After the final list of National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was published on 31 August 2019, a major upheaval was created as 1.9m people out of 33.02m who applied in the process, were left out. Around 31.12m were included in the list and the numbers didn’t make anyone happy. Every stakeholder is unhappy over one or the other reason.
Firstly, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parental body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the fountainhead of Hindutva fascism — are unhappy and critical of the final NRC as it excluded many Bengali Hindus, who form the core support base of the saffron camp in Assam. The BJP and the RSS want more Muslims to be excluded, at least three to five million, and all Hindus included in the NRC. BJP’s Assam state head Ranjit Kumar Dass said that the party is unhappy that the number of excluded is far less than the four million people left out when the final draft was published last year. Dass demanded a nationwide NRC on behalf of the BJP. The party will also take part in each appeal by the aggrieved excluded people at the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs), an infamous quasi-judicial body set up to decide whether an individual is an Indian citizen or a foreigner and persecuted Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims for years. The BJP will increase the number of FTs to 300 from the present 100.
Secondly, the Assamese chauvinists are unhappy that the number of those excluded are far less than what they have been claiming for decades. They have always claimed that there are five to 10m “illegal immigrants” in Assam, specifically the Bengalis, irrespective of their religious identity. Now as the total number of excluded people are 1.9m and there are several Assamese people also in the list of those excluded, the Assamese chauvinists are criticising the validity of the four-year-long exercise done under the Supreme Court’s observation. They want the inclusion of the maximum number of Bengalis, mostly Bengali Muslims, to take the number of excluded people to somewhere near what they have been projecting.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the non-parliamentary left and democratic forces, the anti-fascist forces and Bengali nationalists are strongly opposing this draconian measure by the Hindi-expansionist, Hindutva-affiliated state machinery that aims at dehumanising a section of the population by stripping their rights and turning them into illegal immigrants in their homeland. They are questioning the logic, the rationale behind such a gargantuan measure adopted and executed spending public money to appease a handful of Assamese chauvinists. Questions are raised on how a state that boasts of being democratic can strip the citizenship rights of people on the basis of their identity, their culture, religion or language? What gives the state the right to strike-off millions of people overnight from its register merely because they couldn’t arrange a piece of paper?
The NRC is a part of the bigger game plan of the Indian ruling classes to degrade the Muslims into second-class citizens by stamping them as foreigners in their own country following the venomous agenda of the RSS and the BJP. This has nothing to do with immigration or Bangladeshi infiltration. The NRC can’t stop migration as the Bengali people didn’t draw the borders, the British colonial rulers and their Indian-Pakistani puppets did and human beings, including the Aryan, upper-caste Hindus, who are glorified by the ruling dispensation, have been migrating from one place to another throughout history. Be an NRC or not, migration of people in search of livelihood is inevitable in a society where wealth is accumulated in the hands of few, while many are left starving in the realm of utmost destitution. Capitalism, which glorifies the free migration of capital, strongly oppose the migration of labour, even though the unequal distribution of wealth and development forms the core reason for such migration. On one hand, capitalism profiteers from the cheap labour of the migrants, on the other hand, it vilifies and demonises them to keep the tempo of xenophobia high and keep the poor divided on identity and nationality.
As the BJP is contemplating enacting a highly-controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which promises easy citizenship to non-Muslim refugees only, it’s not hard to fathom why the entire NRC exercise was conducted under the guise of weeding out foreigners (read Bengalis) and why the same model is now demanded on a nationwide scale. Article 14 of the Indian Constitution guarantees equality before the law, and by bringing such an Act that violates the Constitution, the BJP is trying to legitimise migration, however, in a selective mode. The NRC will not create any legal hurdle in violating the rights of the Muslims without tampering with the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Thus, it remains the easiest tool for the BJP to justify its action of stripping Muslims of citizenship rights.
This NRC exercise has cast a gloomy shadow on the fate of 1.9m people, mostly the poor, daily wage-earners, and landless peasants. These people, who can’t arrange a square meal a day for their families, were asked for relevant papers to prove that they or their ancestors have lived in Assam before 25 March 1971. People who can’t read or write, people who don’t even have birth certificates because the state didn’t provide primary health centres to women for delivering babies, were asked to prove their domicile with five-decade-old documents. They were asked to prove their legacy documents when all they have been through in their lives is sheer poverty, semi-starvation and semi-pauperisation. What’s the legacy of poverty and starvation?
During the NRC hearings, for which short notices were given to these poor people, who were required to travel more than 500km, on an average, to attend them, many people died in road accidents while many committed suicide. Millions of Bengali-speaking people, Hindus and Muslims alike, were reduced to their immediate identity and persecuted. Soon after the final draft was published last year, the Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims who didn’t feature in it started suffering immensely as they stood the chance of being declared “illegal immigrants” or doubtful voters (“D”-voters). The inhuman NRC doesn’t allow a chance to those whose name didn’t feature in the list to live a normal life with their families ever. The ordeal of becoming a refugee has been haunting those who have tried to move on from that phase of their lives, or their ancestors’, in every possible way. The Indian state didn’t accept them as its own. For it, they are, as Amit Shah — the infamous home minister — puts it, “termites” eating up Indian resources.
This NRC exercise has its roots in the infamous Assam Accord, 1985, signed between late Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress party’s government and the representatives of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), which led the notorious Assam Movement (1979-85), a xenophobic campaign that targeted Bengalis living in Assam. Alike the infamous “Bongal Kheda” pogroms of the 1960s and the 1970s, the Assam Movement also gloats of the most barbaric atrocities committed against the Bengali people, especially Bengali Muslims. The infamous Nellie Massacre of February 1983, which was incited by a fiery xenophobic speech by one of the BJP’s founders and former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was one of its kind of genocides in which more than 10,000 Bengali Muslims, including children, women and old, were butchered. It’s till date the largest anti-Muslim genocide in India, excluding the massacre of 200,000 Muslims in Jammu by the RSS and the Dogra Army in 1947.
When such a genocide forms the basis of an agreement like the Assam Accord, then, of course, anything it represents becomes anti-people and utmost fascist. The NRC, which is not a new thing in Assam, has been a curse for the Bengalis because they had no say in the drafting or signing of the Assam Accord. Their fate was decided between the butcher of the Sikhs and the butchers of Bengali Muslims, while it got executed by the butchers of Gujarati and other Muslims in different states. All these, while the Bengalis remained muzzled and sidelined. The only consolation is the inclusion of nearly two million people out of the four million, who were earlier left out, in the NRC and that many of the Bengali Hindus excluded from the NRC are still hoping that the BJP will save them in Assam.
The cut-off date of the NRC was decided upon 24 March 1971, a day before an infamous genocide was started in then-East Pakistan under Operation Searchlight initiated by Yahya Khan’s mercenaries. Hundreds of thousands of hapless Bengalis, mostly Hindus, migrated to Assam to save their lives. Today, they face the same ordeal again. Many of them are now left with no option but to head towards an uncertain future. The entire lower Assam was carved out of the undivided Bengal’s northern parts by the British and then added to Assam, while the Bengali Muslims, now despised and mocked as “Miyan”, were settled there to cultivate the land and give revenue to the colonial administration. Even after living there for more than a century, even though Bengalis own the soil, they are now tagged as foreigners, loathed and vilified incessantly by the bush telegraphs of the rumbustious Hindutva fascist camp.
Though the Assam Movement and other such violent chauvinist movements did target Bengalis of all religions, the credit of transforming the NRC to a communal exercise to exorcise the purported Islamic spirit is a feather in the hat of the BJP, which used it as a subterfuge to drive the RSS’s goal of degrading the Muslims into stateless people. Though the ostensible goal of the NRC remained to figure out who are foreigners and who are domiciles, the real goal under the BJP has been to use the NRC to dehumanise and degrade the Bengali Muslims and a large-section of Assamese Muslims as well.
As the Indian market, its vast resources and cheap labour are lucrative baits for the US imperialism-led international imperialist cartel and even its competitors like Russia. So, it’s unthinkable that the United Nations (UN) or any of its bodies will even take any action against India. Few individuals affiliated with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) did raise the NRC issue at times, but there was no effect on the UN as a whole. The UNHRC, as an appendage of the US imperialism, can only remain a mute spectator as the Modi regime carries out the most inhuman persecution of Muslims using state power in Jammu & Kashmir and Assam, two states with considerable Muslim population.
If one thinks that the NRC will end in Assam only, with more than 1.9m people out of the citizenship list and deprived of equal rights, then they will err in judging the obnoxious agenda of the ruling dispensation. The BJP isn’t going to stop at Assam. At its top priority are states like West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, where the Muslim population is high and the Muslim vote bank holds some value. It will ensure a large number of Muslims are disenfranchised and pushed to concentration camps so that on one hand, the optics help it stimulate its core voter base — the upper-caste elites and urban middle class — to cheer for it, forgetting the abysmal economic crisis India is quagmired in, while on the other hand, it will help it to establish the hegemony of its Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan agenda swiftly, without facing the challenge of any political party that can garner Muslim votes.
The NRC must be opposed, thwarted and resisted. A massive movement against Hindutva fascism, the aggression of the RSS’s Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan juggernaut, which is attempting to uniformise India according to the cultural benchmarks of north Indian, upper-caste Hindu society, must be built up to prevent the forceful disenfranchisement of Muslims in Assam, as well as, to prevent the Assam experiment’s replication by the BJP in other parts of India, especially West Bengal. The onus of this resistance falls on the genuine anti-fascists, as all mainstream political parties have thumbed down the 1.9m people by paying lip service while upholding the obnoxious Hindutva agenda of dehumanising Muslims. The faster the anti-NRC resistance starts from the grassroots, the better and greater are the chances to defeat the Hindutva fascist aggression, more delay will cause more casualties and more losses to the people.