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Quandary of National Register of Citizens

Citizenship cannot be seen as existing outside the larger concerns of humanity.


The publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam has begun to stir up the politics in the state as different social forces are responding to its outcomes. Among the proponents of the NRC, including the ruling party, there is a sense of disappointment with the outcome as the number of individuals excluded is substantially less than the claims and rhetoric of the proponents. Furthermore, for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the disappointment is also due to the exclusion of a large number of individuals from the groups constituting its social and electoral base. Ideally, there should be some sense of relief at the number being substantially smaller (if we were to set aside for a moment the arbitrariness and unfairness in the process of such exclusion) considering the travails of the excluded people and the immense human costs involved. Pushing lakhs of individuals into the drudgery of appeals to foreigners’ tribunals and courts, putting them in detention centres notorious for degrading conditions, and relegating them to secondary citizenship or statelessness are bound to bring extreme suffering to the people, the majority of whom are already living a marginalised existence. However, the cynical calculations and the agenda of the ruling party leave little scope for empathy for this suffering. In fact, the very logic of an idea like the NRC—particularly in the times of generalised political ascendancy of exclusionary-divisive rhetoric—precludes such humanitarian considerations and, therefore, has grave implications for polity and society going beyond Assam.

An exercise like the NRC, with its fundamental premises rooted in the binary of outsiders/insiders, cut-off dates, and primordial claims over land, threatens to aggravate the already existing social tensions. This is the case even if the intentions behind such an exercise were to bring to a closure the festering conflicts and dispel the atmosphere of mutual suspicion. Realising these intentions would demand a reconciliatory process within communities/social groups and coming to terms with the burden of history by arriving at a consensus in the present to fashion a common future. However, this would require painstaking efforts with an overarching normative vision for a decent society. With the ruling party’s political agenda being shorn of such a vision and its evident attempts to use this exercise to consolidate its electoral prospects, the pious hopes of reconciliation harboured by a section of progressives in Assam are bound to be belied. Statements of the leaders in the context of the NRC are replete with terms like “ghuspethiye” (infiltrators) and “termites,” and claims of a large number of unfair inclusions from particular communities. These are definite signs of the attempts to maintain and perpetuate social divides. Reconciliation and closure are inconsistent with the politics of permanently manufacturing the fear of the other.

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Updated On : 1st Oct, 2019


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