The National Register of Citizens (NRC) update has completed its first phase through the first draft published on December 31, 2017. The Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal, had appealed to the people in the state to remain calm if they do not find their names on the list as it is only a draft list. The Chief Minister however, also made a rather strange declaration on January 3. He stated that his government would not extend fundamental rights to those whose names do not feature on the final NRC. The statement is problematic, as fundamental rights can be divided into two parts, those that are exclusively available to citizens, and those that are available to all persons in India.
Article 14 guarantees the right to equality to all persons in India. It states that “[t]he State shall not deny to any person equality before law and equal protections of laws within the territory of India.” Article 20 which relates to protection in respect of conviction for offences is another provision which is available to all persons. Article 21 states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Article 21A the right to education is another provision available to all, irrespective of whether they are a citizen or not. Article 22 is also available to ‘all persons’ as it protects against arrest and detention in certain cases. The right against exploitation Article 23 and 24 is also applicable to all persons. The right to freedom of religion does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens either. Article 32 which establishes the Supreme Court of India as a Court of First Instance regarding the enforcement of Fundamental Rights is also available to non-citizens.
Thus, regardless of how many may be ‘ineligible’ to receive fundamental rights in the eyes of the Chief Minister of Assam, the reality is that these rights will still have to be protected whether he wants to or not.
However, there is another issue. What is going to happen to those whose names do not feature on the final NRC? The Bangladesh Government does not recognise the Bengali speakers without documents outside its borders as Bangladeshi. The violence in the Rakhine state which has displaced around 6,20,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar has seen them housed in temporary refugee camps in Bangladesh. The Myanmar Government does not officially recognise them as citizens, the Bangladesh Government does not either.
The issues before India at this stage of the NRC process should be; whether another ‘Nellie’ will take place, or whether it will turn into another Rohingya ‘crisis’. It has been suggested from some quarters that those whose names do not feature on the final NRC should be given residence and work permits. However, the remarks of the Chief Minister do not inspire confidence even in regard.