The NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS (NRC) is a register that contains the names of real citizens of India residing in the state of Assam which they have proved it through certain legal procedure. Assam carried out the first NRC in the year 1951; based on the first census of Independent India. In 2015, Assam started updating the register and completed in 2019.
The Citizenship Act of 2003 laid the responsibility on the Central Government to update and maintain the National Register of Citizens in Assam. The aim behind it was to identify the illegal migrants who have entered India through the borders of Assam from Bangladesh and have spread to many parts of India, particularly states like Assam and West Bengal. The aim of the activity did not end with just identification or detention but also their deportation. It was the order of the highest court of India i.e. the Supreme Court to start the process of updating the NRC in 2013 that made its implementation in the ground possible.
The total population of Assam constitutes around 3.29 crore people. All of them had to prove their Indian Citizenship. Such exercise was done because there have always been claims that huge illegal migration is taking place from Bangladesh. By carrying the exercise of NRC, they could not only identify foreign nationals but also restrict the further inflow of migrants as this problem, in future, would pose a lot of pressure on Indian resources as it is already putting now. The indigenous population is not able to get the employment opportunities in Assam because foreigners have taken the jobs mainly in the informal sector.
There are many causes behind the huge influx of infiltrators in Assam. One of them is the porous borders. India and Bangladesh have porous borders because of which it becomes very easy for the infiltrators to enter the boundaries of India. The other reasons are historical, cultural and linguistic ties that both the countries share with each other. The original name of Bangladesh was East Bengal, which was part of India itself but due to the divide and rule policy of Britishers; led to the partition of India on 15th August.
Assamese were required to submit certain documents for their inclusion in the NRC List. The people who will make up to the list or in other words, included in the NRC, will enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Constitution of India and its safeguards. As such, the Government will consider these people as Indian Citizens; therefore, they won’t be labeled as ‘illegal’. They will also get the advantages of the schemes introduced by the Government.
According to the Government, the people whose names were not enshrined in the NRC List did not automatically become a ‘foreigner’. Instead such people will get another opportunity to prove their citizenship by taking their case to the Foreigners’ Tribunal. If a person loses his or her case in the Tribunal, then one can move the High Court and then, the Supreme Court. The Assam Government had made it clear that it will not detain any person until the Foreigners’ Tribunal declares him or her as a foreigner.
The Assam Accord was signed on 14 August 1985. According to the Accord, the migrants who have entered the Indian State of Assam before 25 March 1971 shall be regarded as citizens and the people who came in the state on or after 25 March 1971 shall be regarded as the illegal migrants. It was due to the major issue of huge influx of illegal migrants, mainly from Bangladesh, that the people of Assam came together to protest, demonstrate and put pressure on the Government of India to identify, disenfranchise and deport them.
The demand to distinguish between foreigners and Indian citizens became strong in 1979. Therefore, the movement started under the leadership of two student unions like All Assam Student Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP). T. They sent a memorandum to the then Central Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who were in continuous engagement from the year 1980-1984 with these two student groups.
On 31 October 1984, Indira Gandhi died and then Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984.During the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi, the Assam Accord was signed to provide a solution to the long-standing problem to the illegal migration in the Indian state of Assam, especially from Bangladesh.
Process of NRC in Assam
In Assam, the NRC officially started in 2015, under the monitoring of the Supreme Court of India. The total applicants who had applied for the NRC were 3.29 crore people and out of which 3.11 crore people were selected to the final list. The people who were left out of the NRC List took their appeal to the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The right to declare a person as foreigner vests with the Foreigners’ Tribunal and this right is enjoyed by it in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Foreigners’ Act 1946 and Foreigners’ Tribunal Order 1964.
The people who were not satisfied with the decision taken at Foreigners’ Tribunal, took their appeals to the higher authorities like Guwahati High Court and the Supreme Court of India. Those who were not able to prove their Indian Citizenship and identified as illegal migrants by the Foreigners’ Tribunal; they were put into detention camps before their deportation.
NRC’s impact on Indo-Bangladesh Relations
Bangladesh as a country was born in December 1971 and India shares diplomatic relations with Bangladesh right from its Independence. There are historical, cultural, linguistic relations with each other and both the countries have democracy as their political system. Both the nations respect each other’s sovereignty and the principle of equality.
In October 2019, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh made a visit to India and met her Indian Counterpart, Narendra Modi. During the meeting, she expressed her concerns over the issue of NRC. Apart from this, in the month of July, the government of Bangladesh put forward their concerns over the whole procedure of NRC. India had assured Bangladesh that NRC is an internal matter and the people who have not proved their Indian Citizenship; will not be sent to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is mainly worried about the influx of large number of migrants who will be deported after the completion of the process of NRC. This is a source of major concern as the country is already grappling with the problem of Rohingya refugees and particularly when there is the least chance of them being repatriated. It is currently providing asylum to nine lakh Rohingya refugees.
The impact of the arrival of Rohingya Muslims is clearly visible through levels of poverty and pressure on infrastructure. Since Bangladesh considers Rohingya refugees as not their own people, there have been fights between the countries who are giving them shelter and the refugees, which can increase in the coming times. Therefore, Bangladesh has apprehension that it may face the similar kind of situation when the people will be excluded from the NRC List.
India needs to consider the issue of NRC very carefully otherwise the bilateral relations built between India and Bangladesh might suffer. It has taken years to build economic and strategic goodwill between both the countries. It is unfortunate that Bangladesh has no wish to solve the problem of illegal migrants to the satisfaction of both the countries. The previous Governments in Bangladesh, in the past, have denied the very existence of this problem.
The issue of illegal migration between India and Bangladesh should not be ignored for a long time, especially when bilateral relations between both the countries are on a good footing. India is under increasing pressure both domestically as well as Internationally as it is on the cusp of deciding the future of 1.9 million people who have been excluded from the NRC List.
Note: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the Political Chronicler.