CAA and NRC target India’s homeless Dalit-Bahujan population too

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As per a report published last year, India’s 86% of homeless people come from the Hindu religion. The majority of which belong to the Dalit-Bahujan community and do not have documents to prove that they came from 3 listed countries in CAA.

Sonu P Yadav

Homeless people in Kolkata (Photo: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons)

Home signifies a place that keeps one safe, secure and helps one to grow physically and mentally. A section of people who do not have a place to stay is called the homeless. In the era of development and the race for high GDP growth, there are many people who don’t even have basic amenities to survive. Homeless people are one such category. To understand their situation, imagine you and your family have to eat on roads, take bath in open, sleep under a flyover without eating three meals a day. It’s the population who wakes up every day worried about arranging three meals for the day and goes to sleep with the same concern for the following day. This population mostly consists of groups such as nomadic people, Dalits, tribal, transgender, other backward classes, etc.

India has one of the largest populations of homeless people in the world. According to census 2011, there are 1.7 million homeless people in the country. However, several civil society organizations have claimed that the number is 2.3 million for cities Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Indore, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, Patna, Kolkata and Lucknow. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which came into effect on January 10, 2020, seeks to make illegal migrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, eligible for citizenship. They should have arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. The CAA will exclude the Sixth schedule areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura and the areas covered under the Inner Line. As per a report published last year, India’s 86% of homeless people come from the Hindu religion. The majority of which belong to the Dalit-Bahujan community and do not have documents to prove that they came from 3 listed countries in CAA.

With the commencement of the National Population Register (NPR) in April 2020, the population which is still struggling to survive every day will be forced to prove whether they belong to this country. NPR is the list of “usual residents” of the country. A “usual resident” is the person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more or intends to reside in the area for the next six months or more.  It is being prepared under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. However, the NPR 2019 has 21 points as compared to 15 points in 2010. The additional 6 points ask for the last place of residence, passport number, Aadhaar ID, voter ID card number, drivers’ license number and mobile phone number which were not asked before.

The National Register of Citizen (NRC) is a record of those who are a legal citizen of India. NRC includes the demographic information of all those individuals who qualify as Indian citizens as per the Citizenship Act 1955. The NRC was first prepared after the 1951 census of India and since then it has not been updated except in Assam. 

The burning discussion around relation (though denied by the Home Ministry) between National Register of Citizen’s (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) is that NPR is the first step towards NRC. Scheduled to begin from April 2020 and to be finished by September 2020, NPR is going to adversely hit the homeless all over the country. A study conducted by Indo Global Social Service Society, in 15 cities of 5 states (Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), revealed that 30% of the homeless do not have any legal identity proof. That means during the NPR process when enumerators will visit the homeless on the street (if they visit them) and ask (not mandatory as per NPR manual but just to ensure the accuracy) for the document, at least 30% homeless population will fail to produce the relevant document and information will be filled in verbally by the enumerator. This will definitely lead to a discrepancy in the information. A study says that 53% of the homeless are illiterate which means more than half the homeless population will not be able to spell their name either in their native language or in Roman script. For example, if a person’s name is Zainab, but due to poor linguistic understanding it can be written as Jainab by an enumerator or Dilip can be written as Dileep. This may result in the person being excluded from the NRC.

Further, the information filled in NPR will be verified during the NRC process and homeless people will be asked to produce the documents for physical verification. Most of the homeless population move around the city, state and country for different reasons such as in the search of livelihood, etc. During the process, an enumerator might miss the homeless people and thus they will not be included in the NPR. Upon being missed in the NPR, they wouldn’t be verified under the NRC process and they would be excluded from the NRC list too. Does it mean they would be declared as foreigners? 

The recent NRC exercise in the Assam presented a horrific picture of the process which led to death, selling of the property to get citizenship and others. In many cases, people received notices to appear at tribunals within a few days. That required huge money to travel at short notice. A post shared on Facebook by one person from Assam says that they received a call on June 6, 2019, from their mother to appear at a court in a week’s time. They booked tickets at a short notice worth Rs 42,000 for June 11 for the three persons from Delhi to Guwahati.

Homeless people might not have the wherewithal to travel at such short notices. Without a permanent address, how would they be served a notice? Under the purview of which NRC Seva Kendra will they be called for the verification? These are a few urgent questions to be answered. At this conjecture, the Government is strongly intending to implement NPR & NRC which may push homeless people to statelessness.

This biased approach of the State towards the homeless can also be understood by the inherent casteist attitude of the state. The majority of the population that would be affected by these laws belong to marginalized castes. Prioritization of the homeless issues would not be found in any development agenda of the state. On the other hand, the same population, which never had access to a dignified life as a citizen, would be forced to prove their citizenship. Such contradictions are not just against the fundamental rights of the citizens but also a blatant denial of social justice by an authoritarian government.

The author is an independent writer and can be reached at [email protected]

Notes

PRS Legislative Research, Home Affairs. (n.d).The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. Retrieved from http://prsindia.org/billtrack/citizenship-amendment-bill-2019, accessed on January 19, 2020.

Sharma, A. (2019, September 14). 86% Hindus, 66% With Aadhaar, Over 50% Work Daily: Survey Busts Myths about India’s Homeless. NEWS 18. Retrieved from https://www.news18.com/news/india/86-hindus-66-with-aadhaar-over-50-work-daily-survey-busts-myths-on-indias-homeless-2308571.html, accessed on January 19, 2020.

IGSSS & OFFER (2019). Enabling Inclusive City for the Homeless. Retrieved from https://igsss.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Baseline-Study-Enabling-Inclusive-Cities-for-Homeless.pdf accessed on January 02, 2020.

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