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Assam's updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) and its implication

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Tension and speculation is widespread in the Indian state of Assam, ever since the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was announced. Though, the purpose of NRC update is to identify illegal migrants residing in Assam, who entered Indian territories after the midnight of 24th March 1971, it leads to huge tension, since most of the migrants have already assimilated into the Assam culture.

What is the NRC and its origin?

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the list of Indian citizens of Assam. It was prepared in 1951, following the census of 1951. Since the boundary lines were defined. It didn’t create problems.

The NRC is a record of all the legal citizens of a state. It was basically a serialised list of houses and property holdings in every Indian village with the number of people residing in them along with their names. The government then instructed the records to be stored in the offices of the Deputy Commissioners and Sub-Divisional Officers. Later the data were handed collected in 1960s by NRC data was handed over the police. However, by the 1980s, demands slowly began to rise about the updating in the state Assam. The primary reason was that native began to feel that illegal foreigners were dominating their land, leading to movement in Assam in 1980. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Parishad submitted a memorandum to the Centre, seeking the ‘updation’ of the list. The reason behind their move was that to preserve the indigenous culture of Assam from illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Why is it has created a sensation?

The idea was to update all the names on the electoral rolls up till 1971, or their descendants, and also those names that had been included in the initial NRC of 1951 so that the updated NRC for Assam would reflect its true population. But after a series of litigations, the Supreme Court, in a judgment (December 2014), fixed a timeline to update and publish the NRC (which will be monitored the process). When the first draft of the NRC, which was released in January 2018, listed only 1.9 crore people as citizens out of the 3.9 crore people who had filed the NRC application. The updated NRC will count only those as Assam citizens who can prove their residency on or before March 21, 1971. This means that all those not included in the list runs the risk of being rendered, illegal immigrants. The government has not yet announced any concrete plans about results (to those what it wishes to do with those who are not identified as indigenous citizens). The NRC updation collides with the proposed Citizenship Amendment 2016 Bill by the BJP-AGP alliance in Assam. It also seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus living in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan this is creating a sensation throughout the country.

How is verification carried out?

The updating process started way back in May 2015 and ended on 31 August 2015. A total of 3.29 crore people applied through 68.31 lakh applications. The process of verification involved house-to-house field verification, determination of authenticity of documents, family tree investigations in order to rule out bogus claims of parenthood and linkages and separate hearings for married women.

What happens to those whose names are not in NRC?

All those whose names are not there in the draft NRC will get another chance at explaining/complaining to the NRC authorities. But those who do not have their names in the final NRC will be deemed as not a citizen of the country. They will have to fight the battle in the foreigners tribunals to prove themselves as Indians which could lead to series of litigations.

Why it is termed as an ethnic issue?

The language of the Bangladeshis is different from what is spoken in Assam and Tripura. During the partition, the people of East Pakistan were given the option and some of them did not take that option. After that, too, they got the chance in 1965 and 1971. They did not come in then. So, why now? Now at the rate at which they have come, the Assamese people have become a minority.

What about Bangladesh?

Though there is wide spread claim about the origin of the people goes to Bangladesh. The present government in Bangladesh claims no knowledge of it. There is a political reason for Bangladesh to have washed its hands off the problem about its former citizen. Besides, the Rohingyas had moved into Bangladesh and were offered shelter and support since they are allowed in the name of religion. India is a secular country and you can’t divide it into Indian Muslims and Hindus in case of citizenship.

Conclusion

Therefore, there is great demand to hold a tripartite relation—between the government of Assam, the government of India and the government of Bangladesh. Then it will be easy to solve the problem. What about the people, who have been left out, the process of filing claims and objections will serve has a remedy it will start on 30 August, can once again appeal to have their case reconsidered. Those left out are not yet being labelled as “foreigners” or being sent to detention centres. However, only those applicants who had submitted their applications in 2015 will be considered.

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