Almost 2 million people have been left off India’s recently updated National Register of Citizens in the Northern State of Assam, recent news reports say.
The final update of the NRC (National Register of Citizens) was released on Saturday, as many citizens in the North-Eastern state of Assam waited anxiously to hear their fate. The recent update has meant that approximately 1.9 million Indians within the state now face statelessness, with only 120 days to be able to appeal against their exclusion from the register.
What is the NRC and what began the issue?
The NRC was originally created in 1951 to determine who was born in Assam and who were migrants from Bangladesh, however it has left around 33 million Indians in the North-Eastern state fighting to prove their origins in the state before March 1971 over the past 4 years, including residency and parentage.
It has been reported that the register was updated for the first time within the last week and has been linked to the Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s rise to power since 2014. Prime Minister Modi is head of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India, which has had aims to crack down on the number of Muslims in the country to create a specifically Indian national identity. Modi has also long been against illegal immigration, another factor leading to his prioritisation of the NRC within the last few years of his term.
Why Assam in particular?
Asaam is one of India’s most multi-ethnic states, with a third of the state’s 32 million residents being Muslim. There are also a number of Bengali and Assamese speaking Hindus, and a range of tribespeople. The area has also been home to a number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, which has concerned governments in India for several years. In 2016 Modi’s government reported that 20 million illegal Bangladeshi’s were living in India. However, the recent release of the NRC has meant that a ‘witch-hunt’ into India’s ethnic minorities could occur.
What could happen next for those left off the list?
For many left off the list it could be an incredibly anxious wait to hear whether they will be able to regain citizenship again. With the high numbers, it is uncertain whether all of those who appeal will have their appeals addressed by a court in India. There are fears among those that have been left off that they could be separated from their families and face detainment, with thousands already being placed in camps inside the state’s prisons. Those affected will also no longer be able to vote or access government services. However, it is believed that deportation is not yet an option for the country.
With the crisis only in its early days and problems already occurring, it is likely that such predictions could take place. Many lawyers in the country have openly criticised the situation saying that many people have been wrongly excluded due to minor clerical errors from many years ago. Whether India has or wants to provide the legal resources is another question.
Many human rights groups have also expressed concern that the decision may cause a humanitarian crisis. The executive director of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, recently made a statement saying “Assam is on the brink of a crisis which would not only lead to a loss of nationality and liberty of a large group of people but also erosion of their basic rights — severely affecting the lives of generations to come,”.