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Who falls in Delhi if NRC comes knocking?

Are migrants from UP and Bihar not legitimate residents of Delhi? Kejriwal made a faux pas but Delhi BJP chief made it aap vs purvanchalis

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal made a gaffe. He deemed Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari as the first casualty of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) if it were to be conducted in the Capital. While addressing a press conference, the CM said, “If NRC is implemented in Delhi, Manoj Tiwari will have to first leave Delhi.”

While Tiwari and the BJP hit back, the one statement that is the logical comeback was from the Bhojpuri singer. He countered, “NRC identifies illegal immigrants, that is people who are from outside India and not from other parts of India. What the CM said will now be answered by the people of Delhi.”

This controversy needs deconstruction. The Supreme Court in its order had said, “Indian Citizens including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post 24th March 1971 would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on 24th March, 1971.”

The key words here are ‘Indian Citizens’. CM Kejriwal perhaps just wanted to pull Tiwari’s leg or the BJP’s for hammering on about the NRC.

Tiwari didn’t stop there. He brought in elections which are due early next year and warned that Kejriwal’s remark would hurt the outcome: “If I am illegal, then is Kejriwal implying that every Purvanchali is illegal? You want to throw them out of Delhi too?”

The Purvanchali vote is an important factor that all parties consider in the elections in Delhi.

Nearly 40 per cent of Delhiites are migrants. The 2017-18 Economic Survey of Delhi estimates that 1.17 lakh people migrate to the city every year from various parts of India, with UP and Bihar being the top two contributors.

The Delhi Human Development Survey found that UP’s share of migration in Delhi, in Census 2001 was 43.13% which then became 46.5% in 2013 (via perceptions survey). From Bihar, the numbers from 2001 showed 13.63% in 2001 which then became 30.7% in 2013.

Reports point to an estimated 40 lakh Purvanchalis in Delhi, and Tiwari happens to be one of them. How the BJP Delhi chief taps into this controversy and how successful he is with it would have to be seen, but he isn’t wasting a breath to get voters on his side.

Purvanchalis make up a major chunk of the residents in unauthorised colonies which he says will be regularised “in six months”. He also called out Kejriwal for, in his words, failing to regularise these settlements despite being in power for five years.

Glimpses of NRC

In Assam, the final NRC list which was released on August 31 excluded over 19 lakh individuals. A month prior to that, the draft published which excluded approximately 40 lakhs names.

After the final list was brought out, many spoke out against it, alleging the exercise as having excluded many citizens. There would be genuine anxiety if the NRC were to be conducted in the national capital, where several migrants find refuge.

Tiwari has been harping on about it for quite some time now. More recently in August, he had said NRC would be implemented in Delhi “as the situation is becoming dangerous. Illegal immigrants who have settled here are the most dangerous”, he had said.

Around the last week of September, it was even reported that Delhi Police had distributed forms in Rohingya refugee camps in Delhi. This is to reportedly build an online database of Rohingya refugees. The Rohingya suspect it is a document — asking details like place of birth, religion and criminal cases — which would lead to their deportation.

NRC is not just a subject matter for sparring between Delhi politicians. The fear that NRC will find its way to Delhi can also be attributed to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s statements.

He had said on September 18: “We promised to the people of the country in our election manifesto that not only in Assam but we will bring NRC all over the country”. On October 1 he went further by saying: “I want to assure all Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees that you will not be forced to leave India”…“But we will identify each and every infiltrator and drive them out”.

Who gets affected

The Human Rights Law Network’s 2018 fact-finding report on Rohingya refugees points out that though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows approximately 14,000 Rohingya spread across six locations in India, “Government officials do not accept this status”.

While Refugee Status certificates have been given by UNHCR to approximately 11,000 Rohingyas in India; the remaining 3,000 are asylum seekers. Even so, the central government instead believes “that the refugees are merely foreigners who entered illegally. The Home Ministry estimates 40,000 undocumented Rohingya Muslims and does not officially recognise them as refugees.”

The UNHCR report as of July 31 this year cites 21,058 refugees and asylum seekers in India from Myanmar and 15,509 from Afghanistan.

Pallavi Saxena, programme manager for Migration & Asylum Project (M.A.P) — a refugee legal aid centre in Delhi — tells us about some of the cases of asylum seekers and why they come to the city. She mentions those who come from Afghanistan “due to the threat of anti-government elements (such as Taliban)”, while many women from Afghanistan, as well as from other nations flee from sexual abuse and gender-based violence, or are victims of harmful traditional and cultural practices.

She further goes on to tell us about cases coming from countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), who may be “fleeing because they are political dissenters”. Saxena adds, however, that there are many more instances and reasons for them seeking asylum.

Despite the political pot-shots between the present chief minister and his major opponent, there are human beings who would seriously be affected if NRC is conducted — and these are not  the Purvanchalis.

Uncertain times

Afghan refugees face the prospect of statelessness if NRC is implemented in Delhi.

We spoke with Samarpan foundation’s Astha Sharma, who is their  Empowerment Programme Coordinator. Samarpan run a project called ARIA, for Afghan refugee women who have fled their war torn country and reached Delhi.

She helps us understand the risk of NRC in Delhi, and points to the absence of a national legal framework to protect refugees.

Do all the women you work with have a refugee status?

Many hold the refugee status. But majority are either asylum seekers who hold documentation from UNHCR and others are awaiting the said documents.

How do you feel NRC would impact those that don’t have refugee status?

It is too early to comment on NRC’s impact on those who don’t have a refugee status, as the government is still formulating its policies. But, looking at the situation in Assam, where the names of around 1.9 million people have not been included, there is a chance that a large number of people who are either forced migrants or asylum seekers without proper documentation are at a risk of statelessness.

Do the refugees know about the NRC? Have they expressed any fear of being asked to leave?

The refugee women we work with are not aware of the NRC. These women are living in poverty in India. Their biggest concern right now is to make ends meet every day. Also, majority of them don’t speak Hindi or English. So they don’t know the current affairs of the country. But, I would like to add that they feel India is a safe place. Even if they are living in poverty, they feel at least their family is alive.

Have you thought of an instance if the NRC would reach Delhi?

Now that I come to think of it, one can only imagine the chaos it will bring. To determine nationality of each and every person residing in Delhi is going to be a tedious job. And there are so many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers residing in Delhi, I don’t want to imagine what it will be like.

What would happen to forced migrants and refugees who come seeking a safe place?

In India there is an absence of national legal and administrative framework with respect to protection of refugees. Also, India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol. Although India has granted and continues to grant asylum to large number of migrants from neighbouring countries, and respects UNHCR’s mandate. UNHCR has been working and assisting the government of India with respect to the Refugees and asylum seekers coming to India.

I feel implementation of NRC will not impact people who hold refugee status/ proper documentation, but will impact those who do not possess proper documentation. There is a huge risk of these people being rendered as stateless. According to customary international law a country cannot deport an illegal immigrant unless there is a receiving state. In absence of a receiving state, the immigrant runs the risk of being stateless. He will not be deported, but at the same time the person cannot enjoy the basic human rights. I hope government of India before implementing NRC on a national level will verify and analyse every aspect of the situation from a human rights perspective.