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Why India Just Stripped 1.9 Million People of Citizenship

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Assam, India—On the morning of August 31, Abhishek nervously logged onto a portal hosted by the government of Assam, a state in northeastern India. Millions of others, keen for the same information, flooded the site, crashing it. When the site came back online, Abhishek got an answer to a question that had worried him for weeks: Was his name on the updated version of the National Register of Citizens (NRC)?

Abhishek, whose name The Nation has changed to protect his safety, was shocked to find that neither his nor his father’s names were on the list. As of that moment, the Assam government considered them illegal migrants, and if they didn’t prove otherwise on appeal, it could detain and deport them.

Abhishek is one of 1.9 million residents of Assam who were left off the updated NRC and effectively stripped of their citizenship. Early analysis of those excluded shows that the vast majority, like Abhishek and his father, are part of the Bengali community. The specific religious breakdown remains unknown, but it includes both Muslims and Hindus.

Those left off the list now have 120 days to appeal the decision and demonstrate their roots before Foreigners Tribunals run by the Ministry of Home Affairs. These people will need new documents to make their case, but this will be impossible for many. There is a high rate of illiteracy, and papers confirming decades-long ties to Assam don’t always exist.

As for what the people excluded from the list will do, especially if they lose their appeal, Acharya of the University of Delhi is not encouraged. “I think they’ll all be moved to detention centers, because India is not serious about deporting all these people to Bangladesh and Bangladesh won’t take them anyway. These people could be in detention for years.” It has been widely reported that authorities in Assam are planning to build new detention facilities.

International watchdogs, including the UN, Amnesty International, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, among others, have condemned the NRC update, which began in 2013. In the six years of the update process, roughly 33 million people in Assam were required to prove they have valid roots in the state prior to March of 1971, the date of the start of the Bangladesh War of Independence when a large influx of migrants came to India, especially through Assam.

The government of Assam did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but it has said that those left off the list did not make a strong enough case for their Indian roots or tried to use fake documents. In a recent statement, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah said that the state would “provide legal aid to the needy people amongst those excluded from NRC.” That language is a step back from last February, when he said at a public event that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party “will not allow Assam to become second Kashmir. We will deport each and every infiltrator with the help of NRC.”

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Thanks !

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