Nearly two million people in northeastern India were stateless on Saturday after the state of Assam published a list of citizenship aimed at eliminating "foreign infiltrators," in a process that the central government wants to replicate throughout the country.
A total of 31.1 million people were included in a National Register of Citizens (NRC), but 1.9 million were considered ineligible, according to the Assam government. A large part of the excluded were expected to be Muslims.
Assam has long seen large influxes from other places, even under British colonial rule and around the Bangladesh independence war of 1971, when millions fled to India.
For decades, this has made Assam a hotbed of interreligious and ethnic tensions, which increases the pressure for a lasting solution. Sporadic violence has included the 1983 massacre of about 2,000 people.
Security was reinforced in Assam before the launch of the NRC, with the entry of some 20,000 additional employees and meetings were banned in some places.
Only those who can prove that they or their ancestors were in India before 1971 could be included in the list.
But navigating the complex process is a great challenge for many in a region of high illiteracy where many lack documentation.
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The Indian nationalist party Bharatiya Janata of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi directs Assam, and critics say the NRC process reflects the BJP's goal of serving only its co-religionists.
In January, the lower house of India passed legislation granting citizenship to people who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan only six years ago, provided they are not Muslim.
This has fueled fears among the Muslim minority of 170 million in India for their future.
Interior Minister Amit Shah, Modi's right hand, called for the expulsion of "termites" and said before the throbbing victory of re-election of the BJP in May that "he would conduct a campaign across the country to return infiltrators."
On August 5, New Delhi suspended the autonomy of Kashmir administered by India. The Muslim majority region is currently in its fourth week of an almost total communications blackout.
Those left out of the NRC have 120 days to appeal in special Foreign Courts, which according to the government are expanding in number.
But activists say that the members of the court are often poorly qualified and subject to "performance" objectives, and that the process has been plagued with inconsistencies and errors.
The number of errors and the fact that those who were left out of the NRC had to include a large number of Bengali-speaking Hindus has also turned some in the BJP against the process.
"We have lost hope in the current form of the NRC," said Himanta Biswa Sarma, a local BJP minister on Friday. The party was already considering a "new strategy on how we can expel illegal immigrants."
Camps and suicides
Those who have been rejected by the courts and have exhausted all other legal channels can be declared foreigners and, in theory, be placed in one of the six detention centers with a view to possible deportation, although Bangladesh has not yet expressed its cooperation .
Ten new camps of this type have been announced. One is being built with space for 3,000 in Goalpara, west of the largest city of Assam, Guwahati.
The camps currently house 1,135 people, according to the state government, and have been operating for years.
Nur Mohammad, 65, spent almost 10 years in one of those camps until an order of the Supreme Court released him this month.
"I was born here and lived in Assam all my life," he told AFP this week. "I don't know if my name will be in the NRC or not." Media reports say there have been more than 40 suicides caused by concern about the NRC.
Samujjal Bhattacharya, of the All Assam Student Union (AASU), one of the main drivers of the NRC, said the search was necessary to protect the indigenous "children of the soil" of Assam.
"We are not ready to live here as second-class citizens in our own homeland," he said. AFP.
Prime Minister Imran tweets on the subject
Prime Minister Imran Khan has also expressed concern about the matter, saying: "Reports in the Indian and international media about the ethnic cleansing of Muslims by the Modi government should sound alarms around the world. that the illegal annexation of Kashmir is part of a broader policy for Muslim purposes. "
The tweet accompanied a link to a story that discussed India's measure of issuing a list of people who have been considered citizens of Assam.