Two million peoples face prospect of becoming stateless in India

ISLAMABAD, Aug 31 (APP):About two million people living in India’s northeastern state of Assam face the unnerving prospect of becoming stateless as authorities wind down a mammoth process to identify illegal immigrants.

Their names did not appear on an updated citizens’ register published Saturday. Human right activists say they would potentially add up to the largest number of people effectively stripped of their citizenship, Voice of America reported.

The state government has said they will be given the opportunity to prove that they are Indian citizens before foreigners’ tribunals, but many will find it difficult to navigate the legal process as they are poor and marginalized.

In an unprecedented exercise that began four years ago, the state’s 33 million people were called on to show documentary evidence that they or their ancestors had resided in India before 1971.

Mandated by the Supreme Court, it aimed to weed out migrants from neighboring Bangladesh – an emotive issue that had triggered communal strife in the past in a border state where local communities complained of losing jobs and land to migrants.

The controversial exercise was backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party which has vowed to end “illegal infiltration.” It left millions in one of the country’s poorest states scrambling to produce documents dating back five decades to prove their Indian heritage. Critics slammed the process as one that targeted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.

It is unclear what happens next to the two million who now do not figure in the state’s citizens list. The number is half of the four million who were excluded from a draft list published last year, but is still massive.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in a video message on Friday said that no one excluded from the final list of the National Register of Citizens would be treated as a foreigner until their appeal was heard by a foreigners tribunal. They have been given 120 days to make an appeal and promised legal aid.

The government says it will expand the number of tribunals from 200 to 1000 and will not send people to detention centers.