What more could you do to prove you love your country than stand chest deep in flood water and pay respect to your nation’s flag?
A picture, which featured a teacher and his students deep in flood waters saluting the Indian flag, went viral last year. It was called the epitome of Indian pride.
Now, one of the four individuals in the picture has been deemed a “foreigner” and faces possible deportation from the country.
Chest-deep in flood water, Haider Ali Khan saluted his nation’s tri-colored flag on India’s 70th independence anniversary in Assam.
Fast forward a year and he is fighting to “prove” he is an Indian.
India has reportedly excluded the names of 4,007,707 people from the draft National Register of Citizens in the north-eastern state of Assam. These people have been stripped of their citizenship with nowhere to go.
The tea-growing and oil-rich Indian state of Assam is home to almost 33 million people, a third of which are Muslims. Now their future is in jeopardy.
The NRC document was initially prepared in 1951 to distinguish Indian citizens from the millions of Muslims who came to India after Bangladesh declared itself a separate country from Pakistan in 1971. Those Muslims who fled after a bloody civil war to India for safety were termed as foreigners by India since then.
According to critics, this move will press forward the rights of India's Hindu majority at the expense of its many minorities, as promised by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party Modi was brought in power by a Hindu majority on the promise that they will expel the so-called "illegal foreigners" and protect the rights of indigenous groups.
The 9-year-old’s teacher, Tajen Sikdar, who also appears in the viral photo from last year, said the boy had submitted legacy data to the government which proved he was an Indian citizen.
For Haider, the legacy data apparently wasn’t “proof” enough. Surprisingly, his mother, brother and other relatives all made into the drafted list, despite presenting similar documents.
Now, Haider must appeal against the decision through a special tribunal or he faces probable separation from his family.
While those whose names have been left off the list may not face deportation, it is a real possibility. According to state officials, excluded individuals can lose rights to work and property or any government benefits.
Whether India will be actually able to deport the so called “foreigners” is another topic all together.
They have no such arrangement with Bangladesh and Dhaka insists the NRC is the country’s internal matter.
Haider’s case raised suspicions over the thoroughness of the process and how millions of people would be rendered “stateless.” Despite that, Hindu nationalist figures such as the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, Amit Shah, have argued the crackdown be extended to the neighboring state of West Bengal.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International issued a joint statement earlier this month over the issue.
“Assam has long sought to preserve its ethnic identity, but rendering millions of people stateless is not the answer,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the south Asia director at HRW. “Indian authorities need to move swiftly to ensure the rights of Muslims and other vulnerable communities in Assam are protected from statelessness.”
Like Haider, the future of millions of Muslims in Assam hangs in the balance.
Banner / Thumbnail : REUTERS/Adnan Abidi