The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) has generated an intense unease across the country, more so across Northeast where people in seven states are up in arms against the new law. According to the NRC everybody in the country will be asked to prove his citizenship by producing papers to the effect and according to new citizenship law only illegally staying Muslims or those of the community who can’t produce a proper document will be asked to leave the country or put in government established detention centres.
The law which was passed by the parliament and Rajya Sabha has generated a political furore in the country with the opposition terming it unconstitutional. In fact, five states along with the North east states have decided not to implement it. North East is on boil forcing the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the home minister Amit Shah to offer some assurance to people about the protection of their identity. In fact, the home minister has even offered to tweak the law to address the concerns of North-East.
In fact, not only in Assam, even in the rest of the country the fraught exercise slots snugly into the BJP’s 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 thus also caused deep anxiety in Kashmir where currently the fear of a large-scale demographic change following revocation of Article 370 has already generated a deep sense of siege.
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. Also, lending a dangerous dimension to the exercise is the fact that the Hindu migrants, refugees or illegal citizens 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.
Already, it is difficult to imagine what will happen to Assam’s excluded two million citizens. Bangladesh where they are supposed to belong has refused to take them back. This renders the two million people as nowhere citizens. They have been deprived of the right to own property in what until a year or two earlier was their homeland. This has created an egregious humanitarian problem. And the government needs to act with great care and sensitivity to address it.