Post Mortem

NRC and the other Indians

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 9/12/2019 10:56:24 AM IST

 The much anticipated final list of the National Register of Citizens (hereafter NRC) published by the Assam’s government on August 31, 2019 had left over 19 lakh people of Assam with the prospect of facing statelessness as their names had been found missing from that controversial list that was supposedly aimed at identifying and expelling the foreigners who are illegally inhabiting in the land of Assam. Among the prominent names missing in the list include a sitting MLA and his son, a retired army officer and some family members and relatives of India’s second Muslim President and Assam’s son of the soil Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. These 19 lakhs Indians will now face the prospect of expulsion from their home with no assurance of accepting them by any neighboring countries thereby becoming a group of people with no nationality or identity or belongings unless they successfully appeal their case to the NRC’s Foreign Tribunals within 60 days from the publication of the list and prove legitimacy of their residency in the state of Assam. The uncertainty that awaits those millions of Indians, which include the possibility of movements from one border to another, is nothing less than an existential crisis that has potential catastrophic consequences in the events of any form of mismanagement by the authority. 

This precarious political development in the region was followed by Amit Shah’s declaration in Guwahati on reviving the issue of Citizenship Amendment Bill (hereafter CAB), for granting Indian citizenship to all the persecuted religious minorities from the neighboring countries seeking refuge in India with an assurance that the “existing law of all states of the Northeast region will be preserved even after the introduction of CAB”. 

Be it NRC or CAB, what torments the hearts and minds of the people of the region is the question on the possibility of being dominated/populated by illegal foreign migrants, and the desperate needs to detect such foreigners and deport them back to their place of origin, and also create an effective political mechanism to prevent any future intrusion from such an “unwanted elements”. What New Delhi need to do, if it claim Northeast region to be an integral part of India, is to assure the people of the region that the region’s demography can be guaranteed and guarded from any possible external threats, and that the region will never be converted to a political fertile ground for political parties through vote bank politics, to serve their political and strategic interest, and in the process leaving the region socially, economically and politically exploited.

The bigger picture, however, of this whole political cauldron confronting not only the region and the country but the entire India’s subcontinent is the question of the identity/ies and history of the so called “foreigner/s” within the subcontinent and the tragic political history behind it which eventually evolved into such a tragic concept called “foreigners” or “outsiders” within the same shared political boundary and history. And we need to ask ourself how the entire shape of things had taken place in the subcontinent’s history and find a right answer for solving this particular problem which is not a political but humanitarian crisis, where millions of lives were affected, born out of a historical mess. Understanding how a group of people become minorities/outsiders in their own land is therefore the key in resolving this subcontinent’s humanitarian crisis.

The history of the subcontinent of the last seven decades is a story of a nation torn apart by tragic partition affecting the lives of the common masses, force migration for seeking better life, creating hatred and suspicion resulting in series of communal violence claiming millions of innocent lives, and affecting the psyche of the subcontinent to this day.

The worst outcome of the partition of the subcontinent is the superficial construct of the concept of “minorities” and “outsiders” from within the same nation-state. This minorities-outsiders’ syndrome dominates the political discourse and also defines the life of the subcontinent for the past seventy years. 

Why the generations of Muslims, particularly Bengali speaking Muslims, of Lower Assam has to forever suffer by living as an “outsiders” under the suspicious eyes of the natives. Why the Muslim population in India and Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh has to forever suffer in their own country because of the “minorities’ identity” that is labeled aginst them by the majority group. Without partition they all belong to same India sharing same social and political history irrespective of whichever religion they are identify with. This made them as much Indians like the rest of the natives Indians. With partition, however, these people have to become outsiders/minorities for absolutely no fault on their part, meaning becoming the other Indians in the eyes of the native Indians. Is NRC and CAB a partition ghost, resorting to the same old tactic of dividing the nation on religious/communal line, in different form to haunt modern India? 

Only shared responsibility among the subcontinent’s neighbours can help solve this problem. This includes acknowledging the historical wrong committed by the stakeholders of the partition era’s politicians driven by narrow identity politics. One also needs to understand that the existence of constant mass migrations in the subcontinent is not solely because of political factor but driven by economic considerations. An estimated “18-20 million people every year are displaced internally by floods and river bank erosion in Bangladesh” (Sanjoy Hazarika, Writing on the Wall, Penguin 2008, Page 132). These displace people, landless always under constant threat from natural calamity, are forced to migrate away from home looking for better life elsewhere. Governments of the subcontinents need to attain to the needs of these people if it wants to solve the problem of illegal migration in the whole region. It requires humanitarian considerations while dealing with the crisis and not converting the crisis into mere rhetoric of invoking nationalistic fervor just for the sake of attaining political power.

Politics of partition may have set the nation apart. Seven decades later, some may face expulsion under NRC and some may become Indian citizens under the provision of Citizenship Act, which would be a tragic reenactment of partition’s tragedy. But the political history of the subcontinent will justify one thing: irrespective of which religion those “foreigners” profess or whichever parts of subcontinent they inhabit, they are an Indians and they will remain an Indians.

Dr. Nsungbemo Ezung, Wokha Town, 


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