We are living in a strange time in an alien space. Otherwise, how could 1.9 million people at the stroke of a pen find out that they are stateless? That they have no citizenship?
And stranger is the way the Indian government of Narendra Modi wants to put up the issue of the NRC and what will happen to the people who have just been stripped of their right to live in a country and have turned stateless.
Globally, there were 12 million stateless people from 25 countries until the last day of August 2019. On that date, this number went up to 14 million with the Indian government’s action.
As far as we know from the Indian side’s statement, the matter of those identified as illegal immigrants or foreigners is India’s “internal issue”. And as far as we know from Bangladeshi officials, Dhaka does not need to fret about the Assam affairs as India has given an assurance about it.
We would tend to believe both assurances. But then the question arises what will happen to these about 2 million people? If they are stateless, then where will they go? They certainly just can’t evaporate into thin air just like menthol.
It is understandable that they will be put in detention centres. All the 1.9 million people? It is not 1939. But the word “detention centres” makes us cringe.
India is not making it clear what it intends to do with the people they have identified as illegal, and that makes us crazy worried as the implication of their being stateless and illegal can only mean one thing, and Bangladesh is already smarting under the burden of one million Rohingya refugees. It simply cannot afford another influx.
Despite the International Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the stateless remain an unwelcome presence and awkward anomaly within an international human rights regime.
The UNHCR in its Global Action Plan to reduce the number of stateless people has said statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It would be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.
We have no recent history of people rendered stateless through peaceful paperwork and not by war or violence.
The Rohingyas have become stateless because of state violence, and so have the Syrians or Iraqis. But here is a case where a state – India – has rendered such a large number of people stateless just by some signing of papers.
Not surprisingly, BJP leaders are giving an even more sinister edge to the whole issue by throwing a religious cadence and expose who the Indian ruling politicians think these “illegal immigrants” are – nothing but Bangladeshis. Let’s revisit what they are saying.
Unhappy with the final NRC because more Hindus are off the list – some 11 lakh – than Muslims – some six lakh – Assam BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Das said: "We have seen that a large number of Indian citizens' names have not been listed in this NRC list. Among these many are coming from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Tripura and they have valid documents. But their names have not been listed. They have applied on several occasions but their names are missing. NRC is a national phenomenon, but it has been started from Assam. So the Assam state BJP has demanded to implement it in the entire nation in the interest of the Hindustani."
Assam BJP lawmaker Dilip Kumar Paul claimed that lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have been included on the list. Paul, who represents Silchar assembly constituency, said that around 95-96 percent of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims' names have appeared on the list.
"On the other hand, a major portion of Hindu names have been excluded from the list. We can never accept this NRC where names of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims have appeared," he said. The BJP MLA further said that Hindus can never be foreigners in India.
So we know, Bangladesh has a lot to worry about the Assam affairs and that it is not “an internal issue” of India as leaders would like to tout it.
MV Vishniak, a Russian socialist, journalist and writer, had written in 1945 that the stateless people are “restricted in their rights more than any other people and constitute the weakest chain in the link of human rights.”
And India’s great history and tradition do not go with such actions. Who would not recall how it opened its arms to millions of refugee Bangalis who, like today’s Rohingyas, fled to India in the face of Pakistan’s genocide?
How could the same India’s Home Minister Amit Shah heads the BJP, the ruling party, who likens “Bangladeshi immigrants” to “termites”?
Today’s Indian leadership views do not go with the core ethos of India.
No wonder that Suchitra Vijayan, a barrister and writer of renown who worked for the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, wrote that Amit Shah’s “migrant termites” speech echoes leaders around the world who orchestrated mass violence and signals the Indian elites’ willingness to use hate as political ideology and strategy.
Yet we are witnessing this same thing happening again. And these “illegal immigrants” will not vanish like menthols but will remain as a real challenge for us all.