NRC virus spreads, fate of millions uncertain

The NRC had threatened to mar India’s relations with Bangladesh, from where the far right accuses the “illegal” immigrants of having come.

The menace of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has spread beyond Assam, where the unfortunate story that cuts at the foundational basis of democracy — which rests on the principle of equality before the law for all citizens — first began. This growing canker has the potential to undermine social integration and national unity.

Chief ministers and top leaders of several BJP-governed states — to wit, Haryana, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Karnataka — have seized on the words of Union home minister Amit Shah “to drive out every infiltrator” to confirm their devotion to their present leadership by announcing the commencement of the NRC process in their own states. The reasons are unfathomable.

The BJP’s fount of wisdom is the RSS whose professed aim is “Hindu Rashtra”, in which those of India's majority community will be privileged over other citizens. The NRC appears to do just that when it combines with the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). The CAB proposes to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries by treating them as “refugees” seeking shelter from religious persecution.

On the other hand, the Muslim immigrants, if they cannot produce specified documents, will be declared illegal and are apt to be “driven out”. In a society in which the exact documents needed are hard to produce, especially by dirt poor and illiterate people, the dice is loaded against them. Thus, of the 1.9 million illegal immigrants found in Assam in the NRC register finalised on August 31 this year, the date laid down by the Supreme Court, the Hindus will receive the protection of the CAB while the Muslims are to be thrown to the wolves.

What their fate will be is unclear. In Assam, several thousand cramped flats have been constructed at government expense to house them for the time being, but these are not nearly enough. So, what next? That is anybody’s guess. And what will happen in the other states?

By turning jurisprudence on its head, the NRC process has cast the burden of proof on those whose citizenship is under interrogation for reasons that are in the realm of speculation. The rule of law demanded that the State should have presented cogent reasons to those whose status is deemed dubious, and allowed them to approach the courts. But this has not happened, leading to suspicions of a religious bias. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court — under the instruction and supervision of which the process of updating the NRC in Assam was conducted — has found itself linked to a questionable process.

The NRC had threatened to mar India’s relations with Bangladesh, from where the far right accuses the “illegal” immigrants of having come. However, recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina not to worry on that score, and this has been taken at face value. What then is to be the fate of those declared illegal migrants? At any rate, the NRC exercise may have been intended to bring about a communal consolidation of votes in favour of the ruling party.

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