NRC: Supporters and opposers must engage each other with empathy

NRC: Supporters and opposers must engage each other with empathy

In his article ‘Fakir in the detention camp’ (IE, September 9), S Gopalakrishnan argues that an administrative register based on material proof of origin won’t be able to record the nuances of the cultural roots of a land and its people. While it is true that an administrative register cannot be the base of identity, his views reflect only on one side of the story.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has evoked considerable discussion, and two persistent lines of argument have occupied centrestage: One that opposes the NRC tooth and nail; the other, appeals to look at the history and conditions leading up to the NRC. The first line of argument comes from mainstream civil society members who have criticised it, primarily on three fronts. The first is on the lines of “Hindutva”. The NRC came to be seen as a case of “xenophobia” against Assam’s Muslims in the light of the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016. However, this argument couldn’t sustain owing to the fact that the people of Assam have been protesting against “illegal immigration” not because of religion but on grounds of culture and geography. The Hindutva argument has been followed by another line of argument which looks at the global precarity of labour created by globalisation. It is based on the fact that globalisation benefits from the vulnerability of labour. Now, after the release of the final list, around 19 lakh people have been left out of it and they have to appeal to the Foreigners’ Tribunal in order for their case to be reconsidered: The excluded people will be given 120 days to file an appeal before the Tribunal. Finally, there is the issue of the composition of those Foreigners’ Tribunals as well as their capacity to solve those issues.

Another argument has surfaced, primarily from the civil society of Assam — who have been making appeals to understand the history and conditions leading to the NRC, conditions over which the Assamese hardly have control. They have also been pointing towards multiple layers of the issue while challenging the “ready made” structures which most of us use. Though there have been attempts at hijacking the process by a few politically motivated groups, yet, when it comes to sharing responsibility, people from the “mainland” can no longer afford to stay aloof from the concerns of scarce resources and land. Hiren Gohain, the renowned scholar, has pointed out that the NRC process was impersonal and its machine-like operation pre-empted the targeting of any particular community. While there may have been errors, he added, the allegations of bias are unfounded. One also needs to understand the colonial roots whereby migration from East Bengal took place in the early decades of the 20th century, and the conditions that led to 1971 being set as the cut-off year to verify citizenship in Assam.

Whose voices are we to listen to? We have to start by acknowledging that there has been an attempt to hijack the entire process by a few politically motivated groups. Yet, the many nuances of the problem need to be understood. Added to these nuances is another complexity: The 19 lakh people who have been excluded from the list. If rumours about detention camps being built are true, we need to not remain silent, and be vocal about it instead — something like a detention camp evokes unpleasant, inhuman images that we have only read about in our history books.

Members of the civil society, instead of clinging to drastically different viewpoints, need to discuss the next concrete steps that need to be taken: The objective should be to solve the issue in a humane way instead of sitting in their respective cocoons and arguing out their cases. It is also important to note that while deportation is not an option, we need to work out viable solutions. If we are looking for a workers’ permit, what would be the nature of that permit? If those excluded are to be settled in the country, then let not Assam bear the pressure alone, all the other states should come forward. And before all of these, it is important to frame a few common minimum points of agreement.

The writer is assistant professor, IP College for Women, University of Delhi

— This article first appeared in the October 4, 2019 print edition under the title ‘On NRC, are we listening?’