My Mother Can Fight Her NRC Exclusion, but What About the Rest?

The SC needs to make sure that this exercise does not create a new underclass or disenfranchise the marginalised.

Out of 3.3 crore applicants, names of 40 lakh people have been left out.
Out of 3.3 crore applicants, names of 40 lakh people have been left out.

My mother – a long-time resident of Assam – failed to make it to the final draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC). She called me and the confusion and anxiety in her voice was palpable, even more so because she happens to be Bengali.

At this point, essentially, she’s no more a genuine Indian citizen in the eyes of the state despite her family tree predating 1971 by many decades.

There are many others like her – both Bengali and Assamese, Hindu and Muslim who have been left out.

But, she has the means to challenge this denial of 'Indianship', which she will when the appeal process begins next month. This includes full awareness of the process and sound legal advice. She's privileged in that sense.

What about those who don't have these means? What about those who live on the margins and have little or no access to proper legal aid to pursue the appeals? What of the great opportunity costs of following up on appeals for those whose existence depends on daily labour?

Will the Indian state and Supreme Court now ensure that all claims are treated fairly, equitably, and transparently? Will those who haven't featured in the draft be intimated of the reason behind the omission so that they can take corrective action?

More importantly, will the government finally make sure that the D-Voter (dubious voter) and Foreigner Tribunal mechanisms fall in sync with each other as well as with the NRC process, and all pending claims are addressed?

What Happens to the Identified ‘Bangladeshis’

It is also important to ask what will happen to the identified 'Bangladeshis' now.

Will the Assam Police enter their homes and arrest them? Will they be thrown into detention centres? Or will the Assam Border Police simply push them across the border to Bangladesh – a country that, like India, also doesn't recognise them as genuine citizens?

Yes, the government has clarified that there won't be any deportations in the near future. But, what really is the obverse of deportation? Long-term detention? Or integration into the state's labour force? No one knows yet.

Recipe for Confusion and Fear

No amount of 'legitimate' collective consciousness or ethnic solidarity can negate the fact that the whole NRC process is a solid recipe for genuine confusion, anxiety, and fear. And it's bound to have a differential impact on the surveyed population according to individuals' socioeconomic standings.

The Supreme Court has to make sure that this exercise does not create a new underclass or disenfranchise the already marginalised.

It also has to make sure that by using NRC as the pretext, the government doesn't start going after individuals and families – Indian or non-Indian, in a manner that violates their dignity and right to fair trial.

In a situation otherwise, nothing else would matter and the world will only remember this as a dark phase in India's history.

(Angshuman Choudhury is a researcher and coordinator, South East Asia Research Programme, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @angshuman_ch . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)