Not CAA but NRC and NPR can take citizenship
As I am writing this the death toll in Delhi communal riots (2020) has reached 43. I was thinking about how all this started in the first place. A legislation like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) has created such an uproar in the country that it has caused a mayhem in the capital. It is not just the CAA but people are protesting against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) too.
So why is it that many state governments, the United Nations, civil society , NGOs, the opposition and many people have issues with the NRC and NPR?
The NRC was mentioned by Amit Shah in the Parliament. There was a tweet by the BJP’s official handle about the NRC. The NRC will require everyone to prove their citizenship. This step seems bizarre and unnecessary as illegal immigrants compromise around 2–3% of India’s population.
It would be wrong to say that illegal immigration is not an issue. But to subject the entire nation to a massive checking exercise will have social and economical consequences. This is like demonetization 2.0 where everyone was made to stand in the line to exchange their notes. Similarly, the NRC will make everyone suffer just to weed out the few illegal migrants.
Apologist of the government would ask if not NRC then what is the right step to identify illegal immigrant?
There are various answers to this question. The NRC is definitely not the right one as we saw two NRCs take place in Assam. The first NRC result left out 4 million people and made the Supreme Court had reservation against the fairness of the process. This led to Supreme Court monitoring a second NRC that left 2 million people out of the list and both the central government and the state government were not happy with this. If the NRC was the best way to identify citizenship then it would have been a success in Assam.
Arun Singh’s Group of Ministers Report on National Security, 2001 is one of its kind report that list out major national security threats. The report specifically talks about the dangers of illegal migration and how illegal immigrants are straining the country’s resources. The report proposed a Multi-Purpose National Identity Card (what we know today as Aadhar) and said that non-citizens should be given a different coloured card. He made it clear that this system should be introduced in the bordering districts up to 20 Kms and then extended to the hinterland progressively. The report made it absolutely clear that the primary data of the census was enough to detect illegal immigrants.
The precursor to the NRC is the National Population Register (NPR) that is aimed at counting all registered citizens. It is mainly used for identifying demographic change so that government schemes can reach their targets easily. NPR was carried out in 2010 too but what makes the new NPR different is that it includes date and place of birth of parents. Many thinkers believe that this will create a list of ‘doubtful citizens’ at the district level. Then these doubtful citizens will be required to furnish the necessary documents to prove their citizenship.
With the government taking a back-step with the NRC, it is believed that the NPR is a hidden form of NRC. An NDA ally like Bihar has passed a resolution against the NRC and has decided to implement the NPR in the 2010 format. The Nitish Kumar led government in Bihar is pro-CAA but anti-NRC.
The main issue with the Assam NRC was that each individual had to provide two documents: one document which stated that one’s parent had come to India before the cut-off date and the other document will need to prove the lineage of that person with the parent. Many people in India may have their own documents but they may not have the documents of their parents. The people who are going to get affected by the NRC and NPR will be the marginalized communities who will not be able to gather the right documents.
If a person is excluded from the NRC then that person’s citizenship is stripped. That person will be detained, her voting rights suspended and her property will be seized by the government.
If the government is saying that no talks on NRC has happened then it should issue a notification saying that it does not plan to implement the NRC at all. It should also formulate the NPR according to the 2010 standards to avoid any kind of confusion.