Written By: Dr. Trina Biswas
Department of Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
Photo Credit: shutterstock.com
Let me make it clear, this time I want to be on the right side of history. Nowadays so many netizenswould argue that you cannot protest about this incident today since you did not protest about something that happened in 1450 BC, you cannot take the side of that group when you didn’t say anything while the other group was suffering. Yes, I get it, I was wrong. I chose to be silent about something that happed long before I was born. The country was divided based on religion in 1947 by the British rulers, I did not protest. Thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984, I did not protest. Believe me, I would if I could, but I was not born. During late 1989 and 1990s, hundreds of Kashmiri pundits were killed and thousands were forced to leave Kashmir valley, a place that they lovingly called home, I stayed silent. So many people lost their lives, homes, near and dear ones during the 1991 Bombay riot – again I didn’t protest. Trust me I would if I could but any of my attempts to protest during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s were nullified by my parents since they thought those were my excuses for not finishing food or home works. I also kept mum in 1999 when an Australian missionary and his two young kids were burnt to death in Orissa. 2002 Gujrat riot – again I saidnothing. However, by this time I was old enough to understand how politicians and political parties have repeatedly used religion to fulfill their political agendas and how they have vehemently slapped the idea of so-called secular India.
Yes, I stayed silent on so many occasions and I am deeply sorry about that. However, this time I have made it a point to be on the right side of history by expressing my discomforts about something that is threatening the idea of united India – a country that finds its unity in diversity. By staying silent I do not want to repeat the same mistake this time; I do not want our future generation to raise questions about our ethics, integrity, and humanity.
The discomfort is about theproposal of implementingthe National Population Register (NPR), National Register of Citizens (NRC) nationwidecoupled with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the current central government. On 19 November 2019, it was declared by Home Minister Amit Shah in the Rajya Sabha of the Indian parliament that the NRC will be implemented throughout the country. Moreover, on December 11, the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 was passed by the Parliament of India. Like any other policy, each of them hastheir own merits and demerits but a combination of them istoo lethal for the largest democracy in the world that can push the country into a deep humanitarian crisis.
The National Population Register is a database of all the individuals living in India, both citizens and non-citizens. According to the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, Indiathe objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country. It does not require any proof of citizenship and includes any individual who has resided in a locality for the past six months or more or has an intention to reside in that locality for the next six months or more.On the other hand,the National Register of Citizens is a database of Indian citizens that requires proof of citizenship from the respondents. NRC is a record of legal Indian citizens. Many argue that NPR is the first step towards NRC. If NRC is implemented nationwide as proposed by the current government in power, it will target all illegal immigrants in India.Apparently, this is a good move, right? Every government should try to protect its citizens and protect its border? True, but the story doesn’t end here and it is not that simple.
The idea of NPR and NRC are not new. In 2010, for the first time the data for National Population Register was collected by the then UPA government. Like the Census data, the NPR data is also supposed to be collected every 10 years.NRC for Indian citizens was first implemented in Assam in 1951 – a state that shared its border with East Pakistan (current Bangladesh). The infiltration of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has long been a concern for Assam and has been considered a threat to Assamese culture and ethnicity.However, this first attempt to register legal citizens of Assam was unsatisfactory.Following a Supreme Court order, the process of updating the register or the list of legal citizens in Assam was resumed in 2013. Nearly 33 million (3.1 crores) people of Assam were asked to prove that the names of applicant’s family members should either be in the first NRC prepared in 1951 or in the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971. Applicants were also asked to present several documents such as passport, government issued license or certificate, birth certificate, proof of bank/post office accounts, government employment certificate, educational certificate, refugee registration certificate, LIC policy, land and tenancy records, citizenship certificate, permanent residential certificate, and court records.
Once, the updated Assam NRC was released on August 31, over 1.9 million (19 lakh) applicants failed to make the cutoff. A major portion of these people who are not included in the list andwho are in danger of losing citizenship are Bengali Hindus who constitute a major voter base of the current political party in power. This was clearly a big blow to the Hindu nationalist partythat leads the Indian government and their dream of converting secular India to a Hindu nation. Hence, the amendment of the 1955 Citizenship Act became necessary to protect the Hindu population that is left out of the Assam NRC and facing a fear of arrest and deportation.
The Citizenship Amendment Act that was passed by the Parliament of India on December 11, 2019grants fast-track citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains, and Parsis from three neighboring Islamic countries -Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they claim they have arrived in India by December 31, 2014,after fleeing religious persecution. Although India’s goal of protecting persecuted groups has been welcomed by many, the amendment has been widely criticized as it is fundamentally discriminatory. The CAA discriminates on the basis of religion, particularly Muslims. While the CAAshields and pavesa way for Indian citizenship to thousands of non-Muslim illegal immigrants, itconsciously excludes immigrants from Muslims minority countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar where Muslims are facing religious persecution. Since Muslims are not protected by the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, many Muslims currently residing in India fear an uncertain future of being deemed as illegal immigrants if they are unable to deliver adequate proof of citizenship forthe National Population Registry.
Though the government claims that theNRC and CAA are not related, in reality they are two sides of the samecoin. Implementing NRC along with CAA in a secular democracy like India is ethically and morally wrong on so many different levels.They are discriminatory and divisive in nature. NRC boosts ethno-nationalism, whereas CAA gratifies pan-Indian Hindu nationalism.
Combined together, NRC and CAA are anti-secular, unconstitutional and imposes a huge economic and social burden to a developing country like India. The Assam National Register of Citizenship took 10 years, employed 52,000 government employees and resulted in a cost to the Government of India amounting close to Rs 1,220 crore (Rs 12.2 billion). Add to this the cost of setting up detention campsfor illegal immigrants. Construction of detention center to accommodate 3000 suspected illegal immigrants started in December 2018 with a budget of Rs 46.41 crore. If illegal immigrants are not deported, the construction of detention camp to house all 1 million nine hundred thousand people excluded from the NRC list would cost close to a massive Rs 28,500 crore.Since these people will be kept at the detention camp and won’t be allowed to join the labor force, the Indian government will also have to bear theexpenditure to provide the basic necessities to all the inmates of the detention camp. Now these numbers are only for the state of Assam. If NRC is implemented nationwide and once these numbers are converted to a national scale, we will find ourselves in a logistical nightmare. The economic, social, and human cost of NRC will be more severe to the poor section of the society since they will find it more difficult to dig out documents to prove the authenticity of their ancestral origins.
All these are happening at a time when the country is suffering from an acute slowdown. Declining consumption, dwindling investment accompanied by falling tax revenue has affected growth rate of the economy massively.The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently slashed India’s fiscal year 2020(FY20) economic growth forecast to 4.8% from the projected 6.1% in October. IMF also has suggested implementation of urgent policy actions to revive the economy.
However, the citizens of India shouldn’t worry much about the economic slowdown since the prime minister of our country has already said that – “Bharat mein sab changa si” (i.e. everything is all right in India). Moreover, whyshould we worry when a Harvard educated Indian Economist and politician has already proposed a unique way to revive the Indian economy by inscribingpictures of goddess Laxmi on its currency (Those who do not know, according to Hindu mythology goddess Laxmi is known as the goddess of wealth and purity)?Honestly, I do not know how should we react but my heart feels happy to knowthat our father of the nation will finally have some company.