A group of Dalit and tribal intellectuals and activists have demanded withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in the forthcoming Budget Session of Parliament. The law, they say, is a prelude to NRC, or National Register of Citizens, at the countrywide level. They strongly feel that it could be detrimental to the rights of underprivileged people and guaranties like equality and other safeguards given to them under the provisions of the constitution.
To prove this point, former Uttar Pradesh police officer and Dalit rights activist SR Darapuri said that he had visited Assam sometime ago only to find that among those excluded out of the 19 lakh people from the NRC in the state were mostly Dalits and Adivasis. They outnumber others among Hindus and Muslims who have been excluded. A similar scenario might well await members of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) all over the country in case the government had its way, warned Darapuri.
“It is more so given the apathy of bureaucracy and police in case of people belonging to marginal groups. I have been arrested and confined to jail in Lucknow for three weeks in the wake of the stir against CAA and was released on bail only on January 7. And, thus, I could see the deep seated animosity and bias that policemen and officers share with the political leadership of the BJP against poorer castes,” said Darapuri at a press conference held in New Delhi on Thursday that was also meant to mark the fourth death anniversary of Rohit Vemula, a Dalit student of Hyderabad Central University who died under suspicious circumstances.
Decrying the citizenship verification move whether through CAA or National Population Register (NPR) by the government, Professor Sonajharia Minz from Jawaharlal Nehru University said that she was born in a tribal family in a village on the borders of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh where many tribespersons still could not be expected to have any identity papers worth the name. The state has been fighting shy of giving them their rights for decades and, thus, as victims of long systemic discrimination and apathy in the government set up, they already stand dispossessed.
“In case of tribes, their way of life is so distinct from their counterparts in the privileged among the non-tribal society that their life style is their only identity; and it is of the real indigenous people in this case and, thus, it ought to be respected by the powers-that-be,” she said.
Delhi University’s political science professor N Sukumar pointed out at the lack of land among most Dalits and tribesmen as a handicap when compared to their privileged upper-caste counterparts in proving their citizenship before an apathetic government.
“A little incongruity between my names written on PAN, or Income Tax Personal Account Number, and bank records poses a problem in filing my tax return every year. So how can one hope an unlettered poor person to satisfy government officials about their citizenship or credentials? The officials can easily cast doubt over the proofs made available by hapless people.”
Government engineer-turned-Dalit-rights-activist Ashok Bharti argued that through CAA and its different appendages, the largest minority of the country, the Muslims, are being targeted with a communal angle that others and particularly poor among them too are not going to be spared.
“The new law is discriminatory in the Indian context since it seeks birth certificate of citizens and also that of their ancestors, or parents at least, and under traditional system Brahmins alone were given the right to write janampatri or birth memo at the village and mufassil level. Such dependence on a single caste for the basic birth document is so discriminatory that a Dalit cannot be expected to have it easily,” Bharti remarked, demanding scrapping of the moves regarding citizen and residence-ship by the government.