By Shahid Jamal
On 31 August, 2019, the government has released the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and over 1.9 million people in the state have become stateless. As per the information of Ministry of Home Affairs, people who have been left out from the final list of NRC will have to appeal against it at the Foreigners Tribunals (the only authority that will review their claims and decide if they will live in detention or as citizens) and then subsequently in the High Court or Supreme Court within 120 days.
Many people believe that the Foreigners Tribunals that are considered to be the last hope for the excluded citizens of Assam have flaws in their functioning. Aakar Patel, Head of Amnesty India (a Human Rights organization), says, “The Foreigners Tribunals, which will decide the Indian citizenship of millions of people, are quasi-judicial bodies where persons claimed to be foreigners have the responsibility to prove that they are Indian citizens. Several reports have demonstrated how the proceedings before Foreigners Tribunals are arbitrary, while their orders are biased and discriminatory.”
It is evident that the BJP wanted to control the NRC exercise to suit its vote-bank politics, though the final list of NRC in Assam excluded many Hindus. However, the hidden agenda of the BJP behind the release of NRC was to target Muslims only. If you remember, last year during an election rally at Malda, Amit Shah had said, “I want to assure all refugees living in Bengal – Hindu, Buddhist & Sikh – that they need not be afraid. We have brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to grant citizenship to each and every Hindu Bangladeshi. No one will be left out, whether the person is a Buddhist, Sikh or Christian. Those who have been oppressed and have come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh will be granted citizenship by the BJP’s Narendra Modi government.” So if you look at the Assam NRC list in this context, only Muslims will be excluded and destined to live in the detention camps. People from other communities will be able to retrieve their citizenship through the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The process of othering the Muslims in India has a long history but under the Modi regime, this process has been further accelerated. Muslims are required to prove their love for the nation just simply because they belong to the Muslim community. They are being lynched simply because they carry a particular identity. Their beard and skull caps are seen as a sign of terrorism. They are being suspected at every step.
I fail to understand why Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not want to hug the Indian Muslims in the same way he hugs Arab Muslims. In fact, he often deliberately and repeatedly ignores Indian Muslims and their issues. He often delivers tall speeches but never addresses the growing insecurity among citizens, especially Muslims and Dalits. He promptly comments on each and every minor and major happenings from politics to sports but does not want to comment on the killings and lynchings of Muslims.
Narendra Modi never forgets to mention the philosophy of Upanishad ‘Vasudev Kutumbkum’ (The whole world is a family) whenever he addresses the international communities but when he comes back to India, he forgets his own utterances. If Modi honestly believed in the concept of ‘Vasudev Kutumbkum’, he would not have excluded 1.9 million people from the NRC list. People who have been left out from the NRC list in Assam may or may not be Indians but they belong to this world (the big family). Modi often preaches what he does not practice.
In a country like India, which lacks basic infrastructural development and where 269 million people are below the poverty line, the government is expected to eliminate poverty and build schools, hospitals, roads to meet the demands of development. The government with all its energy and resources is building detention centres to further marginalise a marginalised community.
In today’s India, a few pieces of paper decide the loyalty and association of a particular community with its motherland. It is very disturbing that the people whose ancestors are born and buried in this country will have to appear before the court to prove their citizenship. It is a matter of shame that the people whose ancestors have shed their blood and fought earnestly to free this country from the captivity of the British will now have to prove their nationality.
It is really shocking that even former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s nephew Ziauddin Ali Ahmed is dropped from the NRC list. If the relatives of the former president have to face the ghost of NRC, one can imagine the fate of millions of those who don’t come from such connected families. What will happen to them? In fact, it raises disturbing questions. As Mahua Moitra, TMC MP, rightly pointed out in her first parliament speech, “In a country where ministers cannot produce degrees to prove that they graduated from college, you expect dispossessed people to show papers, to show that they belong to this country?”
As per a report published in The Quint, among those excluded from the list is 5-year-old Saahin Ashwar from Baksa district. Saahin is the only one from his family to be excluded from the NRC list. Another minor, 12-year-old Muzamil is also excluded from the list while his family name is included. Children are considered to be the future of any society and by disowning them, India is, unfortunately, disowning its own future. An Assam-based NGO specialising in child rights has warned of the psychological impact of the NRC on children and asked the authorities not to treat them as “collateral damage” from the expensive exercise. The National Campaign against Torture (a human right body) has also found that “children are the worst victims of mental torture” in the NRC process. “They are witness to the mental trauma of their parents and bear the brunt of their parents’ frustrations. India’s denial of citizenship to children born after 2004 is a violation of Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to the right of nationality.”
In a recent editorial at The Indian Express, “Nation’s Orphans”, the editor-in-chief writes that instead of blaming the process, political parties need to recognise, perhaps, the flaw that lies in the imagination that produced the NRC. Modern societies are shaped by migration and it may be futile to engage in costly exercises to identify “outsiders”. The idea of citizenship can’t be imprisoned within the framework of blood and soil or religion; it needs a broader, more inclusive definition rooted in the liberal spirit of the Constitution.
The BJP-led government at the centre is replicating in India the Nazi idea of atrocities. In Nazi Germany slogans like “Germany for Germans only” led to the imprisonment of millions of Jews in concentration camps where they lost their lives. In the same way, the slogans such as “Hindustan for Hindus only” have developed a mindset among the Hindu fanatics to torture, kill or lynch Muslims. The detention centres that the government is building are the concentration camps of New India. Now the Indian Muslims are being targeted by both the government and Hindu fanatics. The BJP believes that the more space it provides to the Hindu fanatics the more seats it will win in the Parliament. That is why it has given free hands to them to spread hatred towards Muslims. This polarisation of Indian society has brought more than 300 seats for the BJP in the parliament. When the Home Minister Amit Shah uses the term “Ghuspaithiye” (infiltrators), he refers to Muslims only because he is ready to give citizenship through Citizenship Amendment Bill to everyone other than Muslims. When the Home Minister of the world’s largest democracy has a communal mindset, you can imagine the functioning of agencies under him. Under these circumstances, the free space in India for Muslims is shrinking day by day. They are becoming the captives within their homeland.
It seems to me that the NRC is just a process of othering Muslims and pushing them towards more backwardness. If this process continues, one can easily predict the future of Muslims in India. The way the NRC is being conducted is also unconstitutional as it violates section 3 of the Indian constitution. Defying political subversion, the apex Court of India should take this matter very seriously because it is considered to be the custodian of the Indian Constitution. The NRC exercise is no longer about losing citizenship; rather, it is more about losing the homeland. How can a state force anybody to leave her homeland?
As my growing disillusionment and disappointment compelled me to write this essay, I have been thinking of Martin Luther King Jr’s words, “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal. The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” If we do not raise our voice against the growing injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the government, it will be a betrayal.
Shahid Jamal is an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently he is teaching PGT History in Crescent School, Ansari Road, New Delhi. He regularly presents papers in national and International seminars and writes for Urdu Newspapers and online portals.
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