Nearly 2 million people have been left off a list of citizens released in India’s northeastern state of Assam. The list includes the names of the people who could prove they were living in the country before 1971 while the rest are “ineligible.”
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 of independence when millions fled into India.
For decades this has made Assam a hotbed of inter-religious and ethnic tensions. 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. There were no disturbances reported on Saturday however.
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 flood-prone poor 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 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”.
On August 5 New Delhi suspended the autonomy of Indian-administered Kashmir. The Muslim-majority region is currently in its fourth week of a near-total communications blackout.
Those left off the NRC have 120 days to appeal at special Foreigners Tribunals, which the government says are being expanded in number.
But activists say that tribunal members are often underqualified and are subject to “performance” targets, and that the process has been riddled with inconsistencies and errors.
Instances of people being declared foreigners because of clerical errors, such as differences in the spelling of names, are “appallingly common,” Amnesty International said Saturday.
The number of mistakes and the fact that those left off the NRC were expected to include large numbers of Bengali-speaking Hindus has also turned some in the BJP against the process.
With many “genuine Indians” left off, the party is mulling a “fresh strategy on how we can drive out the illegal migrants,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, a local BJP minister.
Camps and suicides
Those who have been rejected by the tribunals and have exhausted all other legal avenues can be declared foreigners and – in theory – be placed in one of six detention centres with a view to possible deportation, although Bangladesh is yet to signal its cooperation.
Ten new such camps have been announced. One with space for 3,000 is being constructed in Goalpara, west of Assam’s biggest city Guwahati.
The camps currently hold 1,135 people, according to the state government, and have been operating for years.
Nur Mohammad, 65, spent almost 10 years in one such camp until a Supreme Court order saw him released this month.
“I was born here and lived in Assam all my life,” he told AFP this week. “I don’t know if my name will be in the NRC or not.”
Media reports say that there have been more than 40 suicides caused by concern over the NRC.
Samujjal Bhattacharya from the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), a key driver behind the NRC, said the register was necessary to protect Assam’s indigenous “sons of the soil”.
“We are not ready to live here like second-class citizens in our own motherland,” he told AFP.
As the anxiety over the publication of National Register of Citizens (NRC) lingered, the Assam government on Saturday published the final list at all NRC Seva Kendra (NSK) across the state. PTI 2/11
According to the state government, 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the final NRC list. Legal provisions, including the right to appeal in the Supreme Court, are open to people who have been left out. PTI 3/11
Though people who didn’t find mention in the final list will be concerned, it is important to note that no can be labelled an illegal immigrant until Foreigner’s Tribunals pass a verdict. People in Rupoho village, Nagaon district, stood in a queue to check their names on the final list of the NRC outside an NRC Seva Kendra (NSK). Reuters 4/11
A total of 3,30,27,661 people had applied to be included in the NRC. Of them, 3,11,21,004 have been included in the document and 19,06,657 excluded, a statement from the NRC State Coordinator’s office said. PTI 5/11
BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “We have lost hope in the present form of the NRC” adding that the saffron party was already mulling a “fresh strategy on how to drive out the illegal migrants.” Seen here are women awaiting their turn at the NRC Seva Kendra in Burabari district. PTI 6/11
No incident of violence or protests was reported in the state. Prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC were in force in several areas of the state, including Guwahati and Dispur, with over 20,000 central paramilitary forces besides personnel of the state police deployed. Seen here is the NRC headquarter in Guwahati. PTI 7/11
In order to assuage the fears of those who could be excluded from the final list, the Assam government has already ruled out their detention “in any circumstances” till the time Foreigners Tribunals declare them foreigners. Those who have been excluded from the NRC have 120 days to appeal against it at Foreigners Tribunals. AP 8/11
Thrice chief minister of Assam Tarun Gogoi of the Congress said the Centre had failed in its duty to come up with a flawless NRC, while Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary saying it will extend legal support to genuine Indian citizens. Seen here is a women checking her name in the NRC list in Assam’s Burabari village. AP 9/11
Hindu Yuba Chatra Parisad members protested against the release of NRC final draft in Guwahati. The names of family members of former president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and former chief minister Anwara Taimur were found missing from the draft. PTI 10/11
In a press conference held today, BJP’s ally in the state government Asom Gana Parishad also expressed concern at the way the NRC process culminated. “The AGP is not satisfied at all about the number of exclusions. The figure of 19,06,657 exclusions in the final NRC is far too low and we cannot accept that,” party chief and Cabinet minister Atul Bora said. PTI 11/11
Raja Singh, the lone BJP MLA in Telangana, said NRC should be implemented from 17 September, the day of merger of erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad with the Indian Union in 1948. BJP MP Manoj Tiwari also expressed the need for a NRC in Delhi, owing to the ‘dangerous’ illegal immigrants who have settled in national capital. Seen here are villagers in Assam’s Kamrup checking their names in the final NRC. PTI