Polity and Governance

National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment bill

National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment bill
The National Register of Citizens or the NRC is a register containing names of all bona fide Indian citizens residing in Assam. The register was first prepared after the 1951 Census of India. Background Assam’s demographic changes date back to the 19th century when the British brought in tribal laborers from Chota Nagpur and Bihar to work on the plantations. This also encouraged the migration of Muslim farmers from Bengal which continued after independence and partition. To tackle the illegal immigration issue just after the independence, NRC was first prepared after the Census of 1951. But this process rendered ineffective due to vote bank politics. In 1979, agitation was started by All Assam Student Union for illegal migrant deportation which culminated in the signing of Assam Accord in 1985. The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended after the Assam Accord for all Indian-origin people who came from Bangladesh before January 1, 1966, to be deemed as citizens. Those who came between January 1, 1966, and March 25, 1971, were eligible for citizenship after registering and living in the State for 10 years while those entering after March 25, 1971, were to be deported. However, nothing much happened over the decades. Present scenario In 2014, the Supreme Court asked the state government to update the 1951 NRC in a time-bound manner. The NRC is being updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. It will include persons whose names appear in any of the electoral rolls up to the midnight of 24th March 1971 or National Register of Citizens, 1951 and their descendants. The process of verification involved house-to-house field verification, determination of authenticity of documents, family tree investigations in order to rule out bogus claims of parenthood, and linkages and separate hearings for married women. What are the benefits of the NRC? •It will provide a much-needed perspective on the extent of illegal migration that has taken place into Assam, thus restricting the wild speculations about their actual number by political parties for their advantage. • The fear that illegal immigrants will change the demography of the state and influence the politics of the state will also be done away with. • The publication of an updated NRC is expected to deter future migrants from Bangladesh from entering Assam illegally as the publication of the draft itself had created a perception that those staying in Assam without valid documentation will attract detention/jail term and deportation. • The inclusion of the names in the NRC will provide respite to all those Bengali speaking people in Assam who have been, hitherto, suspected as being Bangladeshis. • The exercise will help identify illegal immigrants and deport them back to their country of origin and saving resources of the country for legitimate citizens and also reduce concern for internal security due to illegal migration. What are the problems with the NRC? The need to produce pre-1971 documents is acting as a huge nightmare for the people of Assam. Given the status of document records in the country, this is an onerous pre-condition and difficult for many people. Unlike international conventions on establishing citizenship, the burden of proof rests with the NRC applicant. Additionally, Ignoring the concerns of those who have lived for a long time in this land will put a dent on the democratic social value of the country. One main contention is, what will be the citizenship of the children and grandchildren of illegal immigrants. While the citizenship law of the country provides for citizenship by birth irrespective of the parents’ citizenship, the NRC rules do not recognize it. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill It makes Hindu illegal migrants and those from certain other minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship, which further creates apprehensions about the alienation of minorities in the process. However, the bill got lapsed in January 2019. Provisions of the Bill • Definition of Illegal Migrants: The Bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide that ‘persecuted’ non-Muslim minorities (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi & Christian communities) from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, who have arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014, & living in India without valid travel documents to obtain Indian citizenship, and will not be treated as illegal migrants. However, to get this benefit, they must also be exempted from provisions of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, and the Foreigners Act, 1946 by the central government. • Citizenship by naturalization: The amendment reduces the aggregate period of residential qualification for acquiring citizenship by naturalization from 11 years to 6 years, along with continuous stay for the last 12 months. • Cancellation of registration of Overseas Citizens of India (OCIs): Bill adds one more provision for cancellation of registration of OCIs for violation of any law in the country Opposition to the bill: • Religious Discrimination: The Bill provides differential treatment to illegal migrants on the basis of their religion, which may violate Article 14 of the Constitution guaranteeing equality to all persons, citizens and foreigners. Another issue with listing out non-Muslim minorities is that it excludes various persecuted minorities, for example, Rohingyas of Myanmar and Ahamadiya in Pakistan. • Choice of countries: Many have questioned the rationale for adding Afghanistan with countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, which were a part of India in the pre-independence era and reasons for leaving out other neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. •This is directly in conflict with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Assam Accord 1985. On one hand, NRC and the Assam Accord marks the line of eligibility for Indian citizenship in (March) 1971, the bill marks the eligibility line at (December) 2014, thus enlarging the scope and number of people who can be eligible for Indian citizenship. It also goes against the spirit of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which requires the government to provide safeguards to protect the culture & socio-linguistic identity of the Assamese people. •The threat to local demography: The local community fears that the prospect of citizenship will encourage migration from Bangladesh and might lead to ‘outsiders’ dominating the indigenous population. • Rise of religious sub-nationalist politics: The Bill has divided the residents of Assam in Brahmaputra Valley (a majority of Muslim settlements & mostly anti-Bill) and Barak Valley (Hindu Bengali settlements & pro-Bill). Until now, the sub-nationalist narrative of the North-East focused on opposition to the “foreigners” to preserve ethnolinguistic identities. Political scientists and experts have hinted that it is important for the government to balance its larger vision of providing a homeland to persecuted minorities in the immediate neighborhood and its promise of non-dilution of indigenous identity of the citizens of North-East, and the government must also seek to address the larger question of illegal migration, which is, now, not limited to the North-East, particularly with respect to Rohingyas.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Citizens_of_India

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