Two Million People Still Questioning their Citizenship Status Even After An Year of Assam’s NRC

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The final list of Assam’s NRC has been published on August 31st, 2019. It specifies the number of included and excluded people. As many as 19 lakh people await for rejection slips, to contend the same in the foreign tribunals. The delay in the issuance of rejection slips has put the fates of these people in danger.

Introduction 

It has been a year since the CAA and NRC protests wreaked havoc throughout the country. The people who are paying the price are the ones out of NRC. India is one of the biggest democracies with a huge population. It has faced many crises ever since. The very first crisis was at the time of independence, partition. One of the worst migrations happened at that time. Many were displaced from their hometowns, many died and many survived. After surviving that people settled down in both countries. With CAA and NRC those who lived in the country since independence and are very much Indian citizens are also excluded from the register of citizens. This makes the whole situation problematic.

The CAA seeks to grant citizenship to migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Jain, and Parsi communities who came to the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan on or before December 31, 2014. The constitutional validity of the CAA has been questioned because it violates the right to equality. There were also pleas for the postponement of the whole process. There were as many as 140 petitions in the apex court. 

The present issue is the aftermath of all this, and yet again the government’s decision making was wrong. The time at which all this started is when the country is at its peak of economic crisis. And now there doesn’t seem to be a point as to where and when it can continue with the pandemic ravaging the country. This process is also facing an implementation glitch like all other governmental policies. The only difference is that the glitch is the outcome of many factors along with the government’s misgivings.

Looking back at NRC

National Register of Citizens(NRC) is the official record of legal Indian Citizens. It was first formulated in 1951 after the first census. NRC was only a document exclusively for the state of Assam. But it became a pan-India document after the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act. When the Union Home Minister was asked about the same he said, “bonafide citizens have nothing to fear”. The issue is about the people who are not included in the register. In Assam, they have an option to appeal to be included in the list, before the foreign tribunals. They can apply and provide the necessary documents. As it is an unprecedented legal paradigm it is undecided whether this applies to the whole country. The present issue is in Assam about the delay in issuing rejection slips. It has been almost a year since the fraught exercise of updated NRC and those excluded are living on the edge.

Analysis 

There are a lot of lacunae in the process and the law. NRC and CAA have been one of the most controversial debates of the decade. The main purpose of both was to ensure no illegal immigrants were living in the country. One of the analogies given to defend the government’s decision regarding CAA goes like this. Consider a family of three living happily in their house, after a while their neighbor due to some inevitable reasons asks for help and allows her to stay in their house. The family is very generous and agrees to the same. But after some time her accommodation goes beyond their level and she seems to grab their resources, which is when the family asks her to go back to her place or find a new place to stay. This entire situation almost sums up the CAA and NRC except for the religious discrimination part. Besides, there is legal recourse for those excluded in NRC. 

The problem is, to have recourse there should be an evidential document to contest on and that is being denied to these excluded people. There is no proper reason for the delay in issuing the rejection slips. For now, there is a pause in the rejection process until the Registrar General of India notifies regarding the same. There is a time frame of 120 days to file an appeal against the exclusion before a foreign tribunal. A person is not a foreigner until the tribunal declares so. Nevertheless, there is no problem to the citizens of the country anymore, what if the NRC is in limbo, the excluded people can stay till they get rejection slips. But that’s not where the story ends there are many rights of the excluded people which are infringed. Imagine having to stay in your place and your own country like a guest. In this case, it is not even a guest; it is like a migrant that is also an illegal one. They become stateless in their own country if at all the tribunal declares them as foreigners.

Hopefully, the rejection slips should be issued and the tribunal provides justice. Unlike the trend these days the courts should come to the rescue of the ‘citizens’ and help them get what is rightfully theirs. The courts shouldn’t be siding with the government. Although the period has been exceeded way beyond, the tribunals should consider the circumstances and allow the appeals. This limbo situation is no different from other governmental decisions in the past. 

Every time the government jumps to a decision without vetting the consequences, the purpose of that particular decision goes astray and the people are always paying the price. The government should have known better than to mess with the census at the wrong point of time. Many issues needed immediate attention from the government like the country’s falling GDP at that time. But going on with a personal agenda for the whole country was placed before those important issues. It could have delayed the process to when the census would happen, it would have been easier. 

Conclusion 

Pandemic has done its part of the damage to the world and is continuing to do so. The only advantage of this crisis to the government was to blame every shortcoming of the governmental decisions on the pandemic. It is partly true but that is not the only reason, way before the pandemic even set foot in the country the institutions were crashing. There is no foresight to plan. Every decision is taken like an impulsive action without any heed to the consequences. And to top it all, the implementation from the lowest unit is always bad. The floods and the pandemic delayed the process till October. Only the efficiency of government and other institutions can protect these excluded people’s rights and uphold democracy.


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