Dhamma Darshan Nigam
People across India are protesting continuously against CAA, NRC and NPR for few months now. In this conversation, Dhamma Darshan Nigam discussed the people’s concern regarding CAA, NRC and NPR with Dr. Ratnesh Katulkar.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Ratnesh ji, we are continuously hearing about CAA, NRC and NPR? What are they about?
Ratnesh Katulkar: In simpler terms, CAA means the Citizenship Amendment Act, NRC means National Register of Citizen and NPR means National Population Register. These three are closely linked and are a weird offshoot of the Citizenship Act 1955. Based on the amendment in CAA 2003, the government is implementing NRC across India by registering the names of all citizens in a national register. It is a troublesome exercise that leads to loss of citizenship by a large mass of the population who since time immemorial–much before the making of nation India have been inhabitants of this land. Now they have to prove their citizenship by producing relevant documents.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: How could the government question our citizenship when our forefathers have been living in this country even since before independence?
Ratnesh Katulkar: There was no question on our citizenship up till the enactment of NRIC. But with the recent decision of the government, it becomes compulsory to all. While as per our original constitution, we have naturally acquired our citizenship either by birth, descent or by naturalization. There is also a provision of acquiring citizenship through registration. Thus there was no question mark on our citizenship. Precisely on this basis the Citizenship Act 1955 was formed where the year 1950 was considered as the base to grant people Indian citizenship. In later years there have been some amendments in this act. But those were less troublesome. However, the most notorious amendment on citizenship appeared in the year 2003 under the Vajpayee rule NDA government. This added a clause that the government may have a national register for all of its citizens.
Sadly at that time none of the activists, intellectuals, and leaders took it seriously. But, now this amendment has appeared before us in its horrible form. And the government is adamant in implementing NRIC nationwide.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: NRC is a common term but why you are using NRIC in the above discussion?
Ratnesh Katulkar: You see, when Citizenship Amendment Act 2003 was enacted NRIC (National Register of Indian Citizen) came into existence but later it becomes NRC when it was implemented in Assam. The reason was simple. The NRC exercise of Assam was targeted against those who are believed to be illegally settled in Assam–not only from other countries but also from the other states of India. Therefore, NRIC means “Indian” Citizen was not a valid or logical term for Assam since it was a demand for regional identity not of national identity. Therefore in Assam NRC was used instead of NRIC and it becomes popular. Yet when it will be implemented in the rest of India, it will be called as NRIC as per the provision of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2003.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: After all, we have been living here for ages, then why should we have any objection in showing our documents?
Ratnesh Katulkar: The question is even though we have been living here for ages, do we have any documents to prove that? 60% of our total population does not have a birth certificate provided by the municipality. Several people especially tribals, nomadic tribes, Dalits, backward castes and landless poor do not have any documents of land registration of 1950 or before. Many do not have their school certificate on or before 1950. In such circumstances thorough which certificate or document would they prove their citizenship! The tribal land record called Khatiyan also does not have any legal value. Moreover, if some paper is found in Kurukh, Gondi or any other tribal or local languages they may lose their validity because of spelling mistakes while translation or transliteration in English. Thus even with Khatiyan records their claim over their land or property to prove their citizenship will be rejected.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam If the cutoff date of NRC in Assam in 1971 why you are saying that the rest of the Indians have to submit their documentary proof of 1950?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Yes, it is a fact that for Assam the cutoff date was 1971 but there is a valid reason for this. On 15 August 1985, an agreement was signed between then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Assam leaders–who were struggling and protesting against illegal immigrants in their state. In this settlement, the date of citizenship in Assam was fixed for 25 March 1971. However, for the rest of the Indians, the date of citizenship is bound to be based on 1950 as per the Citizenship Act 1955. In terms of the exact date, the cutoff will be 26 January 1950. This act was amended four times that made stringent conditions on citizenship. For instance, initially, all those born after 1950 were birth based citizens, later this date was limited to 1 July 1987. Then with another amendment, those who born before 31 December 2003 could get Indian citizenship not only based on their birth in India but their one of the parents must be an Indian citizen. And those who born after 1 January 2004, their parents should have Indian citizenship. When we are asked to prove our citizenship there is the slightest doubt that for the linkage of the present generation with their parents or grandparents 1950 will be the cut off date.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But the Prime Minister is, again and again, saying that CAA is brought to provide citizenship to people, not to snatch it away from them?
Ratnesh Katulkar: What the Prime Minister is saying is true to some extent. Undoubtedly CAA 2019, would provide Indian citizenship to the religiously persecuted minorities e.g. Hindus, Christians Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. But NRIC has nothing to do with the latest act. As said earlier NRIC is the result of the Citizenship Amendment Act 2003 whereby it is mentioned that those who are not able to prove their citizenship will be treated as doubtful citizens.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But what is the problem in proving our citizenship we have Aadhar card, Voter card, and Bank Passbook?
Ratnesh Katulkar: No, we can’t. You can even check your Aadhar card. In its backside, it is written that ‘Aadhar is a proof of identity, not of citizenship’. To make its validity clear it is also written in Hindi that ‘आधारपहचानकाप्रमाणहै, नागरिकताकानहीं’. Therefore, there shall not be a slightest of doubt that our Aadhar card cannot prove our citizenship. Moreover, according to Bombay high court Voter card and Passport also cannot prove our citizenship. (Reference: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Passport-alone-no-proof-of-citizenship-Bombay-HC/articleshow/22244467.cms)
Those born before 1950 can only prove their citizenship if they have a passport or registry of land on or before 1950. The question is what about those people who were landless and illiterate in 1950? How can they show any documentary evidence showing their presence in India on or before 1950? Even if their next generation is educated or has purchased a piece of land after 1950. This will not help them to prove their citizenship. Of course, those born after 1950 and before 1987 could claim their citizenship by showing their birth certificate but to claim their relationship with their parents and the parental legacy they have to show the pieces of evidence of their documents of 1950.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: If the law is so stringent then who will be able to save their citizenship in such a condition?
Ratnesh Katulkar: It is tough only to those who were or are illiterate or landless. But it will not be difficult for those who have land or education for the past few generations. Such persons will be able to prove their citizenship by showing their land registry or educational certificates. In simple words the landed gentry can prove their citizenship. In practical terms only Brahmin, Rajput and Baniya will be able to claim their citizenship. Because traditionally only these three Varnas have land, education, and certificates related to it. Other than these communities the rest of the population will face a crisis of citizenship. The nomadic tribes, tribals, scheduled castes, other backward classes, poor, orphan, transgender, and all the people who have done inter-caste marriage against the will of their parents and family will be deprived of their citizenship in a single go. In simpler words, it will be a Manu-raj. Because other than Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya everybody can be deprived of their citizenship rights very easily.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Does that mean that people will get citizenship according to their caste only?
Ratnesh Katulkar: No, it will not be done so openly. But it is also very clear that Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, are such communities who can show papers of their past generations. But, poor and illiterate among these three communities or whose parents were poor and illiterate will not be able to show their papers.
In the same way, those a few OBCs, SCs and STs will be able to save their citizenship who have documents on or before 1950. Those minor numbers of SCs, STs and OBCs who can be able to save their citizenship will also no longer be able to sustain it. They will quite naturally get deprived of reservation and Atrocities Prevention Act 1989 in the coming days because the populace who was struggling for such rights has already lost their citizenship. In such a situation they will be attacked by majoritarian caste-Hindus, and they will lose their land, property, job, occupation, but also their life.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What will happen to those who will be deprived of their citizenship?
Ratnesh Katulkar: All those who deprived of their citizenship will have no right over their job, business, labour, bank balance, education, health, and their voting rights will be snatched away from them. They will have to live their remaining life in detention camps. The government has already started forming detention centres at least in ten states. Those Indians who fail in proving their citizenship will have to live their whole life in these detention centres.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Which are those states where the government is making detention centres?
Ratnesh Katulkar: According to a report of ‘The Hindu’ the detention centres are about being constructed or have been completed in some cities and towns such as Lampur- Delhi, Mewar-Rajasthan, Mapusa-Goa, Taran-Taran in Punjab, Bengaluru in Karnataka, Nerul Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, Bongaon and North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, and one in Kerala. Other than this according to a regional newspaper, there has been a construction of central jail in Arjunwadi, Chhindwara in 500 hectares of land. And open jails are being constructed in Hoshangabad, Betul, Harda, Narsinghpur, Seoni, and Balaghat of Madhya Pradesh. For the time being the Kerala, West Bengal, and Maharashtra government have withheld their construction. There is no doubt that the government has planned such number of detention centres across nation for those people only who will not be able to prove their citizenship.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Will all who fail in proving their citizenship be kept in detention centres directly?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Few will be directly sent to detention centres and few others will be given a chance to submit their application in the foreigner’s tribunal to prove their citizenship.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What is foreigners tribunal?
Ratnesh Katulkar: This will be a kind of court in which so-called illegal foreigner migrant⸻those Indians who are labelled doubtful citizens⸻have to prove their citizenship by arranging their certificates. This will be very costly and time taking trouble which can take many years. There will be very fewer chances of winning one’s citizenship in this long struggle.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Why so?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Because at one-time lakhs of cases will be registered in the foreigners’ tribunal. These cases will not be solved at one time. This exercise will take more than ten years. The people have to invest lakhs of money in arranging their documents and for the fees of the lawyer. The biggest flaw, however, is that the persons who will be heading these tribunals will be a normal officer, not a Judge of any court. Therefore, the cases will be treated as the whims and fancies of the concerned officer.
We have seen in Assam that an Indian woman named Javeda Begum was declared a foreigner. She spent lakhs of rupees and arranged 15 documents, but the foreigners’ tribunal rejected her all the certificates in one go, and she finally remained an illegal foreigner migrant. (Reference: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/declared-foreigner-assam-womans-story-predicts-citizenship-list-effect-2182212).
This means that keeping any hope from foreigners tribunal is meaningless. Moreover, Assam experience suggests that the government will keep the pressure on the foreigners’ tribunal to prove as many people, illegal foreigner migrant. Further casteism, communalism, and hatred will bound to reflect in tribunal’s decision.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: Does that mean that all the Indians who will fail in showing their papers will be imprisoned in detention centres?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Maybe it will not be possible for the government to keep so many people together in the detention centres. Therefore some people will not be kept in these centres. But it is also sure that all the citizenship rights will be snatched away from them including their property, education, writings, jobs and businesses. They will not be able to get the right to equality and liberty, and any other right provided by the constitution. This means that such people without having a place to live and basic facilities will be forced to live a life of cheap labour for all the above three varnas and will stumble upon here and there. They will live their whole life on the mercy of a handful of those who will get citizenship.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But, will all the people who will be able to show their papers, will be able to save their citizenship?
Ratnesh Katulkar: It is not necessary. As I have said earlier also that Javeda Begum of Assam arranged 15 documents, not just one, yet she was not considered as an Indian citizen. There is a one more dangerous rule in NRIC that even after the verification of all the documents, if somebody from our surrounding or colony expresses his/her suspicion against us, then we will be directly listed in the category of ‘doubtful citizens’. Now you will have to again struggle a lot to collect new pieces of evidence to prove your citizenship. But nothing will be done against the person who made a false complaint against you and questioned your citizenship!
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What will happen to the people who will be kept in detention centres?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Undoubtedly they will not be fed for free. Experiences from Assam tell us that the conditions in such detention centres are even worse than jails. According to government data, 28 persons have died in these detention centres. The first person died was a tribal woman Puna Munda, she was basically from Jharkhand. Possibly in the coming days, people in these detention centres will be provided to corporates as skilled and unskilled labourers for free. This plan will be very beneficial for corporates, but surely it will deprive the common people of their rights and benefits for always.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What else does the Assam’s data reveal?
Ratnesh Katulkar: Assam is a small state. NRC is the sickening result of long demand of people of Assam. In this NRC 19 lakh Indians are declared as doubtful citizens. It is also said that out of this more than 14 lakhs are Hindus. And if we further try to look into this 14 lakhs of Hindu population, we can find that a large of this are Tribals, Dalits and OBCs. Apart from this, there is a small portion of 4.5 lakhs Muslims, who also have been deprived of their citizenship.
Surprisingly in the list of people declared as foreigners, there is a nephew of India’s fifth President Mr Fakkhruddin Ali Ahamad. One Army person Mohammad Sanaullah who fought in the Kargil war, a retired Army Hawaldar Mahiruddin Ahmad, and a retired Flight Lieutenant Chhabindra Sarma who is a Hindu-Brahman. There are many army personnel from Barpeta who are still in service failed to get them listed in NRC. Even the first woman Chief Minister Syeda Anowara Taimur fails to find a place in it.
There are many such families where if children have got listed in NRC then their parents have been left out and vice-versa. In many families, few members have got a citizenship and few have been declared as foreigners. Altogether NRC has become a joke in itself and an exploitative tool for the government. The young leaders of Assam who were a fierce supporter of NRC at one point of time, now have understood that this is a meaningless process, which has resulted only in a loss of many lives and a lot of money. It is estimated that if NRC is implemented across India then more than 50,000 crore rupees will be wasted in this unnecessary activity.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But, the Prime Minister has said that NRC will not be implemented across India, so there is no need to worry about this.
Ratnesh Katulkar: This is true that the Prime Minister in his rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi has said it with much emphasis that NRC will not be implemented across India. But, this is just a political statement. This is the same kind of promise which he assured in the previous election that every Indian will get 15 lakh rupees in their bank accounts. But is realized that it was a fake promise to attract common people’s vote. Moreover, how can we forget that Home Minister Amit Shah in Kolkata said that you have to understand chronology, the first CAA will come and then NRC. Not only in Bengal, but NRC will be implemented all over India.
Even if ignore the contradictory statements of Prime Minister and Home Minister, then the chapter 15.1.(iv) of the annual report for the year 2018-19 published by Home Ministry clearly states that based on Citizenship Act 1955 and its rules of 2003 NRC will be implemented across India, and for that NPR is the first step. The government’s intentions are very clear that they are ready to impose NRC all over India, and it will not get back even by a single inch. This is true that there will be no separate survey for NRC because as per government order the data collected for NPR will serve the purpose of NRC. You can see the instruction manual for updating of National Population Register (NPR) 2020 for enumerators and supervisors by the office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India Ministry of Home Affairs Government of India.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: This means that it is very clear that NRC will happen for sure. But few activists are saying that they will not show papers or by disobedience, they will oppose NPR and NRC?
Ratnesh Katulkar: These claims are mere dreams. First of all how many people will join such a protest? Thanks to 24*7 propagation of media, Indian citizens are still totally unaware of the reality of NRC-NPR and any disobedience against this. Most of the people will provide their information to NPR enumerators, even if they do not want to do so. Some would provide it in the fear of losing their citizenship and some would provide it under some pressure.
Even if some people want to oppose it by disobedience this will hardly work. Because the person collecting information might be or will surely be from their locality, who will surely be having names of all the people in the locality, the number of family members in each family, and all other general information. In such circumstances, the person opposing NPR will only be fooling herself, and the enumerator can anytime fill forms of such persons and s/he won’t care even if few forms are incomplete. The government then will immediately declare all the persons with incomplete information as doubtful citizens. That is why not providing information for NPR is not a solution. Moreover, it is strange that even after open declaration by the census authority that NPR will be done along with Census, there is no call of any civil society to boycott the census.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But why would an enumerator want to fill incomplete forms by sitting in his home or by asking somebody’s information from their neighbour?
Ratnesh Katulkar: You see the inflation rate is at steep height. In such circumstances, the government will use enumerators quite well. The surveyors will be paid 25,000/- rupees per month, which surely they won’t get by submitting blank forms. Therefore, to earn more money in lesser time these enumerators won’t hesitate even in filling incomplete forms rather than keeping it blank. And in a case where there is a possibility of getting details of eight family members by sitting at one place they will choose to do that, instead of moving from one home to another. Even then if some families or individuals able to successfully boycott the NPR they could be caught easily and be included in it.
Dhammadarshan Nigam: How come those who boycott NPR would be included in it?
Ratnesh Katulkar: As I have mentioned above with documentary evidence that NPR is the first step towards NRC. It is nothing but a primary data of NRIC. Those names which could not be entered in the list will be treated as a doubtful citizen. NRIC is not just a register but it will also provide you with a registration number. In the coming days, this number will become an essential requirement for all our day-to-day activities and may replace Adhaar. The NRIC number will become a must for a bank account, registry of property, affidavit for the rented house, for reservation in train or aeroplane, and almost everything. Any of the account numbers which will not be attached with NRC number would be seized. And it will be so normal that the police can ask you for your NRIC number. Wherever they want to, whether you are roaming in your local market or elsewhere. Police can also come to your home to check your NRIC number. Those people who fail to produce their NRIC number will be treated as doubtful citizens or foreign intruders. Their citizenship rights e.g. job, business, labour, bank balance, education and health facilities, and voting rights will be snatched. They will have to live their remaining life either in detention centers or at the mercy of the government but without any civil rights or property.
Dhammadarshan Nigam: Then how can we save ourselves from this?
Ratnesh Katulkar: There is just one solution to this. We all should start pressurizing the government. But our opposition should not restrict just for the repeal NRC, NPR, and recent CAA. But more than that we the people of India should pressurize the parliament to immediately take back all the amendments made in the Citizenship Act after 1955. Moreover, we should oppose and pressurize the government to withdraw the rules amended in 2003 for the Citizenship Act 1955 made under the government of Atal Bihari Bajpayee. It is very important because the very mention of NRIC must be removed from the constitution. If it remains there it is always a risk that in future any government may impose this.
Moreover, if we want a complete guarantee of our citizenship rights then we need to take initiative to bring cancellation to all amended citizenship rules, other than the original citizenship rules of 1955. According to Dr Ambedkar, it is an international policy and also the first rule to provide citizenship to people that every that person can be an Indian citizen who was living here before the formation of the nation, every child who was born in India can be Indian citizen, all the people of some other country will be Indian citizen after that country is being dissolved into India, and any foreigner also can be Indian citizen after s/he fulfills the necessary conditions through her/his proper registration. All the amended rules by the later governments are illogical, unjust and anti-people.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: There is no doubt that NPR and NRC are anti-people. But why people are opposing CAA when this law is made to provide citizenship?
Ratnesh Katulkar: This is an unnecessary and anti-constitutional law. According to the Citizenship Act 1955, there is already a clear provision that any foreigner who is living in India since the last 12 years can get Indian citizenship through registration. Therefore, what is so new about CAA that the government has to bring it!
People like Adnan Sami the Pakistani origin singer have always been taking Indian citizenship through registration. So what is the purpose of this new law! The new about this law is that now the non-Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh can get Indian citizenship based on only 5 years of living in India. This means that the period of living in India has been reduced from 12 years to 5 years. The second change is that only non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh will be granted Indian citizenship. And if it is about religiously persecuted people then Prime Minister himself from the Red Fort has said that the Muslims of Baloch regions of Pakistan are also oppressed. Then why not they also should be provided citizenship? It is so evident that our constitution is against providing citizenship to people according to their religious identity. And if today Muslims are deprived of Indian citizenship then tomorrow Christian, day after tomorrow Sikhs, then Buddhists and then tribal can be deprived of Indian citizenship. This law is completely anti-constitutional.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What was the need of bringing CAA now if the provisions of providing citizenship to people of Pakistan or any other country are already there?
Ratnesh Katulkar: There can be a bigger conspiracy of the government behind this. I have said it earlier also that the most dangerous among CAA, NPR and NRC is NRIC. This is introduced in the constitution by Atal Bihari Bajpayee’s government in 2003. Nobody paid any heed to it then but this single law is sufficient to deprive ourselves of our citizenship. NPR, as mentioned earlier, is the process through which NRIC will be implemented. Surprisingly the Bajpayee’s government after amending it and BJP government since the last 5 years have remained silent on NRC.
But we need to understand the politics. During the last five years, a political environment was prepared against Muslims. Therefore when CAA is introduced, people, accepted the denial of citizenship to Muslims normally. A group of liberal-progressives and Muslims raised their voice against this discriminatory rule, but their whole protest was directed against CAA. The people in general, and the Dalits, Tribals, OBCs, religious minorities, poor, orphan, transgenders, in particular, remained silent. Though they will be worst affected by NRIC.
The alarming anti-Muslim propaganda does not allow them to join with Muslim protestors of Shahin Bagh or elsewhere. This is so because most of these communities developed a feeling that CAA-NPR-NRC is only anti-Muslim and it will not harm the rest of the population. But we have live examples of Assam, where more than 15 lakhs of Hindus, mostly tribals, Dalits, OBCs, transgenders, and poor deprived of citizenship. Failing to understand the problem some Dalit intellectuals in their Facebook posts are still portraying CAA-NRC as a Muslim problem alone. Some of them even went ahead and are making a non-sensical claim that NRC is the original plan of Dr Ambedkar. The mainstream Bahujan organization and political parties have also not taken any stand against it. Other than Prakash Ambedkar, Thol. Thirumavalavan and Chandrashekhar Ravan none of Dalit or Bahujan leaders have taken any serious stand against CAA-NPR-NRC.
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: But in Bihar ruling JD(U) has taken a firm stand against it? Also some states, for instance, Kerala and Punjab passed a resolution against this.
Ratnesh Katulkar: Indeed, some political parties, JD(U), Left, TMC of Mamata Bannerji have taken a firm stand. But none of them is serious enough to oppose the census enumeration which will have NPR as its essential feature. How can they ignore that the Gazette of India S.O 2753(E) clearly states that in pursuance of subrule (4) of rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003 says, ‘the Central Government hereby decides to prepare and update the population register and the fieldwork for house enumeration throughout the country except for Assam for collection of information relating to all persons..’
There is no doubt that the NPR will go along with the census. In such a situation how these states government restricts NPR if they have no issues with the census?
Dhamma Darshan Nigam: What is the ray of hope?
Ratnesh Katulkar: If the citizens of India develop awareness on this issue there is a possibility. Our demand should not restrict to repeal NPR, NRIC, and CAA but also Rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. Moreover, as said earlier we have to build pressure to repeal all the amendments in Citizenship Act 1955. Unless we remove the rule of NRIC from the Citizenship Act our citizenship will remain at risk.