The Wire piece ‘What Lies Behind BJP’s Eager Support for Updating NRC in Assam’, published January 13, 2018, talks about the release of the first draft of the National Register of Citizens, or NRC, and raises doubts and concerns about it. It talks about “Assamese nationalism”, and suggests that the exercise is one of citizenry purity drills and a form of xenophobia, like Aadhaar and demonetisation.
Another piece by Yogendra Yadav in The Print ‘In Assam, the situation after NRC report is ripe for ethnic violence’, published January 13, 2018, says that “Hindu communal politics is using the NRC as a shield for converting local/ outsider divide into a Hindu/ Muslim divide”.
Some media outlets, which have written on the NRC update, appear to be giving the issue a sectarian tinge. But that appears to be far from the truth. It does not appear to be a communal issue at all but one of illegal migrants in Assam and India, which seems to make the exercise important for national security.
NRC Is Not Specific to Assam
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register containing the names of Indian citizens. The only time that a National Register of Citizens was prepared was in 1951 when, after the conduct of Census 1951, the NRC was prepared by recording the particulars of all individuals covered during that Census.
It is true that the process of updating the NRC started with Assam in 2015. Being a border state and constantly dealing with the issue of illegal immigration, deciding citizenship appears to be of paramount importance for the state of Assam.
Who Is a Citizen?
There are specific rules for the inclusion in the NRC:
- Persons whose names appear in NRC, 1951
- Persons whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (midnight), 1971
- Descendants of the above persons
- Persons who came to Assam on or after January 1, 1966 but before March 25, 1971 and registered themselves in accordance with the rules made by the Central government with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority
- Persons who are original inhabitants of Assam and their children and descendants who are citizens of India, provided the citizenship of such persons is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt by the registering authority
- “D” voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However, their names will be finally included only when the appropriate Foreigner Tribunal declares them as non-foreigners
- Persons who can provide any one of the documents issued up to midnight of March 24, 1971 as mentioned in the list of documents admissible for citizenship.
The Supreme Court order added some more elements to the above set of rules:
- All Indian Citizens, including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post March 24, 1971, would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on March 24, 1971
- All members of the Tea Tribes shall be covered under “Original inhabitants of Assam” category provided for under Clause 3(3) of the Schedule of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003
- All such original inhabitants shall be included on the basis of proof to the satisfaction of the Registering Authority. On establishment of the citizenship of such persons beyond reasonable doubt, their names shall be included in the updated NRC.
Nowhere, in these rules is the word minority or Muslim/ Hindu used. The above method holds for all religious communities. There is no separate set of rules for a particular religion. Therefore, it is questionable as to how and where the issue of a community being targeted arises. A Muslim belonging to Assam is as much entitled to be counted as a citizen as a Hindu, according to the above rules.
The Issue of Illegal Immigrantion & National Security
Updating the NRC appears to have a little more significance in Assam than elsewhere and perhaps rightly so. Assam has been at the receiving end of allegedly illegal immigration for decades.
Yogendra Yadav’s piece itself talks about a fall in the number of Assamese speakers in the state between 1991 and 2001, according to Census figures and a rise in the number of Bengali speakers, as per the 2011 Census figures. Therefore, the situation is more complex than it seems, and it does not appear to be one of religious or linguistic community/ identity. It is more correctly a question of illegal migration and that of national security.
If erstwhile governments at the Centre did not act on the ongoing influx of illegal migrants over the decades, sometimes with the alleged motive of altering demographics, then that is an issue that may need to be addressed. This seems to be the reason why such an exercise had to be taken up in the first place.
Read our earlier article for more details on the NRC process:
Are Fears About Updating the National Register of Citizens Justified?