Policy Engagements and Blogs

Unpacking the Implications of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) Exercise in Assam

September 12, 2019



The final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was published in August this year. The objective of the list was to identify illegal immigrants in the state. On publication, it was discovered that nearly 2 million people have been excluded from the list, thus making them vulnerable to the threat of statelessness.

Scholars at CPR have closely followed the NRC exercise and analysed its implications. In July 2018, Honorary Research Professor, Sanjoy Hazarika, wrote in Economic & Political Weekly, about defining citizenship in Assam. He points that the publication of the NRC is unlikely to resolve the controversy over illegal immigration from Bangladesh, which spans over four decades. His article can be read here.

In the curated analysis below, CPR scholars unpack the implications of this exercise, raising critical questions about citizenship, rights and the role of bureaucracy:

Yamini Aiyar writes in Hindustan Times about how the NRC has brought to light the challenges to the ‘construction of citizenship in contemporary India.’ Aiyar highlights that the NRC ‘is illustrative of the ways in which the politics of religion has increasingly begun to intersect with institutional processes to shape understandings of who is a ‘legal’ citizen.’ She states that the flawed NRC process has provided the political fuel to push the demand for The Citizenship Amendment Bill, a bill that can have dangerous consequences as it fundamentally remakes citizenship in India.

In August 2018, Yamini Aiyar wrote in Hindustan Times about how the State’s excessive reliance on papers and documents for proving citizenship has become an instrument of state coercion and politically driven exclusion. Aiyar highlights how a combination of bureaucratic failure and vulnerability to corruption, made the NRC exercise arbitrary and disempowering.

Yamini Aiyar also appeared on an episode of Hindustan Times’ The Big Picture to discuss the various facets of the NRC exercise, including questions about the idea of Indian citizenship, politics of religion, judicial intervention and bureaucratic capacity.

Sanjib Baruah writes in The Indian Express about how ‘defining hundreds and thousands of people living in the country as non-citizens will create a new form of precarious citizenship — people with fewer rights and entitlements.’ Baruah highlights that while India is unlikely to deport those who fail the NRC test, creation of such a citizenship is ‘uncharted and potentially dangerous territory for a democracy.’

Sanjoy Hazarika writes in The Hindu about concerns over how the State government plans to solve the issue of stateless citizens after the NRC exercise. He questions if there is a detailed process in place while such individuals apply to tribunals and courts for relief, and how the government will deal with those who are declared non-citizens, especially if Bangladesh refuses to take them. Hazarika highlights that the basic dignity of the weak, voiceless and vulnerable is at stake, pointing out that ‘many of those who are off the list are poor, cannot afford lawyers and may not even know of their right to legal aid.’

In July 2018, Sanjoy Hazarika wrote in The Tribune about the implications of the NRC exercise post the publication of the second draft list. Hazarika highlights that ‘the Centre and the state have become unnerved by the specter of looming statelessness that they have neither the skills, understanding or will to deal with.’

Sanjoy Hazarika writes in Al Jazeera about how the campaign to update the NRC has upset everyone, including its proponents. He sheds light on the challenges that those who will have to seek legal recourse due to exclusion from the list will face, highlighting, ‘this is a thankless and frightening prospect of prolonged litigation for even the well-to-do, which a large number of those off the NRC are not. How will they sustain their lives and families, not just the litigation?’