New Delhi: On November 21, speaking in the Rajya Sabha, home minister and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah made official his party’s declaration about bringing in an all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Newspaper readers woke up on November 22 to headlines that read:
NRC will be conducted Across India, repeated in Assam: Shah;
Assam rejects NRC, Shah says will do it afresh across nation;
NRC across India, RS told;
NRC will be pan-India: Amit Shah.
Till now, NRC, for the rest of India, was an ‘Assam-related issue’. One could engage with it, or escape it altogether. But no more.
This, then, should nudge readers across the country to the obvious – and more practical – question: What are the documents they need to pass the citizenship test that the government is to soon launch?
Unlike the Census, the NRC update exercise in Assam was carried out by giving an individual the option to be included. One had to apply to be in it. It is not clear whether the same option would be granted to people in the nationwide exercise. It is also not clear yet whether different documents will be needed for residents of different states, or a common set of guidelines will be formulated.
Will one be counted only in the state where her family has roots? What options would those with parents from two different states have? A string of questions abound at the moment.
The application process in Assam – facilitated through hundreds of NRC Seva Kendras (NSKs) across the state – was hinged on documents that would reflect the exclusive citizenship cut-off date for the state as per the Assam Accord, the reason for the entire exercise under the Supreme Court’s watch. An applicant had the choice of picking any one of the documents listed under two heads. The 14 documents mentioned in List A were:
- 1951 NRC
- Electoral roll(s) up to 24 March (midnight), 1971
- Land and tenancy records
- Citizenship certificate
- Permanent residential certificate
- Refugee registration certificate
- Any government issued license/certificate
- Government service/ employment certificate
- Bank or post office accounts
- Birth certificate
- State educational board or university educational certificate
- Court records/processes
- Any LIC policy
Since the citizenship cut-off date in Assam is midnight of March 24, 1971, all these documents could not be from a date later than that. This meant an Assam resident who didn’t have any 1971 documents that mention her name can show any one of the documents named in this list if it mentions her father or grandfather.
But such applicants then had to establish their link with their father/grandfather by furnishing one more document to be picked from List B, which included eight options:
- Birth certificate
- Land document
- Board/university certificate
- Bank/LIC/post office records
- Circle officer/gaon panchayat secretary certificate in case of married women
- Electoral roll
- Ration card
- Any other legally acceptable document
In the case of women married to other places, and have no documents that they could pick from list B to establish their family link, two documents were to be allowed to them. They were:
- Circle officer or gaon panchayat secretary certificate which can be furnished as a supporting document by a woman migrating after marriage. It need not be on or before the 1971 date.
- A ration card issued on or before the 1971 date.
Though in Assam’s context, the NRC was updated as per its exclusive citizenship cut-off date as mentioned in Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, in the pan-India context, to keep documents ready to win back one’s citizenship, it would well be useful to have a close read of the various amendments brought to the Act starting from 1987 onwards.
However, it goes without saying that like in Assam, across India too, the test will be hardest for four categories of people – the poor, the unlettered, women and, to a large extent, those affected by Partition.