India Leaves Nearly Two Million People Off Citizens’ List, Fate Uncertain

August 31, 2019Updated: August 31, 2019

NAGAON/GUWAHATI, India—Nearly 2 million people have been left off a list of citizens released on Aug. 31 in India’s northeastern state of Assam, after a mammoth years-long exercise to check illegal immigration from neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Officials checked documents submitted by roughly 33 million people for a draft released last year of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which left out more than 4 million residents of the state, many of them Hindu.

But 31.1 million people now make up the final list, with 1.9 million excluded, said Prateek Hajela, the coordinator of the state’s register.

“Any person who is not satisfied with the outcome of the claims and objections can file an appeal before the foreigners’ tribunals,” Hajela said in a statement, adding that everyone had received an adequate hearing.

Those excluded have 120 days to prove their citizenship at hundreds of regional quasi-judicial bodies known as foreigners’ tribunals. If ruled to be illegal immigrants there, they can appeal to higher courts.

India citizens check NRC list
Indian security personnel patrol on a road ahead of the publication of the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Kachari Para village, in Hojai district, northeastern state of Assam, India, on Aug. 30, 2019. (Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also rules the state, has had to change tack in recent months, because a large number of Hindus figured on the previous list.

“Names of many Indian citizens who migrated from Bangladesh as refugees prior to 1971 have not been included in the NRC,” Assam’s Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a Twitter post, adding that some illegal migrants had been wrongfully added.

Another BJP lawmaker, Shiladitya Deb, said he did not expect the list to be fair. “It will not have the names of many Bengali Hindus,” he said.

India woman waits to check NRC list
A woman waits to check her name on the draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), as she sits outside an NRC centre in Rupohi village, Nagaon district, northeastern state of Assam, India, on Aug. 31, 2019. (Anuwar Hazarika/Reuters)

The Supreme Court, which has monitored the process after it ordered preparation of the list, this month denied a request for more time from the government, which it said was needed for a partial re-verification after many Bangladeshis produced false or fabricated documents.

Separately, the BJP has been planning legislation to ease the way for non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries to become citizens. Some party members have publicly assured Hindus left off the list India would give them refuge.

To establish citizenship, people in Assam have had to furnish proof of residence in India going back decades, before March 24, 1971, the year in which hundreds of thousands of people fled Bangladesh, as it split off from Pakistan.

State officials say they do not know the eventual fate of those finally adjudged foreigners. Bangladesh has not committed to accepting them.

More than 1,000 people are being held in Assam’s six detention centers for illegal immigrants and the state wants to set up more centers.

By Zeba Siddiqui and Zarir Hussain