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.
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 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.
Modi, under whose government Muslim extremism broke records in India, said the list must be revised to find and remove illegal migrants from the country.
If anything, this situation is reminiscent of what Myanmar did with the Rohingya community. They couldn’t solve the Rohingya Muslim crisis. The ethnic Muslim community is considered to be an outcast in its own country, despite living there for centuries. The community experienced human rights abuses in Myanmar, including abuses, arbitrary killings, arrests and rapes.
How Muslims are treated in an India governed by Modi isn’t much different.
And now the future of millions of Muslims hangs in the balance, because they couldn’t submit documents to the NRC to prove they are citizens. To be eligible for an Indian citizenship, these people need to prove they came to India before 1971. Only those whose names appear in the NRC of 1951 or in any of the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any of the other recognized official documents issued up until midnight of the same period were eligible to be included in the final draft.
Those who are left out may now be subjected to the same humanitarian crisis that was experienced by the Rohingya community that fled to Myanmar.
Indian officials claim that those who were left out of the draft list won’t face "immediate deportation or be arrested." They said that these people will be given time to provide proper documentations and file for corrections, however, the situation is different for many Muslims who already submitted documents – yet their names were not in the list.
A retired army officer, who served India for almost 30 years, putting his life in danger for three decades, couldn’t find his name in the final NRC draft.
"I'm hurt. This is what I had to see after serving the nation for three decades. I have no words to say," said Azmal Haque, 50, who retired as a junior commissioned officer in 2016.
"This is very unfortunate if the system runs like this. If it can happen to a retired army officer what will be the fate of common people," he lamented, explaining he had submitted all the documents but was still singled out of the list.
Later Assam police told the retired army officer that this was a case of mistaken identity. However, Haque’s son and daughter also failed to make it to the list.
Activists believe the NRC is being used to attack the state's Bengali community, largely made up of Muslims by the Hindu nationalists and Assamese hardliners.
"It is nothing but a conspiracy to commit atrocities," said Bengali campaigner Nazrul Ali Ahmed. "They are openly threatening to get rid of Muslims, and what happened to the Rohingya in Myanmar, could happen to us here.”
Moreover, thousands of people, who have been marked as "Doubtful" or "D" voters, won’t be processed by the NRC. There are almost 125,000 "D" voters and more than 131,000 cases pending in the Foreigners' Tribunal. In these cases, several people claimed of being marked as doubtful falsely and they faced harassment and discrimination for the same.
Thumbnail/Banner Image: Reuters