India published a list on Saturday which in essence disqualifies the citizenship rights and claims of about 1.9 million people living in the state of Assam. Located in the northeast region of the nation, according to BBC News, Assam has long been a hotbed for anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Bangladeshi sentiments. The list of the hour is formally known as the National Register of Citizens (NRC). In order to qualify for citizenship retention – to be mentioned and pictured on the NRC – one must be able to prove that they (or their family) came to the state by precisely March 24, 1971, marking official Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan, according to BBC News. While those not named on the list have about four months to appeal the decision, thousands of suspected “foreigners” are currently being held in temporary camps within state prisons. The NRC seems to be one piece of a broader, theo-ethnically based extermination plan of Muslims from a Hindu-majority state in India.
In staunch defence of the NRC’s ultimate publishing, a statement from the Assam government, according to Al Jazeera, reads, “The entire process of NRC update has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner. Adequate opportunity of being heard has been given to all persons at every stage of the process. The entire process is conducted as per statutory provisions and due procedure followed at every stage.” Such confidence in the process is contradicted and obscured by the proposed legislation which would specifically help Hindus who had been left off the list to get Indian citizenship (back). Just in case the aforementioned meticulous procedures were not indeed foolproof. Following the list’s publication, Sarbananda Sonowal, the chief minister of Assam, according to Al Jazeera promised to take “special care” of those whose names were left off the list, and preemptively requested calm among the people. According to Al Jazeera, Sonowal states, “We will provide all the possible assistance. So, there is no need to panic. I would appeal to all the people to maintain peace and harmony.”
From an American standpoint it is easy, and also somewhat valid, to fear that the current executive administration’s immigration policy has normalized and thus promoted anti-immigrant sentiment, values, and policies across the world. Regardless of whether this may be true, not true, or partially true, it is partially paternalistic, in a twisted way, to accredit the United States with such influence in the racial, ethnic, and religious conflicts of the global south. The fact that a truly arbitrarily devised list such as the NRC can redefine, and further restrict a state’s citizenship qualifications should be intensely alarming. By simply choosing a parameter by which the status, the right to inclusivity, the legitimacy of an individual or family is determined, a previous, quasi-universal notion of citizenship is thereby made extremely unstable. Post-NRC, then, we must rethink citizenship: its roles, and its boundaries. Weapon, shield, or both?
According to CNN, Assam is the only Indian state with a citizenship registry list. It was originally drafted in 1951 in order to discern Indian citizens from undocumented migrants originating in what was then East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh. The Supreme Court ordered that it be updated in 2013, and such work began in 2015. Thus, Assam residents have had to prove their “true” citizenship with documents which then determined the rulings of the just released NRC over a four-year span. While noted opponents of the practice today consider the list to be discriminatory against minorities at the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the plans, sentiments, and policies pre-date Modi’s administration by several decades. Regardless, the NRC and the act of restricting human movement through bureaucratic fear-mongering and identity registration has now been carried out, exacerbating the decade’s displacement crisis.
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