On Monday, India effectively stripped 4 million people of their citizenship from the state of Assam after publishing the National Register of Citizens (NRC), a draft register of citizens who can prove they came to the state before 1971. Of the 30 million people who applied, 4 million were denied inclusion in the draft. The controversial citizen list was intended to flush out illegal Bangladeshi migrants from the northeastern state, of which illegal immigration has been an ongoing serious issue.
When Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan on March 26, 1971, hundreds of thousands of people escaped into India, igniting a war that left many refugees to settle in the state of Assam. The Indian government is considering those who can prove they made their home in Assam before the war to be legal citizens.
Critics of the move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government claim that Modi is attempting to advance the rights of India’s Hindu majority at the expense of minorities. Further criticism has speculated that the government’s move to exclude people from citizenship lists is similar to the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya in 1982. The decision to denounce people of their citizenship is feared to cause a witch hunt against Assam’s ethnic minorities and result in religious tension and mass deportations.
Fearing violence, Home Minister Rajnath Singh stated, “No coercive action will be taken against anyone. Hence there is no need to panic.”
“We are going to provide assistance to anyone whose names are not included in the document and whoever wishes to file a claim and objection in this regard,” registrar general of India, Shailesh, added.
Officials have also reported that no one will be facing immediate deportation and that the appeals process will be made available at the end of August. The final list is to be released in December.
Assam’s law minister, Siddhartha Bhattacharya, added, “Everyone will be given a right to prove their citizenship. But if they fail to do so, well, the legal system will take its own course.”
The BBC spoke with Hasitun Nissa, a 47-year-old schoolteacher, who spent her entire life in Assam and says that although her family arrived long before 1971, she expects to be one of the millions stripped of their citizenship. This will also take away her freedom to vote, access welfare, and own property.
For those who are unable to prove their citizenship by the end of the year, plans are currently in place to expand and build large detention camps.
Assamese author and social scientist Hiren Gohain comments,”Rightly or wrongly the citizenship issue has become a crucial talking point and an issue in Assam politics. Unless it is settled, you cannot go forward.”