Thursday, December 12, 2019

India's Divisive National Register of Citizens

The government plan to carry out a National Register of Citizens (NRC) across India, is to be implemented first in West Bengal. The exercise will mean that every person in the country will have to prove they or their ancestors are citizens of India, rather than “infiltrators” from Bangladesh or Pakistan, and they will have to have the documentary evidence to back up their claim. According to the government, those who can not prove it will be sent to detention centres and face deportation.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government insists that this vast bureaucratic endeavour is merely a long-overdue bid to count and identify citizens in India and to tackle illegal immigration. The citizenship amendment bill (CAB), passed easily by parliament’s lower house and by the upper house, granted citizenship to migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan –Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains are protected but not if they are Muslim. It was signed into law. "The Indian government is creating legal grounds to strip millions of Muslims of the fundamental right of equal access to citizenship," Human Rights Watch said

An NRC exercise was recently carried out in Assam, which resulted in 1.9 million people being left off the citizenship list for reasons as minor as spelling mistakes on their documents, and some for no definable reason at all. So-called “illegals” are due to be sent to detention centres at the end of December. This has demonstrated the terrible human costs of dividing people and linking citizenship to documentation in a country where many people are illiterate and lack the proper papers.

The Assam NRC was not initially designed to be rolled out nationwide; rather, it was originally based on decades-old legislation to help protect the indigenous Assamese people, both Muslim and Hindu. However, critics say it has been hijacked by the BJP as a way to sow religious discord and was reframed by the party as a means to weed out illegal Muslims. Observers note that it was only after discovering that 1.5 million Hindus in Assam had been left off the citizenship list that the BJP was prompted to introduce this week’s amendment, to ensure that if the NRC was rolled out nationwide, no more Hindus could be declared illegal. The legislation — which alters the Citizenship Act of 1955 — is unconstitutional as it undermines the secular basis of the Indian state. India needs a refugee policy in line with international law, and not a law based on discrimination and dictated by an ideology that makes use of religion for political gains.
10 new detention centres are currently being built in Assam, and even more in West Bengal, questions remain over what the BJP government intends to do with the millions of detainees it will have on its hands after the NRC is rolled out. While it has publicly spoken of deportation, this will be impossible because neither Bangladesh, Pakistan nor Afghanistan has agreed to take them. It will similarly be too costly and impractical to keep everyone in prisons. One suggestion, already being proposed to companies in Assam, is that the detainees could be used as a huge cheap labour force in factories and industrial plants.

The effect of the citizenship bill is stoking communal tensions, increasing tensions between Hindus and Muslims. It will polarise religions. Already, in occupied Kashmir, proposals are to create Israeli apartheid Hindu settlements among the Muslim local population. Protests against the legislation has led to a number of shootings and death by the authorities. The army deployed troops in Tripura state and put reinforcements on standby in neighboring Assam, as police faced off with thousands of protesters, using water cannons and tear gas. 

The Supreme Court of India recently awarded a disputed site in the town of Ayodhya to a government-run trust for the construction of a temple to the Hindu god Ram. The disputed land was the site of the 16th-century Babri Masjid mosque, which was razed by angry Hindu mobs in 1992 claiming that a Ram temple predated the mosque.

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