Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] Citizenship and compassion


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Population & associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Refugee crisis in India as well as other parts of the world and dealing with it


NRC updation in Assam

  1. The current situation in Assam seems like a nightmare, a warning about the internal contradictions of democracy
  2. It is a warning that the 19th century ideas of democracy as electoral-ism and the notion of the nation-state as a fetishism of borders may be inappropriate as imaginations for the 21st century
  3. It is a caution that governance and politics are full of ironies and paradoxes and that the best of intentions might lead to the worst consequences
  4. Inherent in it is the banalisation of evil that can take place when suffering on a large scale gets reduced to a cost-benefit scenario

History of citizen registers

  1. The politics of citizens’ registers underlines the problem of migratory politics, refracted through the layered memories of many historical events
  2. It began in the colonial era when the British attempted to import labour for the plantations
  3. Major displacements like Partition and the Bangladesh war added to a huge “illegal” population

What’s the issue with current NRC updation?

  1. A register which began as a routine, even clinical exercise now acquires a Machiavellian shadow
  2. In this tussle between the nation-state and an open democracy, the enclosure and the panopticon as mediums of control are at odds with the idea of the commons and the hospitality of the community
  3. Technocratic solutions cannot hide the absence of human and historical understanding
  4. The handling and management of large populations create a problem of ethics. Assam raises the question of both triage and exterminism
  5. The dispensability and disposability of large populations confronts India on a large scale

Handling such situations

  1. One cannot handle such situations merely through law
  2. One needs generosity, hospitality and compassion
  3. One needs to understand that once our civics accepts the detention centre and the internment camp as routine, we are creating gulags of the mind, where one can begin with an ordinary act of classification and erase a people
  4. Indian democracy has to face the genocidal prospect inherent both in its technocratic sense of governance and in the anxieties that electoralism creates

Security vs Nation state paradigm

  1. The shift from citizenship to a preoccupation with security unfolds a different paradigm of thought
  2. Nation-state and citizenship as encompassing entities offer different ideas of order and control
  3. Security is a panopticon-ising notion, while citizenship is a caring, even protective, one
  4. Security operates on the grids of surveillance, scrutiny and separation
  5. Citizenship is a more hospitable notion of initiating the other into a system

Way Forward

  1. We need to go back and look at our Constitution and reread notions of the border, the very idea of citizenship
  2. We need to go beyond hard definitions and look at the penumbra of these concepts
  3. We need to think of a nation-state with permeable borders and a fluid sense of citizenship which makes life more hopeful for the refugee
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