Mostly Muslims face statelessness
Almost two million people in northeast India were left facing statelessness on Saturday after the state of Assam published a citizenship list aimed at weeding out “foreign infiltrators”, in a process the central government wants to replicate nationwide.
A total of 31.1 million people were included in a National Register of Citizens (NRC), but 1.9 million were deemed ineligible, according to the Assam government. A large chunk of those excluded were expected to be Muslims. Assam has long seen large influxes from elsewhere, including under British colonial rule and around Bangladesh’s 1971 war, when millions fled into India.
For decades this has made Assam a hotbed of inter-religious and ethnic tensions, adding to pressure for a lasting solution. Sporadic violence has included the 1983 massacre of around 2,000 people.
Security was beefed up in Assam ahead of the release of the NRC, with some 20,000 extra personnel brought in and gatherings banned in some locations. Only those who can demonstrate that they or their forebears were in India before 1971 could be included in the list.
But navigating the complex process is a huge challenge for many in a region of high illiteracy where many lack documentation. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party runs Assam — and critics say the NRC process reflects the BJP’s goal to serve only its co-religionists.
In January, India’s lower house passed legislation that grants citizenship to people who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan as recently as six years ago — as long as they are not Muslims. This has stoked fears among India’s 170-million Muslim minority for their future.
Home Minister Amit Shah, Modi’s right-hand-man, has called for the ejection of “termites” and said before the BJP’s thumping re-election victory in May that it would “run a countrywide campaign to send back the infiltrators”.
Those left off the NRC have 120 days to appeal at special Foreigners Tribunals, which the government says are being expanded in number. —AFP