Around 4 millions Bengalis – a linguistic minority in the north-eastern state of Assam – risk being stripped of their Indian citizenship, leaving their freedom in jeopardy.
The Indian government are revising the National Register of Citizens, or NRC in order to “root out” hordes of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, say the BBC, however activists say that the NRC is simply being used as an attack on the Muslim population in the states legitimate Bengali community, under the pretext of expelling Bangladeshi migrants.
The draft list, announced on Monday by Registrar General of India (RGI) said that of the 32.9 million people living in the state, only 28.9 million names have been included in the final draft.
At a time when the UN refugee agency is vowing to end statelessness, India is planning to add 4 million people to the 10 million already stateless in the world.
To prove their citizenship, residents of Assam must provide documentation showing that they came to the state before 1971, when Bangladesh became an independent country.
Many Bengalis, however, live in the wetlands along the Brahmaputra river, relocating when water levels rise. Their documentation, if they have any, is often inaccurate.
Bengali campaigner Nazrul Ali Ahmed is adamant that the NRC has an entirely different agenda than to simply get rid of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants – to commit atrocities.
“They are openly threatening to get rid of Muslims, and what happened to the Rohingya in Myanmar, could happen to us here,” he told the BBC.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, insists that the revision of the NRC is simply to make the Assamese people feel protected.
With 4 million people being rendered stateless from the NRC, Muslim leaders and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee have warned that this “witch hunt” will lead to “civil war and bloodbath.” The people who have been affected, many who have lived there for decades, will find themselves unable to vote, own property, or to access welfare.
Although the government has stated that those who’s names were missing from the list would have a chance to resubmit documents, and the option to appeal at the foreigners’ tribunal, the damage has already been done.
Banerjee later declared that the name of Indian politics is tolerance and democracy, two characteristics that are contradicted by the effective stripping of people’s citizenship.
“Who are they to decide who is Indian? Only the BJP people are Indian and all non-BJP people are non-Indian,” she said.
Intentional or not, the efforts of the government have created an atmosphere of exclusion and discrimination, and has brought into question the legitimacy of identity.
Who’s identity is counted, and who’s identity counts?
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