The National Register of Citizens in Assam has generated an intense unease across the country. For the forty lakh people to suddenly lose their citizenship is catastrophic. The number is ten percent of the population of Assam and in one fell swoop the exercise has threatened to not only drastically alter the demography of the state but also change its political landscape. Adding a sinister dimension to the development is that it is mostly the Muslims who have been omitted from the NRC. Also, a rank communalistic approach towards the exercise is apparent from the fact that the Hindu migrants are being welcomed and considered eligible for citizenship while Muslims are seen as infiltrators. What is more, the onus of establishing citizenship rests with the people unlike the international conventions where it is the state that has to prove it. But in a country like India, millions of people are poor and uneducated and lack an understanding of acquiring papers. And in a politically motivated exercise like this, people like them will lose their citizenship.
According to a report carried by The Indian Express, there are many bonafide citizens who have not made it to the list, among them an MLA and one of twins. Similarly, according to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, even relatives of former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed have not made it to the NRC. True, the issue of demography has been an inextricable part of the post-1947 politics of Assam. The state has witnessed movements and violent agitations against the migrants. The Assamese versus non-Assamese debate has roiled the politics from time to time. So, there is a wider support to the exercise in the state. In fact, not only in Assam, even in the rest of the country the fraught exercise slots snugly into the BJPs pan-India Hindutva agenda. It also plays to the prevailing polarizing climate in the country where Muslims are seen as outsiders and hence unwelcome.
The move has also caused some anxiety in Kashmir where currently the fear of a large-scale demographic change following the apprehended tinkering with the Article 35A has already generated a deep sense of siege. The petition against the law is being heard on August 6. Hurriyat has already called for a shutdown on August 6 and 7 to protest against any tampering of the law. In a sense, it seems ironical that while on one hand, the BJP is going all-out to prevent demographic change in Assam, the party is in favour of such a change in Kashmir. The reason for this seems again communalistic in nature. But this approach towards nation-building is a fraught exercise. When the state itself acts discriminatively against its own people, it threatens to tear apart the social fabric and puts peace in peril. New Delhi should better heed Banerjee who has warned of a civil war in case the union government implements NRC and deprives millions of people of their citizenship.
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