A doctor-activist friend just returned from a visit to Assam, where he had gone to meet those people who have been left out of the just-concluded National Register of Citizens (NRC). My friend wanted to know what the aftermath of being excluded has been like for each of the families and individuals he met. He found a litany of fractured families and relationships. Those excluded have been falling grievously ill, their families are traumatised. Some, who have been thrown in the category of those who have to be deported, suffer a cruel fate. To be excluded, for some, has proved to be as severe a psychological blow as being dead. For others, exclusion from the list of citizens has been akin to being plucked out of established settings and being left to perish.
And now the rulers of the day have changed the backdrop. On top of these cruelties, it wants to heap more injuries, by raising the banner of an all-India NRC. Now citizens can expect another round of exclusions and inclusions for not just Assam, again, but for the entire country. Last week, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in Parliament that the fresh NRC exercise would cover every state in the country. This is purportedly meant to settle so-called errors, but the reality is that only politically-desired ‘rectifications’ are in the offing.
So far in India’s history, only Assam had desired for an NRC, due to its own particular circumstances and history. There, 1. 9 million (19 lakh) of the 329 million or 3.29 crore who had applied for inclusion in the list of citizens were found ineligible for citizenship. This number, though far smaller than the estimates that were emerging from the established parties before the final list was published, is still a large figure considering the hardship it imposes on those excluded and their hapless families. These are the kind of people whom my doctor friend has been visiting.
Instead of the ruling establishment at the Centre and the state confronting the disastrous consequences of the human tragedies unfolding in Assam, they have cooked up a new big scare for citizens and residents everywhere in the country. The foremost concern is, how many genuine citizens will be hounded out and targeted and end up displaced by this citizenship-validation drive. Though assurances are now being made that there will be no religious discrimination in this exercise, but it would be naive to presume this to be true. In an earlier speech, Shah himself had categorically stated that members of various Indian communities need not fear the NRC and that they will not be affected by it. He had mentioned all communities except the Muslims.
Besides, what is the parallel effort of the government to introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill but to exclude people who practise only one faith from those who qualify as citizens?
Besides, Shah has also been saying that normalcy is prevailing in the Kashmir Valley. This alone should make us pause and think again seriously on his government’s other claims and assurances, even on the NRC front. After all, a slew of reports confirms that there is everything but normalcy in the Valley.
In the backdrop of Hindutva’s track-record in dealing with the largest minority community in the country, one fact after another has only proven that the treatment meted out to Muslims is biased and tilted against them, if not grossly violating their fundamental rights.
Other aspects also loom large. When there is an urgent need to reach out to citizens for their basic necessities, roti, kapda aur makaan, then why push for the NRC, which snatches these things from them. Instead of ensuring that citizens do not perish from malnutrition, hunger, thirst, disease and poverty, the government is hell-bent on engineering a crisis along who is an Indian and who is not.
Instead, the government’s urgent proclamations about the all-India NRC give the clear appearance of being a distraction from the basic issues. All people will be left searching for is their citizenship papers—even genuine citizens of the country. For, who will prove that someone has lived in India for decades, who will rescue those who are unfairly left out, and who will care to hear their genuine pleas, who will pull them out of detention centres? Who will care if families are torn apart and divided because someone’s vital citizenship documents were ruined in fury of a flood or destroyed in earthquakes or simply lost, or never accessed?
Shashibhushan Pandey: What a Voice and Quite a Rendition
This summer I heard Shashibhushan Pandey, a young student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, recite a Habib Jalib verse. Whenever I felt disillusioned with the system and governance, I had to hear Pandey’s voice and the passion with which he recited each verse. Somehow, my restlessness vanished after hearing him and watching, in the video of him that has been circulating, the other students sitting with him hum along.
Now the media’s attention is on Pandey, who cannot see, after he was roughed up by Delhi Police during the recent protests by JNU student. Pandey is the councillor of JNU’s Student Union. He is from a middle-class family from eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur town. From media reports, I have learned that his father died and his mother is a home maker. The young student pays for his own education and other needs.
The state should have reached out to Pandey and offered him financial and other support, such as with finding work. But of course, things are quite the opposite. It was horrifying to see Delhi’s policemen rough him up while they made unsettling remarks.
This is what is happening to India’s citizens, to its youngsters. Students with the calibre, grit and courage of Shashibhushan Pandey hold out hope. In fact, that they struggle on for everybody’s rights is the only hope.
The author is a freelance journalist and political commentator. The views are personal.