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  Opinion   Columnists  31 Jul 2023  Aakar Patel | Making Aadhaar compulsory for births, deaths to revive NRC row

Aakar Patel | Making Aadhaar compulsory for births, deaths to revive NRC row

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Aug 1, 2023, 12:30 am IST
Updated : Aug 1, 2023, 12:30 am IST

It doesn’t make sense for the government to push through with the NPR exercise in these circumstances, through whatever method.

 The linking of Aadhaar to births and deaths will revive the debate around citizenship. (Representational Image/ PTI File)
  The linking of Aadhaar to births and deaths will revive the debate around citizenship. (Representational Image/ PTI File)

The Union government is planning to enact registration to make Aadhaar registration compulsory for births and deaths. If the Bill should become law, it will feed into the National Population Register. This in turn will revive the controversy over the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The last time the government had attempted this, it was pushed back by the protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019-20.

In April 2020, the government was due to begin the entire NPR exercise manually. This would have needed the enumerators, meaning government workers, teachers and clerical staff and so on, to go door-to-door and question people in 25 crore households.

This attempt was given up after the protests did not end. They did not end because the Prime Minister gave no assurance that the NRC would not be implemented. He said merely that it had not been discussed yet. This was insufficient to satisfy people who believe that what happened in Assam would happen nationwide.

Meaning that people would be marked as doubtful citizens, lose their voting rights, and begin a process that goes through a National Register of Citizens list, a Foreigners’ Tribunal and ends in a detention centre.

Other than the protests, what stopped the previous NPR/NRC exercise was opposition from the non-BJP parties.

Some states have said that they will not implement the NPR. Kerala informed the Centre that it feared law and order problems. The state has also challenged the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Supreme Court. Madhya Pradesh, when it was under Congress rule, had said it would not implement it either.

Other states like West Bengal had encouraged their citizens to actively resist the enumerator and not show them any documents. Yet other states said they would implement the NPR only partially (Odisha and Bihar), leaving out many questions. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had said that he would not allow people in his state to be jailed on this issue and instead would go to jail himself first. At the federal level, then, it became clear that the incoming data would be incomplete and fragmented. That would be a third reason for the Narendra Modi government to have stalled the NPR/NRC process in 2020.

But certainly, it appears that the main reason was the issue of physically getting the data. The polarisation produced by the citizenship laws resulted in some extreme actions by the State, and these actions were well publicised. In Hyderabad in February 2020, officials overseeing Aadhaar exceeded their brief and summoned over 100 people to their office to prove their citizenship. Presumably, all of these were Muslim individuals. After this was reported, the Aadhaar authority clarified and backtracked a little. But the damage had been done. Elsewhere, a court in Assam waved away 15 different documents, including voter ID cards and land revenue records from the 1960s, to dismiss a Muslim woman’s claim to Indian citizenship. Again, this was heavily publicised. In Bidar, children were interrogated over a school play on the citizenship laws, and parents charged with sedition and women jailed, producing global outrage.
As a result of all this and much more, in large parts of India there was information on and popular mobilisation against the NPR and the CAA. Tamil Nadu alone saw mass protests in Chennai, Tirunelveli, Vellore, Coimbatore, Thoothukudi, Tiruchi, Madurai, Salem and Krishnagiri on a single day. These were protests that in many cities required the deployment of the entire police force to manage. This is unsustainable in a country of the size of India.

The National Sample Survey (NSS), which was to collect material on the Census and consumption, was also affected by the CAA protests.

For this reason, the Census and the quinquennial (five yearly) surveys have both been postponed indefinitely.

The former chief statistician of India, Pronab Sen, had said then that this was a new sort of problem. He said the “attacks on field investigators of the NSS was not new. It had happened before, essentially when they asked questions on either household incomes or household assets… so, this has happened earlier, but not too often, because over time people got fairly comfortable knowing that NSS surveys happen”. This has now changed. In fact, he added: “We may well have a situation where you are unable to do the Census properly, and if the Census is not done properly, then for the next 10 years, no household survey will be reliable because all household surveys rely on the Census as the frame. If this (Census) runs into problems, and there’s a danger that it might, then for the next 11 years, you are in trouble.”

The linking of Aadhaar to births and deaths will revive the debate around citizenship. This is unfortunate.

We have not considered the fact that powerful voices around the world, including the United Nations Secretary-General, elements within the European Union and the United States Congress, were concerned and vocal about what was “happening in India in 2020”.

It doesn’t make sense for the government to push through with the NPR exercise in these circumstances, through whatever method. One hopes that all this has been taken into consideration as we once again march ourselves towards a controversy over citizenship.

Tags: npr, aadhar, caa