13mn people living in Assam have been left off a controversial draft
list of citizens released yesterday by authorities, who are under
pressure to identify and expel illegal immigrants.
Assam has long struggled to curb immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh and is the only Indian state to compile a register of citizens.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) includes only 19mn of the state’s more than 32mn residents. It was prepared on the orders of the Supreme Court, which is hearing a series of claims to Indian citizenship from undocumented residents of the state.
But there are also concerns the Assam government, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), could use the issue to target the state’s Muslim minority.
Political leaders have vowed to deport anyone staying in the state illegally, although it is far from clear that Bangladesh would accept them.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Sunday sought to reassure anyone left off the draft list, saying every “bona fide Indian citizen” would eventually be included.
The BJP won elections in the state in 2016 after promising to root out illegal immigrants and protect the rights of indigenous groups.
Migrants have long been accused of illegally entering the state from Bangladesh and taking land, causing tensions with local people and sporadic outbreaks of communal violence.
Anyone living in Assam must now prove that their forebears appeared either in the state’s only previous register of citizens, compiled in 1951, or on any electoral roll published before March 1971 to be eligible for citizenship.
With millions anxious about their fate, the government strengthened security across the state before releasing the list.
Upamanyu Hazarika, a senior lawyer who has campaigned against illegal immigration in the state, said the process of acquiring citizenship had been dogged by corruption.
“The Supreme Court will also have to address the complicated fate of children born to Bangladeshi illegals on Indian soil after 1971,” he added.
The publication of the list evoked a mixed response across the state while there are reports that one person in the state’s Silchar allegedly committed suicide after not finding his name.
Making the announcement at a press conference, the registrar general of India, Sailesh said the names of the rest of the people are at various stages of verification.
The status of inclusion of names can be checked in the websites -- www.nrcassam.nic.in, www.assam.gov.in, www.assam.mygov.in and www.homeandpolitical.assam.gov.in, the Office of the State Coordinator of National Registration (NRC) posted on its official Twitter page.
Sailesh said the complete NRC will be published within 2018, adding that the first publication is only the part draft and that there is no need to worry if anyone’s name has not been included in it.
“It only means that his or her name is at some stage of verification,” he said.
In Cachar, police said that Hanif Khan’s body was found hanging in the backyard of his house. “Locals said Khan got afraid after his name was not found in the NRC and took the extreme step. However, we are trying to ascertain if there is some other reasons behind his decision,” said a police officer.
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