While analyzing Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and its implications in an earlier piece, apprehensions on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that it will deprive Indian Muslims of their citizenship and they will be sent to Detention Camps were also clarified. It is perhaps the biggest untruth and misinformation on NRC that some manipulative politicians and interested clergy have spread in the recent times in India among Muslims with a view to destabilized a democratically elected government at the Centre. Besides, as a part of well-oiled ecology and in a symbiotic act, a section of mediapersons and so-called intellectuals have played their traditional role of escalating it at the national and international level through electronic media and press that the democracy and secularism is in peril in India to embarass and put the government on defensive.
National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been pursued by the Indian government so far only in Assam in compliance with the Supreme Court directive to address the issue of illegal migrants troubling this small northeastern state for the last several decades. It is true that few Ministers and MPs have mentioned in the recent past government’s intent to carry out similar exercise in other parts of the country but so far it is only at conceptual stage and even discussions have not been held to formulate it. Even if it is undertaken some time, it will be equally applicable to Hindus, Muslims and all other communities. The government has categorically announced that any Indian citizen belonging to any community need not worry on this account. In such scenario, the ongoing protests in the country raise a counter question on the motive why such apprehensions are being raised by a section of leaders and clergy among Muslims in his country.
National Register on Citizens
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is not a new concept in India; instead, it was mandated by the Citizenship Act 1955, as further amended in 2003, that a register of all Indian citizens shall be created. Therefore, the present government has not evolved any new concept or laws to conduct this exercise in the whole of India. Assam, being a border state, had a serious problem of illegal immigration mainly from the neighbouring Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) for decades threatening its demography, economy, peace and prosperity; hence such a register was created in 1951 based on the census data but it was neither properly maintained nor updated thereafter. Needless to mention, during the first five decades after the independence, barring a brief stint of failed Janta Party experience from March 1977 to January 1980, the Centre and most of the states were either directly ruled by the Congress or parties friendly them but they never took any sincere and sustained efforts to address the problem of illegal immigration.
Had the previous governments acted with commitment, they could have actively pursued NRC, put up a regular system in place setting up a database of citizens and issuance of the national identity card to citizens as in many other countries thereby avoiding existing multiple cards like Aadhar, Election ID, PAN, and so on, which needed nationwide efforts to cater to needs of specific objectives and needs. For instance, Aadhar, the twelve digit unique identity number was introduced by the Congress government in 2009 which is basically a biometric ID system capturing name, data on parentage, birth and address but did not follow up properly due to internal conflicts and differences. The scheme was almost scrapped when the Modi government revived it after coming to power in 2014, successfully implemented it and started making use of it for passing various benefits to bonafide recipients. It is another sad story that the party which initiated it in 2009 vehemently opposes it now calling it too intrusive.
When the issue of the illegal immigrants in Assam became serious towards the end of 1970s, the then Congress government passed a new law in Parliament and notified it as “The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983”. The Law provided a tribunal process for identifying illegal migrants in Assam that never worked. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of India struck down the law as unconstitutional in 2005 and directed the then Congress government to update the Assam NRC. The country was under the Congress rule with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister but progress on the updation of the Assam NRC remained far from satisfactory during ten years of rule. Unhappy with the progress on Assam NRC, the Supreme Court took it under direct control and started periodical monitoring and direction to the Government in 2014. The present Modi Government published final updated NRC in August 2019 with an uphill task of deciding the fate of about 1.9 million people who have not been able to give any credible data in support of their being Indian citizen.
The recently notified CAA provides the provision for granting Indian citizenship to the religiously persecuted minorities belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from the three nighbouring Islamic countries, who had arrived in India as on 31 December 2014 subject to fulfillment of certain other requirements. Muslims have not been included in the Bill on the belief that they would not face persecution in an Islamic country on the basis of religion which naturally appears quite logical and rational; notwithstanding, any Muslim can apply for the Indian citizenship on case to case basis. Simultaneously, inside the Parliament and outside in public too, some leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) have expressed their intent to implement NRC in other parts of the country as well. Ever since, a section of the Muslim community is engaged in protests against the CAA and NRC in various parts of the country with backing and active support of the Congress and other opposition parties as also a section of media and mostly left liberals/intellectuals in the country.
Legal and Regulatory Provision of NRC
The following clause was added to The Citizenship Act 1955 vide an Amendment Act in 2003.
14A. Issue of National Identity Cards:
- The Central Government may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue national identity card to him for Identification.
- The Central Government may maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens and for that purpose establish a National Registration Authority.
- On and from the date of commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, the Registrar General, India, appointed under subsection (1) of section 3 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 shall act as the National Registration Authority and he shall function as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration.
- The Central Government may appoint such other officers and staff as may be required to assist the Registrar General of Citizen Registration (RGCR) in discharging his functions and responsibilities.
- The procedure to be followed in compulsory registration of the citizens of India shall be such as may be prescribed.
Following the notification of the aforesaid Act, the relevant rules were also formulated detailing procedure for its implementation. For the preparation of the National Register of Indian Citizens, the RGCR would prescribe period and duration of the enumeration in the Official Gazette and officials detailed for the purpose would carry out house-to-house enumeration for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual, residing in each area including the Citizenship status. The data thus collected shall be verified from the National Population Register (NPR) and discrepancies noticed shall be settled through follow up action. In the event of doubtful citizenship, every person or family shall be informed and given opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before a final decision is taken. In such cases, normally the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar would finalize his findings within a period of ninety days, or within any reasonable extended time reason for which shall be recorded. However, a special provision was provided for NRC in Assam which is application-based in contrast to the same being enumeration-based in the rest of India.
National Population Register
The purpose of the National Population Register (NPR) is to have a comprehensive identity database of residents in the country. This was first prepared in 2010 along with the National Census and a further updation exercise was also undertaken in 2015 when a drive for Aadhar was carried out by the government. The Central Government has announced in December 2019 to undertake the ten yearly exercise of Census and updation of NPR with effect from April 2020. The NPR is the usual register of the residents of the country containing periodical information collected at the local, district, state and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 as amended in 2003. The existing law compulsorily seeks to register every citizen of India and issue of a national identity card; and, for the purposes of this register, the usual resident is a person having resided in a local area for the past six months or more, including if he (or she) intends to reside there at least for the next six months.
The NPR database would comprise of demographic data such as the name of person, father’s name, mother’s name, relationship with head of family, name of spouse, date of birth, marital status, place of birth, nationality (as declared), present address along with duration of stay, permanent residential address, occupation, educational qualification, as applicable. As clarified by the government, the respondents are not required to produce any document or biometrics during the survey and the information given will be collected as self-attested. The process will start in April next and is required to be completed by September 2020. Assam has already recently undergone with the process of the NRC, hence it is excluded from the current exercise. Although the process of NPR and Census are to be carried out together but they are not essentially same exercise despite some commonality.
The basic difference between the NPR and Census is that the former contains only demographic information while the latter inter alia covers literacy, economic activity, housing and household amenities, urbanization, fertility and mortality, whether from scheduled categories, language, religion, migration, disability and so on. Among the already raging controversies on CAA and NRC, largely due to some political parties, media and left liberals, now protests have also started against NPR by the Muslim community. Having already vitiated atmosphere in the country through a campaign of misinformation and confusion among the minds of Muslims, some perverted leaders and clergy with vested interests have called NPR a precursor of NRC, therefore a considerable number of people in the community are now pitted against NPR too.
How NPR is Different from NRC?
The basic difference between the NPR and NRC is that the former is a database of people resident (living) in India, permanent citizens or not, and it is based on without any document, while the later relates to the database of the Indian citizens. The NRC is based on the proof of citizenship and those who are not able to give any sustainable proof or reason to be Indian citizen after due process are liable to face deportation or any other fate as decided by the government in the long run. I have consciously used the term “a fate as decided by the government” for the outsiders because the NRC in Assam has finally revealed 1.9 million illegal immigrants but they cannot be deported until the country of their origin accepts them back after due process. Even after NRC, they have legal remedies available in the country if any person or family genuinely feels that they are wrongly excluded from the register.
Consequently, even if some names are found missing in the NPR, their citizenship cannot be revoked unless they are unable to establish it through NRC when implemented in due course. Some time back, the Home Minister had personally alleviated such confusion and fears in an interview to Asian News International (ANI), which is an Indian news agency based in New Delh. He then said, “It is possible that some names are missed in the NPR, still their citizenship will not be revoked because this is not the process of NRC. The NRC is a different process. I want to make it clear that nobody will lose citizenship because of NPR.” This clarification was made after the leaders of some opposition parties alleged that the NPA was the first step towards NRC and gave a call to states to boycott the process of NPR with Census.
Amid the controversy, the home ministry too separately clarified that there was no plan to make data of NPR as the basis for NRC. This leaves a basic query as to then what for the government is collecting data in the National Population Register. The official clarification is that this data would facilitate the demographics of the actual residents as direct beneficiaries of (welfare) schemes launched in any area. When NPR was introduced by the Congress government in 2010, Mr. P. Chidambaram, then Home Minister citing the Presidential promise in his address on NPR clarified that the NPR would lead to issue of a resident identity card, which will have Aadhar number and few other data on it, and all the fifteen fields captured for it will be on database in a chip on the identity card. He further clarified that while Aadhar is voluntary, the NPR will be mandatory and entire population shall be covered initially through NPR camps in two rounds and left over people through individual notice.
It is so paradoxical and unfortunate that the political party which introduced NPR in 2010 is now vehemently opposing it on flimsy grounds and funny objections. None of the political parties in 2010, including BJP not in power then, opposed NPR in 2010. Also the Muslim community, which is now lock, stock and barrel opposing NPR on streets, did not find anything wrong with it. Ironically, many prominent members of the Congress party under chairmanship of Pranab Mukherjee and current stalwarts like Kapil Sibal and Motilal Vora as members were part of the parliamentary committee on Home Affairs which inter alia recommended in 2003 that citizenship should be granted only to the minority refugees from Bangladesh and Pakistan and national identity card should be issued to every Indian citizen, and now the Congress is opposing CAA, NRC and NPR to derive political mileage through minority appeasement.
Nature of Protests and Implications Thereof
Initially, protests erupted in some central universities with Muslim students supported by left group students’ unions and some outsiders in mid-December 2019 immediately after CAA was notified. Soon at the call given by some radical Muslim leaders and clergy, Muslim masses came on roads and streets to protest against the CAA and NRC in many cities with the active assistance and participation of certain organizations of dubious integrity like the Popular Front of India (PFT). This phase was marked with angry protests with large scale arson, violence and damage to the public property and life. The states like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal were among the worst hit areas due to such protests; In West Bengal, the ruling Trinmool Congress and Chief Minister herself led protests in several cities. Through a systematic disinformation campaign nationally and internationally, many stories have been circulated through the media and press about the atrocities on “peaceful protesters” by the state and police; but the fact remains that the police, barring few aberrations, has exercised utmost restraint in their endeavor to maintain law and order while the Government has remained firm and unmoved on their position on CAA.
The protests against the CAA and NRC have not subsided yet but the nature of agitation has changed. At many places, now the protest has taken a shape of continuous sit-in dharna with the participation of Muslim women and minor children. Among them, the most talked about is one at Shaheen Bagh locality in East Delhi (national capital), where the protesters have occupied and almost completely blocked traffic to and fro to Noida, Uttar Pradesh causing severe inconvenience and discomfort to lakhs of daily commuters. Prominent opposition politicians mainly from the Congress and Aam Admi Party in Delhi have visited in support of this sit in dharna. The disturbing trend noticeable in these protests is the young girls and boys are talking of Azadi (freedom) of the states like Kashmir and Assam and even children of the age of 7-8 years are seen talking ill-will and even physically harming the Prime Minister and Home Minister of the country (by name). If the videos appearing on social media and private television are to be given any credence, many of these children have not attended to their Madrassa for over one month now; instead, they are regularly coming to the sit-in venues of protesting women and children. It's obvious that all this is happening with the knowledge and consent of their parents.
Needless to mention, these protests have been cleverly organized to keep alive a non-issue as a serious national crisis impinging on the secular and democratic fabric of the nation. The Prime Minister of the country personally clarified in a public address televised across the nation that CAA does not in any way impact any Indian national including Muslims and that the government had implemented it in Assam in compliance of Supreme Court directives but neither opposition parties have paid any heed to it nor this clarification has dampened spirit of protesters in Shaheen Bagh and elsewhere. While “Azadi” and pro-Pakistani slogans have appeared in many parts of the country during such protests with tacit support of opposition Indian politicians, the most seditious call in recent times has been from former JNU student and one of the organizers of Shaheen Bagh protests, Sharjeel Imam, asking Muslims to join protests in large numbers so as to block railway tracks and roads to cut Assam and entire North East from the rest of India. Muliple video footages have appeared from AMU to Shaheen Bagh wherein he is seen giving inflammatory and seditious speeches.
Of late, protesters are getting more and more vocal and visible in raising anti-India slogans and seditious utterances with many opposition politicians publicly defending their action with own interpretation what the slogan means and allegations against the Central Government. The Government has, however, so far exercised extreme patience and restraint in dealing with the protests; instead, they have resorted to a nationwide drive of explaining and educating people on CAA, NRC and NPR to masses. In fact, massive rallies have appeared in several parts of the country in support of amended citizen law as also some sane voices of liberal Muslims have appeared to obviate doubts or fears about CAA and NRC but they didn’t receive same attention and coverage in the electronic and print media as protests. Perhaps it is human nature that the peaceful gatherings and kind initiatives do not have the same appeal as even sporadic violence and controversies do in the eyes of media and masses hungry for spicy news.
Patience, peace initiatives and education campaign apart, I am of firm opinion that the unpatriotic action of people like Sharjeel Imam should not be dismissed lightly and dealt with firmly under the existing sedition and criminal laws. Reportedly, what he said was that it was Muslims' responsibility to come together in lakhs and cut Assam from India and when this happens, only then the Centre would heed to their demands of withdrawing CAA and abandoning the move of NPR and NRC. What he said appears an apparent reference to the strategic Siliguri Corridor called the "Chicken Neck", which connects the northeastern states with the rest of India. This is an enemy-like act and motive as we all know that China has traditionally eyed taking control of the Chicken Neck area in the past and even the recent stand-off in Doklam was part of this strategy, though defeated through India's firm diplomatic and military resolve. It will be a grave mistake if the government and law enforcing agencies do not take immediate cognisance of what trouble-mongers like Imam have already done.
Some Food for Thought to Indian Citizens
With a view to show solidarity and support to the protests against the concepts of citizenship and associated laws, few state legislative assemblies such as Kerala, Punjab and Rajasthan have passed resolution against the implementation of CAA in the state and some others like West Bengal are like to do it soon. The nationality being a Central subject, can these state governments deny the law passed by the Indian Parliament and are they not violating the Constitution through this move? Through the act of passing resolution against CAA, they are not only doing grave injustice to lakhs of persecuted minorities from three neighbouring Islamic countries but also challenging federal structure of the country for petty political gains.
Some opposition parties are actively supporting these protests and defending even anti-national activities and slogans with own ridiculous interpretations. When a protester raises slogans to seek “Le ke rahenge...Jinnah-wali Azadi!” (We will force freedom, like what Jinnah did!), what does he or she intend to do? All we know is that Jinnah’s politics led to the partition of country on religious lines in 1947 and the country has not fully recovered from that shock and maladies inflicted even after seven decades. Original India has already broken into three pieces (countries) since 1947 but the communal tension and outrage continues unabated. One wonders the same political parties might come in power at Centre tomorrow, how will they handle the "Jinn of separatism" then or they will allow the country to break into more pieces again on religious condiderations with the ideology pursued now?
The protests at Shaheen Bagh and some other places have reached a new dimension as women and minor children from the households have been fielded by a community. The hateful language used at these protest venues by the young girls, boys and small children is alarming and compels any sensible person to think of the future generation. So far, it was known that the course curriculum in Pakistan is so designed that the children grow with a lot of misinformation and hateful ideas about India and Hindus. Now the similar trend is emerging in India where small children are stressed with hate learning either by parents or some Madrassa teachers. If the trend continues, it will give rise to more socio-religious conflicts in future.
Why go for the Western world to learn about the citizenship status and resident cards, even India’s neighbouring countries in South Asia such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have issued Residents Identity Cards to their citizens. So how is that the political parties like the Congress when in power favoured NPR and NRC though did not sincerely work to implement it, but now as opposition party, they have opposed to it lock, stock and barrel?
On the steps proposed to be taken for enumerating citizenship status, a section of Indian Muslims are found to oppose it with some political parties and left liberals endorsing their action. The point is when Hindus and other minorities citizens of India are not worried about NPR or NRC, why should a handful Muslim citizens be concerned so as to oppose the government at the conceptual stage itself? The government has time and again made it clear that the bonafide citizens of India need not be worried because they will not face any inconvenience on account of the NRC, which would lead to detection of only illegal immigrants.
Though the government has not come out with the revised plan on the NPR or NRC but as clarified by the former Home Minister P. Chidambaram while introducing NPR in 2010, technically speaking, the data included in the NPR may have a link with the proposed NRC exercise in future. But the Central Government need not be defensive or apologetic about this position, perhaps they are denying it to qualm the ongoing opposition and protests by single community and consequent likelihood of the deterioration of communal harmony, and law and order in the country. The Citizenship Act mandates the NRC and issuance of residents cards to all citizens, which remains unimplemented by the previous governments. Thus the issue of having a national identity card for all Indian citizens is overdue and should be done as soon as the socio-political atmosphere is conducive for it. In due course, this could possibly also serve as a common substitute of numerous other cards in vogue such as Aadhar, Election ID, PAN, and so on.
It is well known that India has traditionally been a land of diverse communities, culture, traditions, and different social and religious groups. While the country often boasts of this diversity with pride on many counts, it is also true the country has suffered at the hands of Islamic invaders and European colonizers due to this inherent division and consequent conflicts. In such scenario, the nationalist and patriotic sentiments united people from various walk during the freedom struggle against the British colonizers. While some political parties and people are opposed to nationalism in this country to appease certain groups or community, some others ridicule it as hyper-nationalism. But it was relevant then and it is relevant now; and, perhaps this is the reason why the detractors of the concept of nation often talk foul about the nationalism and national symbols. Undoubtedly, the humanism is even above the nationalism, but most people divided on caste, creed, religion and region cannot become absolute humane; hence only the concept of nationalism and patriotism have potential to unite them and take the nation forward on the path of progress and prosperity.