has been created over the years.
- Due to the fast pace in which the process is taking place, there is no clarity on the status of citizen due to sexism, if it is based out of jus soli or through jus sanguinis, except that all Hindus will by default be Indians.
- The UNHCR had stated that it would like to end statelessness by 2024. But countries around the world have closed their borders and have made it more difficult to improve the situation of those that are stateless.
- The confusion surrounding the NRC exercise in Assam does not bode well for an All India NRC. It is bound to generate a lot of heat and will not be easily acceptable to many segments of the society who stand to lose their citizenship if asked to produce documents of their long-dead ancestors from the past to prove their linkages to India.
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