Opinion | NRC, NPR and who is an alien?
The inclusion of three questions – when and where your parents were born, your mother tongue and where were you living in the past – in the National Population Register (NPR), a biometric database, has left many wondering and states are suspicious about the intent of Centre. The NPR will be plinth for building a National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The apprehension is as wide as it is deep. Even before the final schedule of questions in the NPR has been notified, states have objected. Kerala and West Bengal have already put the process on a “temporary hold”, Rajasthan, Maharashtra among others have objected to the inclusion of these questions and also to NPR.
The government has said that updating the NPR database is necessary for better policy framing, preventing leakages and ensuring those who need help are easier to identify. NPR indeed has been used by the states who today are opposing NPR.
How valid are the objections raised by the states?
Language data is collected in the census. Language data of Census 2011 was released recently. The house-listing phase of Census 2021 – the first of the two-phase process – and NPR is being conducted together. Census data is, however, protected and cannot be shared, unlike the NPR data. The census data that is released is aggregated to the block and “tehsil” level.
Including language in the NPR would allow the government to know exactly who or how many are speaking what languages in particular area. Does the government have other plans? For instance, target a particular language-speaking community, for instance, the Bangla or Urdu or Gujarati speaking people? The government’s counter; language data will help in framing curriculums in schools doesn’t wash. The census language data is enough for such initiatives.
Similarly, for the question of where you were living in the past? Census also comes up with migration data. And, importantly how is where you were living in the past going to help policy initiatives or frame developmental schemes better? And likewise, how can when and where your parents were born going to change policy intended to make your life easier? Drafting better developmental policy, therefore, isn’t the sole purpose of updating the NPR in 2020. The inclusion of these questions clearly indicates that groundwork is being laid for building an NRC.
The NPR database was built in 2010 and updated in 2015. The Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) stopped short of weeding out citizens from illegal migrants – building an NCR – because a pilot conducted showed women, landless labourers and the elderly had very poor documentation base and were likely to suffer the most.
This government, however, thinks differently. And it has openly said as much. Amit Shah, the current Union home minister, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections called “illegal immigrants” “termites” and promised to “throw them into the Bay of Bengal.”
An NRC database was built in Assam as per the commitment in the 1985 Assam accord. About 1.9 million were prima-facie rendered non-citizens or aliens. Those left out, however, can challenge the decision before a tribunal and then before the court.
Who are “aliens”?
The construction of the Great Wall of China was started in the seventh century BC to control immigration. It was subsequently extended. The United States of America is building one today.
Addressing the same question - who is an alien? – at an equally critical juncture of India’s history, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1916 had said, “I don’t call Muhammedan’s aliens… The children of him who wishes to live in India, also wish to live in India. Let them remain… I do not consider him an alien who wishes to make an arrangement whereby that country in which he has to live, his children have to live and his future generations have to live, may see good days and be benefitted.”
In equally lucid terms, Tilak defines an alien, “The king’s duty is to do all those things whereby the nation may become eminent, be benefitted and become equal of other nations… He is to be considered alien who does not do this duty, but looks only to his benefit, to benefit his own race…”