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Documenting Citizenship: Denationalizing People

Arup Sen

In his seminal book, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford University Press, 1998), Giorgio Agamben observed how"juridical measures" allowed many European states "for the mass denaturalisation and denationalisation of large portions of their own populations" in the early 20th century. Agamben noted in this connection:

…the Nuremberg laws on "citizenship in the Reich" and the "protection of German blood and honor" brought this process to the most extreme point of its development, introducing the principle according to which citizenship was something of which one had to prove oneself worthy and which could therefore always be called into question.

The recent publication of Final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and its outcomeremind us of what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. More than 19 lakh people in Assam were excluded from the final list of the NRC, published on August 31, 2019. Anxiety and fear of exclusion loom large in the minds of the people.The survey done by Teesta Setalvad and her associates in July, 2019, documented that over 60 people lost their lives in Assam, whose deaths were connected to citizenship-related issues. While some people "allegedly committed suicide due to frustration, anxiety and helplessness related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), some reportedly took their own lives fearing the deadly detention camps" (See Teesta Setalvad's entry on NRC in The Telegraph, September 2, 2019).

Reportedly, the spokesperson of the foreign ministry, New Delhi, Raveesh Kumar, said after the publication of the NRC: "Exclusion from the NRC has no implication on the rights of an individual resident in Assam. Those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law" (Cited in The Telegraph, September 2, 2019). We do not know what will be the ultimate fate of lakhs of people excluded from the NRC. But, available reports suggest that even before the publication of the final list of the NRC, a large number of people in Assam started living a "Bare Life". ooo

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Frontier
Vol. 52, No. 11, Sep 15 - 21, 2019