NRC to hit India’s informal labour force

Muslims, women, Dalits and tribals to be the worst affected

Image Courtesy:

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) have brought together the nation to agitate against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) divisive policies. In Assam, where the NRC had already been implemented, 19 lakh people were rendered to be ‘stateless’, with the burden of proof being on them to prove themselves to be the citizens of India.

Now, with an all-India NRC on the cards; it will be repeated in Assam again, trade unions and activists say that the worst hit of the entire lot will be the unorganized sector of the country.

What is the strength of the unorganized sector in India?

There have been no conclusive numbers on the strength of the unorganized or informal workforce in India.

The Economic Survey of 2018-19 released in July this year says that in India, “almost 93%” of the workforce is “informal”. In a report – Strategy for New India at 75 by Niti Aayog, the informal sector “by some estimates” is supposed to be employing 85% of all workers. Another report by the National Statistical Commission, 2012 pegs it at “more than 90%” of the total workforce. However, going by the numbers, more than 400 million of the people in India work in the unorganized sector.

Who comes under the unorganized labour force?

According to the Ministry of Labour, GoI, the unorganized labour force is categorized under four groups – occupation, nature of employment, specially distressed categories and service categories.

  1. Under Terms of Occupation
    Small and marginal farmers, landless agricultural labourers, share croppers, fishermen, those engaged in animal husbandry, beedi rolling, labelling and packing, building and construction workers, leather workers, weavers, artisans, salt workers, workers in brick kilns and stone quarries, workers in saw mills, oil mills, etc. come under this category.
  2. Under Terms of Nature of Employment
    Attached agricultural labourers, bonded labourers, migrant workers, contract and casual labourers come under this category.
  3. Under Terms of Specially Distressed Category
    Toddy tappers, scavengers, carriers of head loads, drivers of animal driven vehicles, loaders and unloaders come under this category.
  4. Under Terms of Service Category
    Midwives, domestic workers, fishermen and women, barbers, vegetable and fruit vendors, newspaper vendors, etc., belong to this category.

These workers mostly belong to scheduled castes / scheduled tribes and other backward classes and mostly do not possess a permanent residential address, birth or school certificates and find it difficult to apply for voter IDs and Aadhaar identification numbers.

Last year, informing the Parliament about how many people were issued the Aadhaar Card, KJ Alphons, the Minister of State for Electronics and IT, said that more than 89% of the total population had been granted the same.

In 2019, India had around 900 million eligible voters, with 95.64% having a photo identity card.

While the government planned to offer benefits like insurance and pension to over 40 crore unorganized workers using the Aadhaar, it hasn’t made it clear whether the biometric identifier or the voter IDs will be regarded as proof of citizenship.

During the Assam NRC, the basic criteria to appear in the NRC list was that the name of the applicant’s family members had to either be in the first NRC prepared in 1951 or in the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971.

Other than that, applicants also had the option to present documents such as refugee registration certificate, birth certificate, LIC policy, land and tenancy records, citizenship certificate, passport, government issued license or certificate, bank/post office accounts, permanent residential certificate, government employment certificate, educational certificate and court records.

However, it must be noted that 19 lakh citizens were left out of the Assam NRC and scores were wrongly dubbed ‘foreigners’ or ‘illegal immigrants’ even after producing the required proofs.

Who face document woes and why

According to a report by Down to Earth, in India 95 percent (195 million) women were employed in the unorganized sector or engaged in unpaid labour.

Deccan Herald reported that according to Garment Labour Union President Rukmini VP, women are still finding it difficult to enroll for Aadhaar because more than one document is required for address proof. “Migrants often find it difficult to produce them, as their homes are in other states,” she said, urging the government to stop imposing multiple citizenship proofs.

The SC, ST and OBCs have historically been kept away from education and property ownership and they are all set to be affected said city-based advocate S Balan who works for the welfare of purakarmikas and daily wage labourers.

He also said that at the APMC market in Bengaluru itself, over 3,000 headloaders don’t have any documents, not even voter IDs.

Minorities affected

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt Ltd, out of the 400 odd million people in India employed in the labour force, 39 million are Muslims. A little more than a hundred million muslims are in the working age bracket in India, i.e. they are of 15 years of age or more. Of these, 42.3 million actually participate in the labour markets by either working or looking for work.

Muslim women have a lesser participation in the labour force, compared to other faiths. Out of the 39 million, 36.5 million are men and only 2.5 million are women. Some households have only one working member, mostly a male and if that person has to run from pillar to prove to gather documents, his household is bound to suffer extreme financial losses.


The NRC process in Assam saw many women being left out of the list. Women from poorer backgrounds were excluded due to lack of documents. It was not compulsory in Assam to register birth or deaths until 1985. The NRC process does not recognise this. Several women were married off they turned 18, so their name will not be on the voter list along with their parents.

With no awareness of the NRC process and emotional and financial dependency on the patriarch, coupled with practices like early marriage and the dwindling girl-child education robs them of their valid identity proofs. Most of the women in rural areas or conservative households do not register for voter identity cards.

Without educational degrees and land documents, women don’t possess independent identity documents which makes them particularly vulnerable to the NRC process.

Dalits and Tribal Communities

The rampant illiteracy and lack of awareness of maintaining documents is going to affect the Dalits and the tribal communities of India. A Delhi-based rights lawyer had claimed that in the Assam NRC over 100,000 Scheduled Tribes who were original inhabitants of Assam were left out of the list due to the inability to prove their legacy from 1971.

Overall, the NRC is set to hit the poor the most especially with them running from pillar to post, gathering documents and facing undue harassment from authorities. The NRC process to the exchequer itself may cost over Rs. 50,000 crore in administration expenses, Rs. 2 – 3 lakh crore to construct detention camps and Rs. 36,000 to take care of the citizens who will face a future in detention camps (National Herald).

According to The Times of India, the cost of reclaiming citizenship will go up to Rs. 50,000 per person. In Assam, people left out of the NRC spend Rs. 7,836 crore for hearings.

Will the economically crippled labour of India be able to bear the cost of the NRC if and when it does hit the country especially when over 22 percent of the country’s population is below the poverty line?


Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019: The Fire that consumes India
CPI(M) set to push for changes in CAB, terms it a ‘two nation theory’
NPR 2020 to cost close to Rs. 4,000 crores; Centre silent on connection to NRC



Related Articles