The first National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in 1951. It was prepared only for the state of Assam. The basis was the records of the census operation of 1951. The register was prepared from the census slips used to collect information of each and every individual present in Assam at the time of census of 1951. The architect of the process was R B Vaghaiwalla, the census superintendent for Assam, Manipur and Tripura. The purpose behind the preparation was ‘to maintain continuity, to be useful for electoral and other administrative purposes’. The constitutional dateline for Indian citizenship is 19 July 1948. The migrants from the East Pakistan who entered Assam without valid documents between this dateline and the time of census operation were also included in the NRC of 1951.
The very idea to prepare the NRC of 1951 for the state of Assam reflected Vaghaiwalla’s wisdom in view of the unabated flow of illegal migrants till today. The NRC has remained a document of vision of the census superintendent. However, the document has neither been maintained in its continuity nor been used for electoral and other administrative purposes as Vaghaiwalla envisaged, thanks to the unpatriotic Indian politicians and bureaucrats.
The continuous illegal flow of migrants into Assam till today has overwhelmed the original demographic pattern of Assam. The illegal migrants are both Hindus and Muslims. The Supreme Court of India has termed the illegal migration into Assam as ‘external aggression’ and voiced concern that it has caused ‘internal disturbance’. All the past history of illegal migration into Assam has been included in the various petitions to the Supreme Court seeking remedy for the unprecedented problem. The realistic appreciation of the problem has also appeared in the various verdicts of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of India is still seized of the problem. As part of the solution to the problem building slowly, steadily but surely since Independence, the Court ordered upgradation of the NRC of 1951. The basis is the Assam Accord signed between the government of India, government of Assam and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1985. The AASU agreed to accept 24 March 1971 as the dateline to detect the non-citizens from Bangladesh living illegally in Assam. East Pakistan became Bangladesh with the help of the Indian Army on this date. The prime minister of the newly created Bangladesh agreed to take back everyone who entered Assam illegally from that country after 24 March 1971.
The Assam Accord made no distinction between Hindus and Muslims. The basis of 1971 is now a part of the Indian Citizenship Act. The NRC upgradation, therefore, is a legal process. The process started in 2014 under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India. The process is the attempt in a legal framework to segregate the Indian citizens living in Assam from the non-citizens from Bangladesh living illegally in Assam. The problem is huge and so the task assigned to the state coordinator of NRC, Prateek Hajela IAS, is difficult. The guidelines to the deputy commissioners are clear. They do not violate any law of the country. The process does not touch human rights of anyone in any way. The fact that the Supreme Court is monitoring the process for the last five years is enough of a proof of application of only laws of the country to the process.
The significance of the process is that the onus of substantiating a person’s claim of his/her citizenship is on him/her. Every person has been given wide scope to produce valid papers dating back to pre-1971. The person has to investigate himself/herself. The person has to put himself/herself on trial with the papers in his/her possession. It is as simple as that. It is as crucial as that. He/she can justify himself/herself. He/she can be in peace himself/herself. Absolutely nowhere it is question of religion of the person. The process can detect false papers originating from malpractices of village heads, panchayat secretaries, private schools and colleges, private hospitals, etc. The family members of a person declared to be non-citizen must also be investigated. Till then, they are suspects. There is no ambiguity, no violation of any law. The process must resist any attempt to dilute the provision of the Citizenship Act. This responsibility has been entrusted to the state coordinator by the Supreme Court of India.
Several organizations are raising issues either to help the post-1971 Hindus or the post-1971 Muslims. They speak entirely in communal languages. They produce figures only to derail the process. But they are all on the wrong footing. The new NRC is expected to end the political injustice meted out by the political parties to the indigenous people of Assam since Independence. The new NRC is expected to end the era of Bangladeshi vote banks of the political parties. This explains why the communal organizations, within the state of Assam or outside, are up in arms against the process. But, the language of false information does not make or unmake citizenship.
The recent letter to the government of India by the four special rapporteurs of UN Human Rights is sadly not based on facts. The rapporteurs have ignored that the process is being monitored by the Supreme Court of India. It cannot be a curious coincidence that part of the UN letter resonates with the allegations of some communal organizations of the state. A valid case lies against the letter of the rapporteurs. The indigenous people of Assam cannot afford to allow the NRC authority to include any Bangladeshi’s name, irrespective of his/her religion or language, however big the number may be. The Assamese have vowed not to dilute the Assam Accord. The government of India and the government of Assam are bound by the Assam Accord to deport the post-1971 non-citizens to Bangladesh. The prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina is bound by the promise of her slain father to take back any Bangladeshi who crossed into Assam illegally after 24 March 1971.
The Author is the Former Assistant Professor of Physics, Handique Girls’ College