1.9 Million Illegal: Assam & The NRC Register
By 10 am, Saturday 31st August 2019, the website for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) crashed under the immense number of web visitors checking to see if they were still Indian citizens. In a dystopian age where one has to check websites for legal status one day and illegal alien the next, lies Assam in India's North East. The NRC experiment has had devastating effects on 1.9 million people and their families, who this morning find themselves labelled as 'stateless' by their own country, India.
The effect of this multi-year NRC process has been arduous but further trauma awaits. A recent NCAT study found 89% of those deemed 'foreigner' by NRC have suffered from mental torture. Furthermore, at least 31 cases of suicides have been reported and there are many more that won't be reported. Family relations are strained further by illegal detentions. All this, however, is nothing compared to Saturday's official announcement, which sees 1.9 million people, previously recognised as Indian Citizens, now as foreigners.
10 new detention centres holding a minimum of 30,000 people have been granted planning permission in Assam by Central Government. Even at those massive numbers, there will not be enough space for the 1.9 million 'foreigners' to be held in detention centres. For the past three years, existing detention centres have seen countless illegal detentions, a swathe of emotional abuse, trauma and a number of suicides.
It is important to study the facts after today's announcement - 1.9 million Bengali speakers have been deemed foreigners. About 60% are Hindu with the remaining 40% Muslim. The Citizenship Amendment Bill, which would grant residence citizenship to any nationality of Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian or Jain faith implies only the Bengali speaking Muslims are targeted by the NRC. Although not ratified yet, it is part of the BJP manifesto in Assam and other areas to get this bill passed.
Today's announcement further lends itself to growing unrest amongst minority communities who are feeling the brunt of an ultra-nationalistic BJP government. The current BJP government has been fuelled by the economic and political impetus of the RSS - a far-right ethnic-nationalist organisation which pushes a Hindutva - Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan mantra.
What will become of those stripped of their citizenship remains unclear. A 120-day window has been granted to file appeals and the State Government has said it will provide some legal aid too. However, legal aid is normally only given to 'citizens', with many of the rural communities that have been stripped of citizenship the ordeal and necessary financial burden of appealing and proving citizenship will be too much. No bilateral talks have been initiated by India to Bangladesh and vice versa. The prospect of 1.9 million people being detained in prison camps is, for now, unfathomable simply because the detention centre infrastructure does not exist. 1.9 million people being otherised in their own state, in their own country, in their own villages, where politically charged language will dehumanise and ostracise them until the detention centres are ready, until the people can no longer tolerate the abuse, the eventual violence, that seems a more likely option. The hallmarks of genocide are clear as day.
Demography change is physically underway - a crime against humanity under article 4 of the Geneva Convention under the threat of deportations or degradation based on identity. However, the Supreme Court of India will simply look away. The gaze of the International Community will not fall on Assam - after all, there is no oil, no gas, no minerals worth geo-politicising for here.