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Memories of NRC

Memories  of NRC

The controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) that seeks to enlist genuine Indian citizens in Assam and weed out foreigners before sending them back to their respective countries is compounding by the day. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has consistently been raising the issue by pointing out the fallacies in the process to identify 'genuine' citizens. The latest NRC has left out nearly 40 lakh people residing in the state from the list and the onus lies on them to prove that they are indeed the citizens of this country and can rightfully stay in Assam. Given how official records are kept or made, it is not difficult to understand that proving one's citizenship can be a tough task for millions of poor and illiterate people in the state. The NRC was supposed to identify illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who have been crossing the border for decades and taking shelter in the neighbouring Indian states along the border. The migration was first triggered by the Partition in 1947 when Bengal was divided into East Pakistan and West Bengal and then before the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 when Pakistani military launched a crackdown on the local people. Even after the creation of Bangladesh, the migration did not stop and people from newly-created and impoverished Bangladesh continued the trek to border areas and kept infiltrating into India. It is a matter of serious contemplation how such a huge number of people with their belongings atop their heads, crossed over the well-guarded international borders. Even after entering India, it has not been easy for them. And now, when these poor people have kind of settled in India and earning their livelihood through jobs that others would not take up, they are staring at the prospect of being sent back to their long-forgotten homes.

For most of the Bangladeshi migrants, India is not only a big country that can easily absorb some floating population. It is not only that poor Bengalis from Bangladesh migrated into India when their world came crashing down in the face of Pakistan military's crackdown; poverty may have been the instant provocation for most of these men and women to decide to leave their homeland but that alone did not drive them to head for India. They came in the hope that India would live up to the principles of vasudev kutumbakam, which means 'the world is but one family'. As per the Indian value system continuing from the ancient times, the entire world is one and every Indian has a right to go anywhere because every Indian represents the golden universal principles of tolerance and coexistence; that life and its vicissitudes are the same for everybody everywhere; that Indians see the other as part of the same family with similar quest for love and respect. The national anthem that Bangladesh adopted after its Independence -- Aamar sonaar baangla, aami tomay bhalobasi -- is one composed by great Indian scholar Rabindranath Tagore. Can the Indian sensibility appreciate the feelings of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, which were once part of India? What do they think about the great Indian civilisation that thrived along some of the world's most enigmatic rivers that were supposed to wash off all the sins with a dip? Many Bangladeshis who migrated into India would not know that visiting India needed a visa. India today proudly proclaims that it follows the Neighbourhood First policy. What does the policy mean if it does not factor in the common lives hit by political turmoil and economic disparity all around its neighbourhood?

India's official response to the issues emanating from the NRC has been ambiguous and self-defeating. The Bangladesh government has made it clear that the top leadership from India has assured them that none of the Bangladeshis living in India would be deported while the ruling party at the Centre says that the provisions of NRC would be adhered to by every comma and full-stop. Clearly, the government and the party that runs the government are taking a diagonally opposite stand on the issue. And, it has created an environment of insecurity and anxiety in Assam and neighbouring states. India's handling of the Bangladeshi migrants' issues will determine how it is viewed by the governments and people in neighbouring China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Indian leaders need to think out of the box and come up with a solution that inspires other countries to emulate. In the 21st century, altering the borders or repatriating huge populations is not an option. Removing the divide that exists in the hearts of the people can alone guarantee that the enlightenment that India has inherited from its glorious past is not only protected but also carried forward.

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