Does the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 nullify the Rs 1250 Cr NRC exercise?
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now a law with the signature of assent of the President of India, is the “new kid on the block” that we are yet to come to understand fully. What the law holds in its entirety is still unknown to us but its features that are salient and pertinent to Assam makes it clear that the state is going to provide the country with at least 5 lakh new citizens – people that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) had thrown up as “foreigners” who did not have the citizenship credentials to be included in this hallowed list.
Needless to reiterate, the NRC (which has been prepared based on the Assam Accord with the cut-off date of 24th March, 1971 to determine citizenship credentials against the all-India cut-off of 1951) had been a labour of duty for the huge number of people who were involved in getting the list prepared over the six years that it took. It was a case of severe tension and heartburn for the people living in Assam – citizens or otherwise – each of whom wanted to ensure that their name was on the list. The legacy data factor played such havoc on the minds of many people that some of them were driven to suicide as it became apparent their legacy was just not available. And then, most notably, Hindu people residing in Assam for eons found themselves termed as foreigners even as their children happened to be citizens on the NRC.
Let’s take this true story as an example of an NRC-related tragedy:
A resident of Alisinga village in Sonitpur district, Dulal Chandra Paul was aged about 65 years when he was admitted to Gauhati Medical College & Hospital (GMCH) on September 28, 2019. This was about one month after the publication of the final NRC. Paul had diabetes and heart problems. Within about two weeks paul died leaving behind two sons besides his wife.
When the authorities asked his family to take possession of the body, a seemingly Orwellian drama began to unfold. The thing about Paul was that his name did not figure in the draft and the final NRC. He had been declared a foreigner by a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) in 2017 and ever since was detained in a detention camp at Tezpur from where he was admitted to the hospital. Paul’s citizenship documentation was very weak and even his appeal to the Gauhati High Court had fallen on deaf ears as the FT’s verdict on his “foreigner” status had been upheld. With his death, the family members of Paul refused to accept his body because the hospital authorities, on paper, mentioned him as a resident of Dhaka, Bangladesh. This information had been provided by the detention camp authorities. And so, the family members demanded that his body be sent to the address in Dhaka. The other option was that he could be declared an Indian citizen in which case they were willing to accept his body.
The body remained in the morgue at GMCH for ten more days as his family members remained adamant. The bizarre behaviour of the family stemmed from the worry that accepting Paul’s body would result in them losing their own citizenships because that will establish the fact they are family of a declared foreigner.
This is one example of the many such human stories of tragedy that the NRC and its resultant travails threw up. As regards the money spent there is no doubt or question about costly the whole exercise it has been.
The NRC exercise, monitored closely by the Supreme Court of India, was a technological marvel by itself with such softwares being written and developed which had no precedents or references to be of any help. But, given all the constraints, what it has successfully done is give us a list of names of people who are citizens of the country leaving certain individuals who are indeed true citizens and yet do not feature of the list because of documentation issues and are currently in the process of appeals and corrections that are ongoing. The NRC has also thrown up a figure of 19 lakh individuals who are not citizens but foreigners.
The Modi-led government deigns to believe that of these 19 lakh “foreigners” 5 lakh of them are Hindus who cannot be termed as foreigners but as “refugees” who had come and settled in Assam fleeing religious persecution in Bangladesh and so deserve Indian citizenship. This is the case so far as Assam is concerned.
The CAB, by itself, was designed to offer India as the world’s last resort for Hindus and more specifically for those Hindus among other minority communities like Christians, Jews etc who faced religious persecution in Pakistan and Afghanistan besides Bangladesh. Essentially, it is a law safeguarding the interests of Hindus who can feel free to come back to India and apply for citizenship that will be eventually granted to them. Further, it contains a clause that states that only such Hindus would be granted citizenship who have entered India prior to 31st December 2014 and no further people – persecuted or otherwise – would be allowed the same privileges.
In this sense, the costly Assam NRC exercise would prove to be complementary to the CAB in because the NRC has been able to “clearly identify” the foreigners who would become eligible for citizenship under the new CAB law. However, the fact remains these foreigners could have come to Assam after the new cut-off date of 31st December 2014 and the mechanism to pinpoint this detail to “disqualify” such Hindus from acquiring citizenship remains confusing and hazy. Further, identifying a true Hindu from a false Hindu (say, a Muslim pretending to be a Hindu for the sake of acquiring Indian citizenship) is another matter of which the less said the better.