Home / Opinion / Quick Edit /  Opinion | NRC: Who’s in, who’s out

The publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam may have opened up a Pandora’s Box. It is bad enough that a state with deep ethnic, linguistic and religious fault lines, evident in the frequency of social flare-ups, has been engaged in a convoluted process of working out who is an Indian citizen and who is not. Uncertainty over the fate of those who are not on the list of bona fide citizens has given the air a foul smell.

As many as 1.9 million residents of the state are currently staring at statelessness. It is a relief that they have a window of 120 days to file appeals against their exclusion from the final list, and a set of foreigners tribunals will examine their cases. Until they are pronounced non-citizens by this review process, they shall be able to exercise all their rights as citizens—including the freedom of movement. This is reassuring, but cold comfort for large numbers who fear being deprived of citizenship on account of process errors.

No such system of document collation can be perfect, at least not in a country of India’s complexity and diversity. The best we can hope for is that the tribunal system is designed in a way that minimizes the risk of an actual citizen being kept off the list. Easing the criteria used for counting people as Indian might mean letting some illegal migrants out of the dragnet, but that would be a small price to pay for a compassionate policy regime. The country cannot afford to deny even a single genuine citizen the right to live freely in India.

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