Villagers wait outside a National Register of Citizens (NRC) verification centre in Morigaon district of Assam (Picture: EPA) Read more: https://metro.co.uk/2018/07/31/fears-violence-deportation-4000000-people-stripped-indian-citizenship-7782434/?ito=cbshare Twitter: https://twitter.com/MetroUK | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetroUK/
Fears are growing about the fate of more than four million people effectively rendered ‘stateless’ by new laws in India. Millions were left off a list in northeast India yesterday in a move that has effectively stripped them of their citizenships. Campaigners have likened them to the Rohingya minority who have been driven out of Myanmar and fear more religious persecution in the unstable region.
There are new fears over land and voting rights for those affected and charity groups say they are now at risk of violence or detention in camps. ‘Millions have now been rendered stateless,’ Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said. ‘There are grave reasons for concern that those without proper documentation will be targeted,’ she said, warning that ‘India should not become another Myanmar or United States’.
India says it is trying to weed out illegal Bangladeshis from the state of Assam and has removed four million names from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on suspicion they are illegal. People are now being asked to prove that they or their parents arrived before 24th March 1971, the day before Bangladesh declared itself an independent country from Pakistan and triggered a bitter war. If they can’t, they are expected to have to enter into lengthy appeals process, which will leave them in limbo for years.
There are also fears that in this time they could be deported to Bangladesh or kept away from their families in migrant camps. Assam in India lies on the border with Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to India from Bangladesh during the war of independence from Pakistan in the early 1970s and most settled in Assam.
For decades, the tea-rich state of 33 million people has been racked by waves of violence. Residents, including indigenous tribes, have clashed with both Hindu and Muslim settlers, whom they accuse of plundering resources and taking away jobs. Indian Prime Minister right-wing Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government says the crackdown is needed to tackle illegal immigration.
India’s registrar general Shailesh, who only goes by one name, said appeals can be lodged by the end of September along with supporting documentation. He added: ‘Adequate and ample scope will be given to people for making objections. No genuine Indian citizen should have any fear.’ However that is not enough for campaigners who are worried that Muslims in Assam are being persecuted.
Hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslims whose nationality is suspect are already living in half a dozen detention camps in Assam state. Critics also say it is an attempt by Prime Minister Modi to give greater privilege to Hindus ahead of next year’s general election. The area is already extremely unstable.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees driven out of Myanmar have now settled in Bangladesh. Human rights observers say the stripping of citizenship to the Assam people will create another stateless community of Muslims to live in existence besides the Rohingya. Ricken Patel of campaign group Avaaz said it ‘bears stark parallels with Myanmar’s removal of Rohingya rights and protections.’
He added: ‘The international community is fighting to stop a process that is alarmingly on track to potentially render millions of people stateless, and vulnerable to indefinite detention, violence or worse.’ Bengali campaigner Nazrul Ali Ahmed is adamant that the NRC is simply a Hindu witch hunt against ethnic minorities. ‘It is nothing but a conspiracy to commit atrocities,’ he told the BBC. ‘They are openly threatening to get rid of Muslims, and what happened to the Rohingya in Myanmar, could happen to us here.’