The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that Home Minister Amit Shah presented in Lok Sabha Monday is not just about granting citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants from neighbouring countries and driving out Muslim “ghuspetis (intruders)”. The ultimate intent is to implement a nationwide-National Register of Citizens. The Citizenship Bill, once passed, will help protect non-Muslims and harass Muslim citizens when they line up all over India with their paperwork.
So, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill should not be read in isolation. It should be read with the BJP government’s intention to implement a nationwide-NRC and the National Population Register (NPR).
A nationwide NRC under The Citizenship (Registration and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003 will be called National Register of India Citizens (NRIC). According to the Ministry of Home Affairs Gazette notification on 31 July 2019, in the task to prepare and update the population register, there will be house-to-house enumeration throughout India, except Assam, for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of a local registrar. The exercise will be undertaken between 1 April to 30 September 2020.
The five-year-long rigorous NRC process in Assam stripped the dignity of religious and linguistic minorities. There is nothing more humiliating than to be asked to prove your citizenship in your own country. Scores of people have committed suicide in fear of losing citizenship, most are running around for documents, and multiple hearings have caused losses. The state is divided like never before on religious lines.
A careful lie
The ominous presence of a supposedly large number of Muslim illegal migrants all over India is now part of political rhetoric. It is not backed by any empirical data. Assam is the only state where the NRC exercise was carried out to find the exact number of illegal migrants. Over the years, politicians threw about numbers that ranged from 1 crore to 50 lakh. Even then, the final NRC list excluded 19 lakh people, and it soon became apparent that most of them are also Indian citizens. The list included parents but left out their children causing untold trauma and blowing the lid on propaganda. The exercise left it to the Foreigners’ Tribunals to determine the citizenship of excluded people.
Unhappy with the outcome of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC in Assam, Amit Shah said on the floor of Parliament that another round of NRC will be carried out in Assam along with the nationwide-NRC. The Assam NRC had busted the myth of illegal migration and excluded less Muslims than the BJP had wished for. And Hindus got excluded too. They don’t want to repeat the Assam exercise.
The next time the government conducts the NRC – in Assam and across India – it wants to make sure that non-Muslims are protected and more and more Muslims are excluded.
Over 1.3 crore people were marked as OI or original inhabitants. in the Assam NRC as per sub-clause (3) of clause 3 of the Schedule to the Citizenship Rules, 2003. They didn’t go through any verification, even if they didn’t submit required documents, they were included in the NRC only because the registering authority was satisfied that citizenship of such person is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt. Although this provision won’t apply to the nationwide-NRC, the CAB will not be very different from this provision and the registering authority will presume that as all non-Muslim illegal migrants have been made citizens. Citizenship of non-Muslims will not be doubted this time. Their citizenship will be beyond reasonable doubt. The only community that will be subjected to all sorts of verification and scrutiny will be the Muslim.
Hearings, more hearings
The Citizenship Rules, 2003 under which the nationwide-NRC and NPR will be implemented, gives discretionary power to the registering authority to doubt anyone’s citizenship and call them for several rounds of hearing and verification. The Citizenship Rules, 2003 also allows any person to file objection against anyone whose names will be included in the draft NRC.
In Assam, 1.87 lakhs objections were filed by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and 30 other organisations mostly against Muslims. They didn’t spare the young, the old, the ailing and even the son of a freedom fighter.
In a nationwide-NRC, this provision will be a tool in the hand of some organisations and individuals to target Muslims and marginalised communities, and file random objection against them. There will be more hearings and harassment.
Even if a person succeeds the test of objection, any person aggrieved by such order may file another appeal within 30 days. Again, there will be another round of verification. Only if this round of appeal is dismissed, the names of such person will be included in the NRIC.
In an attempt to prove citizenship, Muslims will have to go through this rigorous process, which will take a huge toll on their productivity, financial condition, physical and mental health. In every state, Muslims are running around for papers, masjid committees and civil society organisations are mostly concentrating on the NRC. An environment of fear has been created in the name of nationwide-NRC.
‘Termites’ vs economy
Despite the fact that there is no data to back illegal migration, a narrative is being created that there are lakhs of illegal migrants in India and they are eating the country like ‘termites’, to borrow from Amit Shah.
There is also no evidence to prove the threat to national security from illegal migrants. This is exactly what happened over the years in Assam’s politics.
In a recent election rally in Jharkhand, the term “ghuspeti”, once again, dominated Amit Shah’s speech.
He also spoke about the NRC in Haryana election campaigns, and relentlessly talked about the NRC and national security in West Bengal. The signs are ominous.
After Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 was lifted and the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was granted by the Supreme Court, the BJP needs a new issue to polarise India. A nationwide-NRC, after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will be useful to distract people from a failing economy and development promises.
The author is a lawyer at Gauhati High Court and is helping many who are struggling in Assam’s detention centres. Views are personal.