The Impact of the NRC
A piece by Abhimanyu Sinha on the NRC and the CAA.
The National Register of Citizens, in brief, is a register of Indian citizens to document legal citizens, and identify (and subsequently deport) illegal immigrants. It was updated in August in Assam, where Bangladeshi immigrants often defect. To be included in the register, a person had to provide proof of ancestry within the country from before 1971 (the Bangladeshi War). This could include electoral rolls, land records, citizenship certificates, and similar documents.
The NRC has been touted as simply being a tool to identify illegal immigrants; however, there is likely a religious motivation behind it. In April 2019, Amit Shah tweeted via the @BJP4India account that “We will remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”
1.9 million people have been excluded from the list, and roughly half of the excluded Hindus are BJP-voters. With many representatives calling this a failure, the party has now said that the (Citizenship Amendment) Bill will be implemented first. This bill provides Indian citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Then, the deportation process to remove “Muslim infiltrators” will be carried out.
But although the whole exercise is clearly an attack based on religious sentiment, it will also disproportionately affect other marginalized sections. Unsurprisingly, in our patriarchal society, women face disadvantages. Especially in rural areas, women often lose contact with their birthplace when married into new families. Women are also much less likely to vote and thus have electoral record to prove citizenship, and land ownership was almost exclusively male for centuries. If a woman has been excluded for these reasons and is Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Buddhist or Parsi, she may still apply for citizenship under the CAB, but Muslim women will be deemed as illegal immigrants.
There are at least 2000 transgender people in Assam, and most, if not all, have been excluded from the list. As most transgender people in India have been ostracized by their birth family and live in communal houses, they often lack the familial documents required to be included in the NRC. The sex-mismatch and deadnames across documents and binary gender forms further alienated the community. Disabled people, too, face similar problems as they are often disowned by their families.
Many Adivasi communities living in tribal settings are nomadic, and do not “own" land in the traditional sense; instead, the village heads often have their own methods of land distribution. How are they expected to furnish documents? It is ironic that the earliest inhabitants of the country are disadvantaged in this exercise.
In a country where such a large number of people, mainly Dalits, live in slums, how can people be expected to be carrying documents proving their grandparents’ citizenship? In a state where heavy downpours and flooding often cause poorer families to abandon their houses, it is not at all surprising how many Indians are unable to prove citizenship under the Assam NRC.