If not NRC, then what?

Those who are demanding that NRC should be rolled back, should seriously think about the full implications of what they are saying. (Here I am not talking about those people who have some criticism about this or that aspect of the NRC process, but who at the end of the day, believe that NRC can and should be saved).

If NRC is rolled back, this is what is going to happen.

1.

The Border Police, Election Commission and Foreign Tribunals will continue to arbitrarily suspect and send notices to random individuals from the most marginalised communities in the state. These authorities will keep asking people to prove their citizenship, or else face detention and deportation. Till the time they prove their citizenship, their citizenship rights – such as voting rights or the right to avail benefits from various welfare schemes of the government – will be kept on hold. Bengali Muslims and Bengali Hindus will be the chief victims of this process as it has always been the case.

2.

Xenophobes will continue to harass Bengali Muslim workers who come to the cities in search of livelihood. The latter will continue to live in fear because if they try to resist such harassment, Border Police will be called up by the xenophobes and the workers will end up spending Rs. 50,000 each in employing lawyers to fight their cases in Foreign Tribunals and the Guwahati High Court. The xenophobes will go scot-free.

3.

Due to the lack of any definitive mechanism to identify proper citizens vis. a vis. foreigners, the Assamese people will continue to believe in all sorts of fantasy figures about illegal immigrants in their state. Xenophobia thrives in such an atmosphere. On the other hand, if NRC is allowed to run its full course, it will show that there is a sizeable population of proper Indian citizens who are Bengali and the Assamese people cannot hope to deprive them of their citizenship rights and send them away to Bangladesh. This may give birth to specific demands for constitutional safeguards to Assamese people, but it will not lead to the negative demand that the ‘Bangals’ should be expelled from the country!

4.

After reading so far, you will probably argue that just like NRC, Foreigners Tribunals and Border Police too should be disbanded and IMDT Act should be brought back. In that case, this is what is going to happen: each spike in the growth rate of Bengali speakers will be taken as a proof of increase in the number of illegal Bangladeshis in the state by the native communities. Probably you already know that there has been a continuous decline in the growth rate of Assamese speakers (and a continuous increase in the growth rate of Bengali speakers) in the state over the last few decades. To be sure, the pattern moves in a zig-zag fashion but the overall direction has not changed. So each census result will lead to civil war like situation, between the Assamese and the Bengali communities.

5.

Now, if you say – what about those who are going to be excluded by NRC – then I will be ready to talk, discuss and try to find an ethically defensible and politically feasible solution, together with you. But the arguments above should at least make you think twice about the real problems in taking an altogether anti-NRC position, given the fact that no alternative has been offered so far.

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Mayur Chetia Written by:

Mayur Chetiya is a historian

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