As many as 4 million illegal aliens — most of them Muslims — may lose their invalid Indian citizenship very soon. Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, President Narendra Modi’s right hand and current president of the BJP, Modi’s political party, vowed to eject the Bangladeshi Muslim illegal “termites” from India and “send back the infiltrators.” Modi has vowed to roll out this plan across the country.
Washington Post Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014 gave new momentum to the movement to remove foreigners from Assam. Amit Shah, president of the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), labeled the unlisted 4 million “infiltrators.”
In March 24, 1971, Bangladesh declared its independence, which caused millions to illegally flee the country into Assam, which lies on the border with Bangladesh.
In January, the Indian government approved the granting of citizenship to residents of Assam who came from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, so long as they are not Muslim. “Only individuals able to prove their citizenship prior to March 24, 1971, along with their descendants, will be included on the updated NRC list,” the USCIRF stated.
Now, residents stand in long lines to provide the papers that prove their link to the land, only that a quarter of the residents don’t know how to read or write, which hinders their ability to provide those papers.
The Indian state of Assam last month put out a draft of the National Register of Citizens that excluded 4 million people who claimed to be Indian, part of a wider campaign to “detect-delete-deport” as many as 20 million illegal immigrants from Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
The citizens’ register is part of a multipronged effort to remove illegals from Assam. The state has a long, porous border and has wrestled with illegal immigration for decades. But critics say the list effectively disenfranchises the millions of people who have been excluded, the majority of them Muslim.
Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that Indian citizens left off the list will have opportunities to prove their nationality, but that has not assuaged the fears of minorities, especially Muslims, who feel targeted by the policy.
It also means that Bangladesh — which is sheltering more than 1 million Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma, on its southern border — could see a new influx of stateless migrants from the north.
Efforts to deport Bangladeshis have a decades-long history in Assam. In 1985, India’s government signed the Assam Accord, which made all undocumented migrants to the state after 1971 illegal. Over the years, Bengali speakers have faced repeated rounds of xenophobic violence.
“We cannot compromise our identity,” said Samujjal Bhattacharjya, chief adviser to the All Assam Students Union, which has been at the forefront of an anti-immigrant campaign in the state. “We cannot feel like second-class citizens here.”
The government asked for legacy documents that show land ownership, voting records, or residency in India since before 1971.
Those who were born in India after 1971 or who don’t have legacy documents were asked to show links to parents or relatives who passed the test for citizenship — and that’s where many people, especially women, stumble. Many who sought Hussein’s help had proof that their fathers had voted in an election in 1966 but no birth certificates to show that they were their father’s daughters. Women are especially vulnerable because land is usually passed down to male heirs and so they don’t appear on documents proving ownership or inheritance.
Assam has seen waves of migration from present-day Bangladesh for generations, before India or Bangladesh existed as independent nations. Many Muslim Assamese, whose Bengali language resembles Bangladesh’s, claim their ancestors migrated here during World War II under a campaign by British colonial rulers to increase production on farms.
Another wave of migrants was given refuge in India during Bangladesh’s war for independence from Pakistan in 1971, in which the army’s brutal campaigns raised death tolls to more than 300,000, according to some estimates.
Prateek Hajela, the Supreme Court-mandated coordinator of the National Register of Citizens, said the list did not specifically target Muslims and that many Hindus were also among the unlisted.
“Whosoever has got left out has the opportunity to appeal,” he said, adding that the process was not flawed but instead “incomplete.”
“Whatever we have done is for the identification of citizens,” he said. “It is the result of the anti-immigration issues raised by the people of Assam.”