With its emphasis on the need of updating the National Population Register (NPR), Ministry of Home Affairs is often seen with scepticism by minorities. Many have argued that it may push for a tougher anti-minority policy including the fear of loss of their citizenship. There is uneasiness regarding sharing of sensitive information via NPR as minorities fear that it might be used to launch anti-minority perception. Notably, those failing to prove their Indian origin may be at risk of statelessness. The NPR exercise is often seen in consonance with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which was passed in 2019 by the Parliament and came into effect on 10th January 2020.
Unlike CAA, the exercise of NPR is a regular one carried out to monitor exact discrepancies, neglect and necessity of developmental policies and enactment of right polices for the welfare of the people. The National Population Register’s goal is to compile a thorough identification record of each typical citizen of the nation. Its other objectives are to improve access to and delivery of government programmes’ benefits and services and the National defence enhancement and security planning. A digitised National Population Register is a vivid proposal for facilitating the effective rollout of social programmes, and it may even prove to be essential in dealing with the lawlessness, or external interventions for instability involving nationals. The government, however, must take precautions to protect the confidentiality of residents’ personal information stored inside NPR.
The citizens, including minorities are required to cooperate and not to look negatively towards this government initiative. The doubt about it was raised after a similar exercise was carried out in Assam, in which about 19 lacs people were unable to provide document to claim genuine citizenship of India. The majority in this list were women, who had no records to enlist themselves as citizens. The Muslim minority is in fear that they may end up at the receiving end given its link with CAA-NRC law. Objections have been raised, with some saying Muslims should skip the citizenship assessment because of the unsubstantiated feeling of minority persecution. Still, there is another potential source of worry: many individuals especially those on the margins of the society may be missed in official counts which needs to be addressed.
It must be highlighted that Muslims should not view it from the angle of anti-Muslim perspective as they do not have anything to hide, provided they share exact details and information related to their families and origins. The home minister himself clarified that “I want to make it very clear. An individual will not be asked to show any document for NPR. It was not done before; it will not be now.” Nonetheless, there is need to assure the people, particularly minorities that faith and trust on government policies will always lead to their benefit. Government should implement proper mechanism to conduct surveys so that ordinary people do not suffer. Because, citizenship is the highest of the assurances any individual seeks. In this digital age, the treatment to refugees and stateless people is not hidden and their struggles and insecurities associated with their identities are well known to and documented.
The trust deficiency and misinformation have created a huge gap between minorities and the government. It has made people to doubt every policy government enacts. To end such confusions, the information dissemination channels must be monitored by the government and people should be provided relevant information on a timely and hassle free basis.
PhD Scholar, JMI)