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Bills targeting minorities threaten India’s democracy

The landscape of Indian democracy is constantly changing, particularly in the areas of civil rights and citizenship. The Illegal Immigrants (Identification and Deportation) Bill 2018, currently tabled in the Rajya Sabha, is intended to create sub-human beings by encroaching on people’s civil and political rights.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 is also racially biased, as it clearly targets minorities. Both bills are utterly shallow, ill-defined and go against basic human dignity and rights. The Illegal Immigrants Bill, in particular, seems to be a toxic mix of the Assam Accord, Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act 1983 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which shifts the burden of proof t the victim.

The Illegal Immigration Bill is aimed at detecting and deporting “illegal” people in the Union of India, with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir. It raises concerns about the “indigenous” people of India facing an “identity crisis” and “cultural jeopardy” due to the increasing number of illegal immigrants in the country. It blames so-called “illegal migrants” for the lack of employment opportunities in our country. In a very amusing manner, it shifts the concern from indigene to the question of “mainstream,” where it states that the “immigrants” have failed to “integrate themselves with the mainstream.”

Apparently, the cultural similarity of the people from nearby polities such as Bangladesh and Myanmar with the indigenous people have made the identification of the “illegal immigrants” difficult. Additionally, it also blames the “immigrants” for the increased expenditure on education and health facilities in India.

The bill paints a section of people with the darkest of colors. It ignores the history of partition. It also sidelines the exploitative labor conditions and larger political economy concerns. It is also silent about the scores of displacements caused by capitalist explorations and by conservation projects, which undeniably affect the indigene.

The bill, currently in the Rajya Sabha as a private members bill, also doesn’t say what it will do with the “illegal” people, much like the ones excluded from the NRC process. It also goes on to state that serious political will is required to promote an NRC-like process in other states and mentions Assam, West Bengal, Tripura, and Jammu & Kashmir in particular. Furthermore, it says that it doesn’t want to see India becoming the refugee capital of the world!

The recent hunger strike by 150 inmates at a detention camp in Goalpara was reminiscent of the republican hunger strike in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. The lack of a concrete idea as to what will be done to disposable citizens through the NRC process, and now with this proposed bill, is a serious area of concern. Is detention an answer to securing the rights of the “indigene”? Given that we do not have a bilateral deportation agreement with most countries, does the government intend to create a rights-less section of cheap labor by identifying illegal bodies? Or is it also aimed at clearing slums in cities to make way for real estate development?

The recent hunger strike by 150 inmates at a detention camp in Goalpara was reminiscent of the republican hunger strike in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland

Among other things, the bill seeks to establish a national commission and state commissions for the “identification” and “deportation” of illegal immigrants. This idea seems no different from what we saw with the foreigners’ tribunals in the case of Assam with the NRC process. We know that those tribunals acted with an enormous bias toward certain sections of people in Assam, as shown by multiple reports. The bill also seeks to “empower the National Commission to direct the State Governments to withdraw all services provided to illegal immigrants and seize and dispose of their property to meet their liabilities.” If this is not violence, what is?

It is clear that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the Illegal Immigration Bill can become potent tools to address the many contradictions of the NRC process. It is being used as a shield to realize the main goal of targeting Muslims in India. This government is building a legal architecture that undermines people’s rights and liberties and adds communal fuel with disturbing regularity. Both bills are bound to satisfy the Assamese elite and also the Bengali Hindus; however, the Muslim community in Assam shall remain the target with or without the NRC if the two bills are passed.

Legal and psychological counsel should have been provided by the state along with transaction costs during the NRC process for each individual. We are all aware of the numerous suicides resulting from the depression and trauma that this process has caused and continues to cause. In a state where a large number of people remain in collective poverty and suffer from multiple floods every year, such insensitivity in the NRC process pushes them into much darker places.

If the bill is extended to all of India, we will see that suffering inflicted on far more people. Much like the NRC, the Illegal Immigrants Bill is also silent about such concerns that might arise and instead seeks to take the property of the victim.

Such laws will destroy the very essence of our democracy. The road to the dilution of section 377 as a criminal act showed us that there is power in solidarity and in the streets. Love is the strongest psychological defense against fascism and cultures that dehumanize us. We need to educate, agitate, organize, and also love. No one is illegal. Let’s fight to make that possible.

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Suraj Gogoi is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the National University of Singapore.

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