Unwanted in Assam

India stripped millions of its citizens of their citizenship by deleting them from the National Register of Citizens

Editorial August 01, 2018

Assam, a state of India, achieved its statehood on 26th January 1960 and is famous for its varieties of tea and silk — and now for the disenfranchisement and possible expulsion of four million people who regard it as their home. On Monday 30th July India effectively stripped millions of its citizens of their citizenship by deleting them from the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is no coincidence that the majority of those whose names have been removed are Muslims. To be allowed to stay in Assam a person will now have to prove that they were in Assam before 1971 when millions were on the move due to the Bangladesh war of independence. There are strong suspicions that this is a move by the right-wing nationalists allied to the Modi government which seeks to advance the rights of Hindus — already a massive majority — at the expense of the many minorities in the country of which Muslims are the largest.

The justification for the move by the Indian government is to ‘root out’ illegal immigrants and that there is a well-developed appeal process for those that wish to avail themselves of it. Given that the benchmark is already declared a requirement of proofs that are unlikely to have survived even if they existed prior to 1971, the chances of a successful appeal have to be slim at best.

The definitive NRC is due to be published in December and the Indian government has attempted to allay concerns by saying that there was no question of setting up detention camps of forced expulsions — which of course means that there is. The situation has been compared to that of the Rohingya in Myanmar and there are clear parallels. There are concerns that yet another humanitarian crisis is in the offing, again involving a marginalised and stigmatised community that have lived for generations in the place they call ‘home’. Once again the world looks on in silence.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2018.

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