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Four million people risk losing citizenship in India’s Assam

  • 30 July 2018
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Four million people risk losing citizenship in India’s Assam
Over 4 million people in India's eastern state of Assam have been left out of a draft list of citizens released Monday and could face deportation if they are unable to prove their citizenship.
The state's National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Critics say the exercise carried out by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government targets Assam's Muslim population under the garb of identifying Bangladeshi migrants.
India's Registrar General, Sailesh, who released the list in the state capital of Guwahati told reporters that 28.98 million out of a total 32.99 million applicants were found eligible for inclusion in the register.
No one omitted from the list will face immediate deportation or be arrested as this was only a draft, he said.
"I would like to reassure every person whose name is not in the draft NRC, that they will get ample opportunity for filing a claim," said Sailesh, who uses only one name.
"No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear or any panic in regard to filing of claims and objections," he added.
Those left out can file claims and objections from August 28 and can also approach a foreigners' tribunal later.
In New Delhi, the Home Ministry said the recount was made under the direction of the Supreme Court which had complete control and supervision of the exercise.
"This is not the final NRC. Some people are politicizing the issue and unnecessarily creating an atmosphere of panic and fear," federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.
Thousands of paramilitary forces were deployed in Assam to prevent any unrest over the new list.
India says hundreds of thousands of migrants from Bangladesh have settled in its north-eastern states, giving rise to tensions with locals in the region.
Bangladesh rejects the allegations.
People omitted from the list have to prove that their families lived in India on March 24, 1971, a day before Bangladesh declared independence.
It is mostly the Bengali-speaking Muslims who would be affected by the exercise. Since Bangladesh is unlikely to recognize and receive the four million people as their citizens, they could become stateless.
The impact on the rights of the stateless, including on rights of ownership of land and homes will then be in question as will be their eligibility to vote in next year's national elections.
Suhas Chakma from Delhi-based Rights and Risk Analysis group described the NRC as the "biggest exercise for disenfranchisement in human history."
Chakma said chances of deportation of illegal immigrants were "nil" as the Indian government had never taken up the issue of deportation of those being identified under the NRC.
The publishing of the draft NRC led to an uproar in parliament where the opposition Trinamool Congress sought an adjournment of proceedings.
Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the neighbouring state of West Bengal accused the BJP of "election politics" ahead of the 2019 national polls.
The influx of people from Bangladesh has long been an emotive and sensitive issue for the local population in the north-east even as it has upset India-Bangladesh ties.
Assam has witnessed prolonged protests against the so-called foreigners. Assamese groups say Assam's culture and identity has been eroded by the foreigner influx. — DPA
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