Assam’s NRC vs Jammu and Kashmir’s PRC: Drawing parallel among distinct laws and acknowledging the ‘liberal’ double-standard

The national security versus human rights debate is the biggest debate which is going to dominate public discourse in the coming few months. From Rohingyas to other outside communities who led to significant demographic changes in the past few years are uncertain about their future. The Parliament and Judiciary also have a different opinion on these subjects and latter showing deep respect to International Law and Relations have been sympathetic towards the refugee cause.

The idea which liberals endorse while talking about Kashmir is that unity and integrity in its absolute territorial sense can only be strengthened if it is not vulnerable by the mass influx and its borders remain safe. Their view echoes with the sentiment of majority Muslims by saying that their separate identity shall be preserved. The whole purpose of Maharaja’s notification of 1944 and later on the Presidential Order and ordinance inserted in Indian Constitution as Article 35A in 1954 was that local Punjabis who come from Sialkot towards RS Pora shall not entire as they pose threat to local businesses.

The presidential order extended Indian citizenship to the “state subjects” of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah always claimed that the idea of Kashmiri Nationalism back then was backed by separate identity and class struggle and not separate religion as what they claim but the fact of the matter is that this Kashmir movement is not Prem Nath Bazaz’s movement or Sheikh Abdullah’s movement.

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It is Hurriyat’s multilayered and well-orchestrated movement which draws its influence from Wahabi Islam. So creating Islamic brotherhood is the guiding factor for the separate state cause and not separate ethnic identity and since it is guided by religious beliefs and not nation-state (the concept of Jinnah and Ataturk Kamaal Pasha). Our liberals and humanitarian scholars have conveniently ignored this fact and have established this narrative that Kashmir problem is a political problem and it blames democratic India for all the problems more than turbulent Pakistan and colonial China.

The whole concept of Permanent Residence Certificate (PRC) making outsiders not entering and getting opportunities to avail the benefits of the state resources is flawed. This kind of political scenario is favourable for political outfits in Kashmir. The Supreme Court seems apprehensive to touch the constitutional issue of Article 35 A and Article 370. This article opposes the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution as it principally violates all the important articles whether it is Article 14, 15, 16 and Article 19. These articles are pillars to the Indian constitution.

However, their entire logic and reasoning take 360 degrees turn when the focus of the debate is Assam and West Bengal. In Assam, the tribal’s are anti-Chakma refugees (Hindus and Buddhists who had shifted from Bangladesh and Myanmar). The indigenous Assamese people felt the immigrants, who are already eating into their limited resources and rights, will benefit further as stakeholders once they are legitimized by citizenship. They feel that citizenship amendment bill which states that by giving citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh; will reduce them to a minority in their own land.

Now let’s talk about Bodos from Assam and Hajongs settled in Arunachal Pradesh who had migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan. They are worst victims of persecution and still struggling and facing a severe existential crisis. The moment a Bodo complains about infiltration from across the border and talks about preserving a separate ethnic identity in a state which is poor and does not have adequate natural resources, entire focus changes of debate from tribal conflict to religious conflict and that is exactly where the hypocrisy of liberals gets exposed.

In Assam Calls for removing “illegal immigrants” from the electoral rolls were growing since 1979, and the flashpoint was the genocide that claimed nearly 2,000 lives across 14 villages on 18 February 1983. The agitation was spearheaded by the local people who demanded their right on the land and jobs, continued until the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.While the agreement called for “foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 to be given full citizenship rights, including the right to vote,” it mandated “all those who had come to Assam after 1971 were to be deported”. A sizeable Bodo population, the Assam Movement still forms the genesis of the demand for a National Register of Citizens (NRC). After the 1971 war, these areas which had a predominant Bodo population were slowly replaced by Bengali Muslims, and it turned into a fight for identity and land.

When the debate of NRC was raked up by Amit Shah in the Parliament, it was seen as an attempt to polarise but on the other hand when Hurriyat had shut the valley today before the Supreme Court’s Ruling on Article 35 A which was a confrontation and intimidation to the Courts is seen as “peaceful protest”.

The selective discourse by our intelligentsia is a common phenomenon but their stand gets exposed when we analyse the two case studies. The constitutional courts in India are supposed to be conscience keepers but more often they come across as moral guardians in these issues whose agenda turns out to be garnering good will. There sentimental value of such judgments and observations is more than the constitutional value. There is a constant attempt by liberal scholars who cultivate the thought that nationalism is subservient to constitutionalism but the fact of the matter is that both go hand in hand.

Siddharth Acharya is an advocate practising in Supreme Court of India and National Company Law Tribunal. He is a lawyer by profession but a documentary film-maker and writer by passion. Siddharth has done some commendable documentary films on Jammu and Kashmir like The Abandoned Cranes on Kashmiri Pandits and Article 35 a and Unspoken Catastrophe on plight of West Pak refugees.

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