1. Briefly explain NRC and what the debate surrounding it
2. Discuss both the human rights and strategic dimensions of the debate
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise is among the most ambitious experiments the Indian state has undertaken. The NRC is the list of Indian citizens and was prepared in 1951, following the census of 1951. The process of NRC update was taken up in Assam as per a Supreme Court order in 2013. In order to wean out cases of illegal migration from Bangladesh and other adjoining areas, NRC updation was carried out under The Citizenship Act, 1955, and according to rules framed in the Assam Accord. Insecurity, uncertainty and trauma are looming large over sections of the people, mostly the very poor and deprived.
NRC as Human Rights issue-
If appeals are rejected in the final instance, they are declared as a ‘foreigner’ and packed off to jail – which serve as detention centres. In the six ‘Detention Centres’ in Assam, they have no prison rights, and are treated as ‘undertrials’.
Apart from deportation, the other option is large scale detention camps – which is an unlikely option for a civilised democracy like India.
They are condemned as ‘foreigners’ even though doubtful voters are legitimately under scrutiny because of technical or official anomalies in their documents.
Most affected are Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims. Reports suggest that the NRC process is directly having the most impact on religious and linguistic minorities.
Another option is instituting work permits, which would give them limited legal rights to work but ensure they have no political voice. However, it is not clear what will be the fate of children of such individuals.
More importantly, illegal migrants may find it even more difficult to procure Indian identity documents and avail all the rights and benefits due to all Indian citizens.
NRC as Strategic and Security issue-
The exclusion of people in such a large numbers has led to criticism of the NRC exercise. People fear that they might become stateless if their names are not included in the list. What is worrying is that is there has been no specific policy in ascertaining their fate.
Expelling them to Bangladesh is not an option since Dhaka has never accepted that they are its citizens or that there is a problem of illegal immigration. In the absence of a formal agreement, India cannot forcibly push the illegal migrants back into Bangladesh.
Moreover, raising this issue can also jeopardise relations with Dhaka. Such an attempt would not only damage bilateral relations but also sully the country’s image internationally.
The option of push-back is neither desired nor helpful in preventing infiltration. Previous experiences indicate that those who were pushed back, returned within few days.
Heavy-handedness on this issue could also harm warm ties between India and Bangladesh, an eventuality both neighbors would like to avoid.
The controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is a case in point, as some fear the introduction of the NRC might result in serious law and order issues.
The Central Government should appoint a National Immigration Commission to frame a National Migration Policy and a National Refugee Policy. The Commission should examine ways of strengthening the Foreigners Act 1946,
as well as feasibility of Identity Cards for both citizens and non-citizens and Work Permits for migrants.
Border fencing in Assam must be completed forthwith on a war footing. The existing Border Security Force posts and the BSF water wing should be strengthened.
Our nationals in the border districts and for that matter in the whole State should be provided multipurpose photo identity card.
The ongoing NRC updating should be completed without delay and proper arrangement for the deportation of illegal migrants should be done.
The cooperation of the States will be key for the success of NRC. Support of the State governments will be vital, and reaching a consensus on the NRC will be a challenge. Already, State governments like West Bengal have expressed reservations on the issue. However, the NRC is a forward-looking step in documenting India’s citizens and detect
and deter infiltrators.