Reading earlier this week about a woman incarcerated in one of the six detention centres in Assam for the last three years and a half, while questions of her citizenship were decided by a Foreigner’s Tribunal, somehow brought home to me the horror that is upon this country of 130 crore people, a favourite number often quoted by our Union Home Minister.
That is what we have been subjected to so often on December 9, as the Citizen’s Amendment Bill (CAB) was driven through Parliament with the brutality exhibited in fiction only by the denizens of Animal Farm. It was so swift, so complete, that one wondered despairingly about the futility of ten hours of debate trying to hold it up. It was so gallantly hopeless that it became impossible not to admire the Opposition for its efforts.
The woman, a Muslim, had all her “legacy” documents. She was able to show how her ancestry lived, voted and worked in India. Did it do her a blind bit of good? Of course not.
She has now been “released” but wonders how “free” she is to pursue a living or go back to her village where the rest of her family lives, because who knows when some babu will haul her back to answer questions.
At a recent function to address people on the vexed question of citizenship under an unnecessary cloud, Teesta Setalvad, the guiding spirit of NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) pointed out that UNICEF has stated that only 56 per cent of Indians had birth certificates, the most basic document required for identification of citizenship.
Among them, many of us from the so-called privileged elite have used these certificates perhaps once or twice in our lives and consider them documents of secondary importance in comparison with school leaving certificates, aadhar cards, pancards and passports.
The people facing these Foreigners’ Tribunals are usually the poorest of the poor, and they go armed with “legacy” documents that include father’s voting registration, grandfather’s land pattas, their own ration cards, proof positive that they have lived in India at least from the turn of the century. For some corrupt and recalcitrant officials of these Foreigners’ Tribunals, even this is not enough.
Look at us, so fatted and arrogant in our middle class prosperity, such as it is. What will we do when they come for us, this alphabet soup. Will we wax indignant, those among us without the “benefit” of Hindu names, before we are carted off, kicking and screaming to detention camps because, really, the government of India does not know what to do with us?
What are they going to do about those left out of the NRC? Work us to death, starve us, machine gun us into conveniently-dug ditches in the dead of night? Or let us languish for generations in hastily-thrown up detention camps, thousands upon thousands of people simmering with anger and hatred and fear, a perfect recipe for anarchy and disintegration of nationhood?
What on earth are they going to do with the people deemed illegals? They can chuck them into massive prisons, but at some point they will have to be freed. Where do they go at that point?
It is time we stood up for ourselves and demand to know whether the blueprint for long term incarceration of millions of innocent human beings, who happen to be economic refugees, many of whom might or might not be Muslims, has been prepared. We have a right to see what these terrible human beings have planned for us.