“THE CRISES OF CITIZENSHIP AND STATELESSNESS IN INDIA”
In international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.” Conflicting nationality laws are one of many causes of statelessness.
In most large-scale statelessness situations, statelessness is a result of discrimination. Many states define their body of citizens based on ethnicity, leading to the exclusion of large groups. This violates international laws against discrimination. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated on 1 October 2014 that the “deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin is a breach of States’ obligations to ensure non-discriminatory enjoyment of the right to a nationality”.
Without any nationality, stateless persons often don’t have the basic rights that citizens enjoy. Statelessness affects socioeconomic rights such as education, employment, social welfare, housing, healthcare as well as civil and political rights including freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary detention and political participation. When thousands of people are stateless, the result is communities that are alienated and marginalized. In the worst cases, statelessness can lead to conflict and cause displacement.
Questions of identity and citizenship have long vexed a vast number of people living in Assam, one of India’s most multi-ethnic states. Among the residents are Bengali- and Assamese-speaking Hindus, and a medley of tribes people.
A third of its 32 million residents are Muslims, the second-highest number after Indian-administered Kashmir. Many of them are descendants of immigrants who settled under British rule. But illegal migration from neighboring Bangladesh has been a concern for decades now.
A six-year indigenous protest – during which hundreds of people were murdered led to a 1985 pact popularly known as Assam Pact between the federal government and protesters. It was agreed that anyone who entered Assam without proper documentation after 24 March 1971 would be declared a foreigner.
Now, the publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) reveals, according to officials, that some four million of Assam’s residents are illegal foreigners. The latest move to make millions of people stateless overnight has sparked fears of violence in what is already a tinderbox state.
Chances are India will end up creating the newest cohort of stateless people. Stripped of their Indian citizenship, the affected people in Assam, many of whom have lived there for decades, will be suddenly unable to vote, access welfare or own property.
Those who already own property could easily become targets of envious neighbors. At a time when the UN refugee agency is vowing to end statelessness – there are some 10 million stateless people in the world – this will be a major embarrassment for India.
“The potential for chaos is huge. There will be panic among the people who may be finally declared non-citizens. Bangladesh will fear an influx of new refugees. Detention camps packed with stateless people will invite international attention, and bleed the exchequer.” There’s little doubt that illegal migration is a serious issue for Assam as well as for India.
From the reports, it has been observed that there are more than 2.2 million Hindus who could not find their names in the National Register of Citizenship for want of necessary documents and the records. It has also been observed that more than 80% of the persons kept in detention camps are Hindus.
The Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian and other minorities communities living in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan cannot be equated with the majority community of those countries. Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian are the obligation of two nations theory as all these communities were assured freedom of religion and equality by those states. As there were serious violations of religious and equality rights in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian had no option but to take refuge in India.
Definitely, a large number of Hindus took refused in India prior and post 1971 and it is the obligations of Government of Indian to provide citizenship to them. As an impact of National Register Citizenship, more than 2 million Hindus were/are going to be adversely affected. HRDI is equally concerned about other communities and linguistic minorities who are going to be adversely affected.
The Central Government introduced in the Lok Sabha, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 to allow illegal migrants from certain minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship. In other words, it amends the Citizenship Act of 1955. The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to allow illegal migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian religious communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan to not be imprisoned or deported.
It also appeals for the minimum years of residency in India to apply for citizenship to be lessened from at least 11 to six years for such migrants. The Citizenship Amendment Bill has not been sitting well with the Assamese as it contradicts the Assam Accord of 1985, which clearly states that illegal migrants heading in from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, would be deported.
HRDI believes that there is a pressing need to understand various ramifications and impacts of Assam Accord, National Citizenship Register, Amendment in Citizenship Act and International Conventions on Statelessness.
HRDI is organizing its symposium “The Crises Of Citizenship And Statelessness In India” to address and understand India policy on migrant and stateless people and the legal, social, structural, institutional voids and impacts of National Register of Citizens on 16th March 2019 (Saturday), New Delhi and invites papers on the subject from all concerned.