Citizenship of All of Us is Now in Shadow of Doubt: Rights Activists

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People search for their names in the final draft of the National Register of Citizens in Nagaon. — PTI file photo

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI — Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday asserted in Parliament that the Union Government will take forward the process of weeding out “infiltrators” by implementing the National Register of Citizens across the country. Rights activists see this as the Modi government’s disenfranchisement programme aimed at stripping residents considered “illegal immigrants” of their citizenship rights.

Rights activists say the central aim behind this process appeared to be to turn the nation into a Hindu Rashtra. “The government has a one-point agenda to convert India into a Hindu nation,” said Shabnam Hashmi, a prominent civil society activist.  “They did this in Assam, and they want to do this across India. What happened in Germany in the 1930s would now happen here.”

Shah told the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, that no person, no matter what his or her religion, “need be afraid.”

Assam has already shown that proving citizenship meant a huge ordeal to the people. “The assurance of the home minister is empty rhetoric,” Prof Apoorvanad who teaches Hindi at Delhi University said.  “All of us are now doubtful citizens,” he said.

For Apoorvanand, the announcement has not come as a shock or surprise. “NRC was on their agenda and it has now been formally announced on the floor of the house. The statements made during election campaigns were not mere rhetoric but a statement of their intent to redefine citizenship.”

On August 31 last, India published a citizenship list in Assam state, excluding nearly 2 million residents from the list. The move came after a campaign for many years by the people there, urging the government to deny citizenship rights to Muslims of Bengali ethnicity, who were considered to have illegally intruded into the sate from Bangladesh. However, the final list included hundreds of thousands of Hindus as well. The local BJP leaders have called for inclusion of Hindus into the citizenship list, leaving the Muslims in a mess.

Earlier this year, Shah said during the campaign for elections in West Bengal state that there was a need for purging the country of its “foreign intruders.” He branded them as “termites.” Later, in a TV interview, he said if non-Muslims failed to make it to the list, the government would find a way to accommodate them.

The precedence of Assam and the statements of the BJP leaders stoked fears among the Muslim minority, which feels the government’s move targeted them. They are under increasing fear following the landslide victory of the right-wing nationalist BJP in Parliamentary polls this year.

Community leaders have started holding awareness programmes asking their folk to keep their residency documents updated. Bengali Muslim labourers who travel far and wide for work have been scrambling to get their paperwork done in the wake of the allegedly sinister plans of the government.

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