Bias inherent in NPR-NRC implementation guidelines

To understand why so many citizens in so many states have been continuing to raise their voice against CAA, NRC and NPR, it is useful to go beyond the headlines and to read the fine print

Brick-bats lie on a road during clashes between anti-CAA protestors and the police at Seelampur in New Delhi, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (PTI Photo)
Brick-bats lie on a road during clashes between anti-CAA protestors and the police at Seelampur in New Delhi, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Mala Jay

The truth lies in the details. To understand why so many citizens in so many States have been continuing to raise their voice against CAA, NRC and NPR, it is useful to go beyond the headlines and to read the fine print.

On Monday, some eagle-eyed reporters spotted a glaring lacuna in the NPR “Instruction Manual” for the enumerators who carry out the door-to-door data collection.  The Manual, as already reported in National Herald, mentions only Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian religious festival holidays as a reference point for citizens who may not know their exact date of birth  --  the list of holidays and festivals does not include Muslim holidays at all.

Whether this exclusion in regard to India’s largest minority population, comprising an estimated 20 crore, is intentional or inadvertent is best left to the imagination.  But it does arouse suspicions that bias is embedded in the enumeration process.  Moreover it would inevitably lead to serious difficulties whenever the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise is undertaken all over the country.

It is relevant to note that when the Assam specific NRC was conducted some months ago there were tell-tale signs of another kind of bias. A fact-finding report by an NGO which looked into the functioning of Foreigners Tribunals in Assam, came out with certain disturbing observations -- leading to the conclusion that the Tribunals were trying to declare as many persons as foreigners as possible.

The report entitled “Democracy under Detention: Horrors of NRC”, which was released during a press conference at the Delhi Press Club much before the current nationwide agitations against NRC and CAA, provide eye-opening details of the manner in which Foreigners Tribunals were handling citizenship cases.

It needs to be kept in mind that the NRC final list, released on August 31,  eventually declared over 19 lakh people to be “doubtful” citizens. Those excluded from the list would have to file appeals before the Tribunals across Assam to claim Indian citizenship.

The first gray area was the composition of the Tribunals – the eligibility criteria to select members was arbitrarily relaxed to hire more members and increase the number of tribunals from 100 to 300 as the NRC deadline approached.

Tribunal members have a two-year contract - but the contracts of some members were prematurely terminated – in fact about ten members have petitioned the Gauhati High Court challenging their dismissal.

The official reason given for the abrupt termination was that their “performance was poor” on the basis of the number of persons they had declared to be foreigners.   For instance, if a Tribunal member declared only 10 out of the 300 cases as foreigners, the performance was marked as ‘poor and not satisfactory’ – and his contract was terminated.  However, a member who declared 160 of 200 people foreigners was given a ‘good performance’ rating.

This is unheard-of in quasi-judicial proceedings because findings are based on evidence, witnesses and documents, not on the basis of ‘quotas’.  However,  a BJP minister was quoted as saying:   “The state government controls the tribunals.  Tribunal members are well-paid and given car facility, so why should they not do what we want”.

Another shocking finding is about detention centres - which the Prime Minister falsely stated do not exist.   One inmate described his ordeal in one of the detention centres where he spent five years - he was kept in “a small jail with 50 people where I used to get only two-foot space to sleep”.

According to the report at least 25 people have died in detention centres.  Shockingly,  they had been declared as Bangladeshis whilst they were in the camps, but after they died their bodies were sent to their Indian homes.

Another detention centre, which is under construction in Goalpara district of Assam, will have the capacity to hold 3,000 people.  Ironically, some of workers at the site are themselves excluded from the NRC and they face the prospect that they will become inmates of the new centre.

The devil, therefore, is in the details of such tragic and sordid real life stories.

After the messy Assam NRC was completed, 19 lakh people were left stateless.  This figure is almost six per cent of Assam’s population – it is also equal to the entire population of Nagaland and double the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

If and when NRC is conducted in all States of India, the number of stateless persons could be mind-boggling.  They will be declared as “D-voters”, which is the Election Commission’s term for ‘Doubtful’ or ‘Dubious’ citizens, or non-Citizens, who will have no voting rights.   At a humanitarian level,  they will be a horrendous problem for the country and will lead a nightmarish existence,  belonging nowhere and with nowhere to go.

Little wonder that, one by one, even the NDA allies of the BJP are declaring their opposition to a pan-India NRC. Some have even done a U-turn on their stand on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

According to the latest count as many as ten out of the 13 NDA partners are now dead set against all-India NRC.  The BJP leaders may have won the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019,  but judging by the non-stop mass protests by students and citizens in general, they do not have the support of the majority of Indians anymore as 2020 dawns.  Which is why  public support for the Modi-Shah regime’s Citizenship policy is now in the D category – dubious and doubtful.

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