Citizenship and the Mass Production of Statelessness in Assam

This chapter seeks to assess the implications of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India’s Assam – specifically the conceptualisation, operationalisation and consequences of the NRC – from the perspective of the analytical framework of exclusion from public goods. It argues that stable citizenship is a public good, and the NRC – as a legal and bureaucratic process – amounts to exclusion from public goods. The first part argues that stable citizenship is a public good since it is, first, instrumentally valuable for persons to access their entitlements and rights, and second, inherently valuable as having a bearing on their dignity as human beings. Moreover, unstable citizenship – marked by arbitrary processes and lack of accountability – engenders the third genre of exclusion. It victimises individuals and forces them to divert their resources from achieving other public goods towards proving their citizenship. The second part draws from empirical evidence to argue that the NRC engenders these forms of exclusion at the three different levels of design, implementation and consequences. The chapter shows that right from the beginning, there were serious flaws in the design of the process that undercut institutional accountability and transparency. These design flaws were further aggravated by the inefficiencies and oversights at the level of implementation. We draw from empirical and ethnographic evidence to also show that institutions implementing the process reflected bias. These empirical insights – that evince the serious flaws in the NRC process – have weakened and continue to weaken stable citizenship of innumerable Indians. Flawed bureaucratic and legal processes like the NRC produce severe uncertainty for the citizenship status of persons, heightening their vulnerability, disrupting their lives, and causing tangible and intangible harm to them. Such processes thus amount to exclusion. The final part offers recommendations to reform, and in some cases substitute the existing state policies.

Abdul Kalam Azad, M. Mohsin Alam Bhat, Harsh Mander, Citizenship and the Mass Production of Statelessness in Assam, India Exclusion Report, 2020.