The Citizen’s Guide to CAA, NPR and NRC: The Simplest and the Essential

‘A beast can never be so cruel as a man’

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Amidst the plethora of happenings – protests, repression, violence, disinformation, propaganda, chaos and confusion – following is the guide to the most essential that we all need to know and understand in simple and lucid words:

Assam and the North East

*Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise put everyone – of all religion, caste, class, ethnicity and language – through a long harrowing process – with severe emotional and financial costs – to furnish the history of one’s own lineage – prior to the cut off mark of 24 March 1971 – to prove one’s citizenship to the bureaucrats of the Indian State.

1.9 million (19 lakhs) – with a majority of Hindus – were rendered illegal and stateless: divested of all citizenship rights from voting to land ownership.

Some of them were marched off to 6 detention centres across Assam which were built with taxpayers’ money.

10 more detention centres are under construction to house, feed and provide healthcare to the ‘detainees’ who have been hauled out of free normal life – and self-sufficient economic activity – to be imprisoned by the state at an enormous recurring cost to the exchequer; and that too in the time of a grave economic slowdown, chronic mismanagement, rampant joblessness, government bankruptcy and financial destabilisation.

To circumvent the unexpected scenario in Assam where more Hindus have been rendered stateless than the people of any other religion, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been brought in, so that the stateless Hindus in guise of being ‘religiously persecuted immigrants’ can regain the Indian citizenship that they have lost through NRC. (To do this the stateless Hindus have to furnish fresh declarations which will contradict their earlier NRC statements)

CAA stipulates that Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Parsis and Sikh immigrants from 3 Muslim-majority neighbouring countries namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be granted citizenship if they had arrived in India prior to 2015.

Persecuted Muslims – of various sects – have been left out of CAA along with the persecuted people of all religions – including Hindus – from the non-Muslim-majority countries from the neighbourhood.

This new exclusionary principle to grant citizenship based upon religion violates the Constitution and its several articles – as argued by several legal experts – and the matter has now proceeded to the Supreme Court.

Assam and the other North Eastern states are against CAA because it provides the opportunity for more Bengali speaking Hindu immigrants from Bangladesh to settle in the region. New immigrants can potentially claim to have arrived before 2015 and obtain citizenship. The grey areas of CAA haven’t been addressed: the loopholes are yet to be plugged; so the chaos, the anger and the confusion remain.

Widespread protests got ignited in Assam and elsewhere in the North East which required para-military forces and the army to be brought in amidst violence, curfews and internet shutdowns.

The situation remains tense and far removed from ‘normalcy’. People are still locked in their homes with no internet; hostels have been cleared out of students; businesses which depend on online platforms are paralysed; ethno-nationalist protests continue; army is on patrol.

Someone messaged me that the metal dividers have been uprooted by the protestors in Guwahati and they are being used as road-blocks: some streets are looking like the ‘streets of Syria and West Bank’.

Within all this, comes the other – much bigger and more inflammable – issue of nationwide NRC that might also include a fresh NRC for Assam. The existing NRC – after 4 years of pain, financial drainage and pandemonium – might be scrapped and the trauma might start all-over again from the very beginning.

Such is the state of affairs: citizens are the playthings of the state and the pawns on the political chessboard; they can be toyed around endlessly without any sense of respect, concern, justice and humanity.

Nation-wide NRC/NRIC

*Nation-wide NRC or NRIC (National Register of Indian Citizens) to root out intruders or ghuspaithiyas – as often mentioned by Union Home Minister Amit Shah – is now hanging over India like a metaphorical guillotine. All of a sudden every Indian will have to prove one’s citizenship to the Modi-Shah-RSS-Hindutva regime that has given itself exclusive power to arbitrarily decide who is a citizen or not. And that the regime will be biased against Muslims and ‘anti-national’ Hindus – and other manufactured categories such as ‘urban naxal’ or ‘urban Maoist’ or ‘non-veg-Bengali’ or the members of the dreaded ‘Khan Market Gang’ – isn’t an unfounded fear.

The air is thick with absurdity, chaos, terror and lament: daily films from a senseless new genre of ‘comedy-action-horror-tragedy’ are being played 24/7 in the political theatre of the nation.

But truth is we don’t know the terms of the proposed roll-out of the nationwide NRC – or the pan-India NRIC – as of yet. Whether the cut off mark to determine citizenship will be same as Assam, or pushed further back to 1951, hasn’t been announced. We need to wait for the finer details to emerge, if NRC is pushed through, in spite of all the protests, and inadvertently ushers civil disobedience, organised resistance and non-cooperation movement, reminiscent of our struggle for independence.

What we know now for certain is that CAA, NRC and the National Population Register (NPR) are all inter-related.

NPR is a ‘comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country.’ It is stated to include demographic and biometric particulars.

The NPR work has already begun that will collect the targeted data of all the residents of India. This is not connected with the Census, but is a separate exercise that might be going on simultaneously with the Census work.

After the NPR is completed and a list of residents is made, an internal assessment will happen. A category of ‘doubtful citizenship’ or ‘suspects’ will be created from the list of residents. They will be asked to prove citizenship via a ‘claims and objections’ process. And all this will be decided and done arbitrarily by the bureaucrats of the present regime.

The above has been revealed in an investigative piece by Shoaib Daniyal that has been published in Scroll.

So in other words, NPR is about a list of residents while NRC is about a list of citizens. And CAA is a tool to help non-Muslim people to gain citizenship, if they find themselves out of the final NRC list.

So the entire ‘scheme’ is clearly biased and weaponised against the Muslims.

The view-finder of the NRC-weapon can also be directed against whoever the regime’s bureaucrats decide to harass or to exclude through their discretionary powers.

Such arbitrary powers can be abused under specific political instructions which are conveyed either officially or unofficially. ‘Anti-national’ Hindus are not safe; most vulnerable are the poor. People from the queer community can also be on the hit-list: over 2000 people from the transgender community have found their names to be missing from the final list of the Assam NRC.

Passport, Voter ID, PAN card, Driving License and Aadhaar Card won’t be of any use to prove citizenship: they are all useless. One has to furnish historical documents pertaining to one’s lineage – one’s ancestors and one’s own life in India – before the designated cut-off mark: 1971 or 1951 or some other date.

Let me quote Harsh Mander, the former IAS officer, writer and activist who has worked closely with communities in Assam that are most affected by exclusion from NRC:

‘I have witnessed the incredible levels of suffering created by the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Impoverished rural people, often landless and unlettered, stalked all their meagre belongings and many years to gather documents to prove that they were citizens. These certificates of birth, schooling, land-ownership and voters lists dating back several decades are such that most of us would find impossible to muster. Even a small discrepancy in spelling was sufficient for these documents to be rejected. The consequences of such rejection were catastrophic. You could be sent to detention centres for years, with no hope of release. Finding names missing from NRC lists, or when loved ones were exiled to detention centres, several committed suicide in despair.’

The Final Summation

*Let us understand the trial we all are going to face if a nationwide NRC is forced upon us: even after being born in India and having lived here for 40 years or more – with all the legal documents of citizenship from the Passport to the Voters ID – we can be rendered ‘stateless and illegal’ if we fail to furnish documents pertaining to our lineage.

Errors of all kinds in this massive bureaucratic exercise – from a mistake in name to a wrong clerical input – have also created devastating consequences. Mothers who have been accepted as legal citizens haven’t found the names of their children in the NRC and they are running from pillar to post – in a state of utter panic – to find a solution with their meagre resources.

How tragic is this? How unjust? How cruel? How insane? It’s dystopia. But it’s all real; all true. And it’s happening right in front of our eyes; but our minds have been diverted elsewhere, and our awareness have been kept distracted.

*There are more questions than answers. Why is this trail of fire necessary in the time of grave economic meltdown? Why trouble the poorest of the poor who have been forced to skip a meal to survive?

Why do we have to prove our citizenship to the regime that has come to power with our votes?

Just to identify and capture 10-20 million ‘intruders’ (1-2 crore out of 130 crores or .7 % to 1.6 % of the total population) and incarcerate them in detention centres funded by taxpayers’ money?

Or the actual goal is to disenfranchise a vast swath of targeted people from all citizenship rights – from voting to land ownership – in line with an insidious political ideology?

The sinister agenda of this ‘scheme’ can no longer be hidden.  An investigation by Kunal Purohit published in The Wire has found that BJP-linked WhatsApp groups have mounted a massive campaign to foment communalism, spread disinformation, fake news and blame Muslims for anti-CAA protests. The proponents of Hindutva Rashtra – masquerading as Hindu Rashtra – are fantasising of disenfranchising Indian citizens of one particular religion. They have advertised CAA and the upcoming NRC as a tool to ‘kick Muslims out of India’ and ‘reduce Muslim population’.

*India is building detention centres just like the Nazis built detention centres for political prisoners in 1933. Those detention centres became labour camps to house slave labour who toiled in the nearby industries. Then those labour camps progressed to become concentration camps: they got filled with Jews, communists, disabled, gays and whoever the Nazi regime wished to eliminate. Eventually what started as detention centres, ended as death camps.

Aren’t we progressing on the same path? Is it alarmist to see the similar progression to the abyss?

*India – the land of Gandhi and Buddha – has been put under Genocide Watch: global alerts have been issued in regard to Kashmir and Assam. US professor Gregory Stanton – who created the classification ’10 stages of Genocide’ – also made a statement at a briefing to the US Congress on NRC. He thinks that a ‘preparation for a genocide is definitely under way in India’.

*Analysts are comparing CAA with the racist Nuremberg Laws of the Nazis and the racial laws brought in by the Myanmar junta – supported by Israel’s role in genocidal campaign against the Rohingya: as revealed by Haaretz – to discriminate and dehumanise the Muslim people of the Rakhine province.

*Will people docilely consent to be packed off to detention centres? Will the tormented souls – on the verge of losing everything – accept inhumane injustice with candle light marches? Can they remain pacifists? Won’t they rage? Won’t there be anarchy? Will India be at peace? Will the ‘normalcy’ of curfew, internet shutdown and army jackboots boost the GDP? Will the full-time job of the police be to brutalise those who simply don’t agree and refuse to fall in line? Will India develop, grow and prosper amidst such chaos, oppression and tragedy?

*What kind of ‘New India’ are we creating? A Hindu Pakistan, a Zionist theocracy, a fascist plutocracy, a corporate kakistocracy, a democratic dictatorship, a banana republic, a neoliberal hell-hole?

*Things have gone too far: even a group of supporters of the ‘nationalist’ regime are feeling discomforted with the current realities. But the zombie virus – spread by a relentless propaganda machinery – has disfigured too many minds. We need to recover sense. We need to stop the final descent into mindlessness, evil, tyranny and madness.

Demonetisation, poorly planned GST and unfettered Neoliberal polices have decimated our economy. Our social fabric is fractured with relentless hate, fear and bigotry. Uncertainty has crippled our minds. Demagoguery has poisoned our veins. India is terminally sick. But the civil resistance to the regime – fuelled by the university students – is also rising.

The pernicious plan of a nationwide NRC will be the proverbial ‘final nail in the coffin’: the chance of any collective socio-economic recovery in the short and medium-term will be ruined.

NRC will also be the final stab into our collective conscience and an assault to erase India’s soul. All the higher values and elevated principles which our true patriotism, religions, traditions and Constitution hold dear are being replaced with base emotions and vile ideas. This needs to stop. Illogic – used to defend the indefensible – deforms the self. Lies, chicanery, chutzpah and hubris don’t lead to paradise. The trail of blood doesn’t lead to salvation.

We need the temperance of the soul, not the mania of the ego. We need to heal from the traumas which have been inflicted upon us. Now we need schools and hospitals, not detention centres.

At such times which are so critical, those who are refusing to speak are actually conveying a lot. Their silence is loud and clear: they don’t care or they are scared or they are complicit. Silence is also the speech of approval.

But for the rest of us, this is not the moment to be an apathetic fool or a spineless coward. Outrage is required. Speak out. Discuss. Join the protests. Talk to your networks. Make people understand. Spread truth. Share a post. Write a note. Do your bit. Nothing is insignificant.

Every act of dissent adds up, as every deed adds up to become us: our essential character.

Now is the moment to be on the right side of history. Stand up against inhumanity. Stand up against injustice. Stand up against fascism. Stand up for the Constitution. Stand up for your country. Stand up for all your people. Raise your clenched fist in the air. Feel the fire in your heart. Say #NoNPR #NoCAA #NoNRC. We must bring this nightmare to an end. Or else we all will get scorched in the mayhem. So will India and her destiny.

[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]

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