News Analysis |
More than four million people were excluded from a draft list of citizens released on Monday by a census official for India’s northeastern border state of Assam, in a long-running campaign against immigrants, sparking uncertainty about their future.
The number of deaths in this massive act of murder and carnage surpasses the combined death toll of the Babri Masjid riots and Gujarat pogrom.
Resource-rich Assam, which borders Muslim-majority Bangladesh, is in the grip of social and communal tension as residents campaign against illegal immigrants, a fight backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government.
“On completion of verification of all applicants, the complete draft is being published,” the government said in a statement.Officials said security had been tightened across the state as thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims worry about being sent to detention centers or deported.
Soldiers stood guard at government offices, where thousands of people queued to check their names on the so-called National Register of Citizens (NRC), Reuter’s witnesses said.The list was uploaded on a government website, but many in remote regions of Assam, who lack internet connectivity, travelled to government booths set up for the exercise to determine their status.
Critics see the citizenship test as a measure supported by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aimed at driving out minority Muslims.“They are trying to isolate Muslims, the number that has come out is high and it is surprising,” said Ripun Bora, the state chief of the opposition Congress party that has espoused the cause of minorities. “We are going to fight it out.”
The BJP denies any bias, saying it opposes a policy of appeasement of any community. The state’s BJP spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, called the registration process impartial.
Assam has been racked by waves of violence over the years as residents, including tribal groups, have clashed with both Hindu and Muslim settlers, whom they accuse of plundering resources and taking away jobs.Scores of people were chased down and killed by machete-armed mobs intent on hounding out Muslim immigrants in 1983. However, the government declared no need for panic and that those missing from the draft list could re-submit their papers.
Also the rise of Hindutva would help this oppression of minorities to carry on without political fallout as well as deterring any political will to stop the suppression of Muslims.
“Some people are unnecessarily trying to create an atmosphere of fear,” the home minister told parliament. “I want to assure all that there is no need for any apprehension or fear.”To be recognized as citizens, all residents of Assam had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in India before 24 March 1971.
The government said those missing from the list would have a chance to resubmit documents between 30 August and 28 September, and had the option to appeal at the foreigners’ tribunal.
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The first draft, released on 31 December, confirmed 19 million people were citizens. But the NRC told India’s top court this month that it would drop 150,000 people from that list – a third of them married women – mainly because they had provided false information or inadmissible documents.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric unfortunately is not something new to Assam where insurgency and a struggle for independence have been waging since the 1970s, at times violent and also in a peaceful way. Historically, Assam has never been a part of India proper while attempts were made to assimilate it into the rest of India by different powers. The Mughals were briefly successful before relinquishing control in the face of guerilla warfare by the local populace. The British were finally able to assimilate Assam into their Empire after defeating the Burmese and concluding the Treaty of Yandabo.
After the partition of Pakistan and India, Assam was made a part of India by the British. Many question the partition boundaries drawn by the Radcliffe commission who allegedly “drew borders in such a manner as to support British interests”. Assam at that time contained many different groups such as Assamese, Bodos, Bengali Muslims and others. Later on, Assam was further divided into modern day Assam, Nagaland, Meghlaya and Mizoram. This was done to fulfill “tribal aspirations”, however it has not been enough to end campaigns for freedom from the Indian state by the people of that area.
While currently the whole unrest in Assam has been blamed on the “illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants”, the reality has more to do with government failure and the spread of Hindutva extremism. The initial conflict started not because of the much propagated “Muslim infiltration” but between Hindu groups over linguistics resulting in language riots in the 1960s. During nearly the same period India was using this same area to host, train and support terrorist elements known as the MuktiBahini to wage cross border terror attacks in the former East Pakistan.
Officials said security had been tightened across the state as thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims worry about being sent to detention centers or deported.
Later on, it was used as a launching pad for the Shanti Bahini to destabilize the sovereign state of Bangladesh. Later on in the 70s, with turmoil in East Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh, tensions also erupted in the Assam Movement. This movement was “not because of the basic Assamese fear of losing jobs to Bengalis but losing their land”. The target of this movement despite widespread belief was not “Bangladeshi infiltrators” but “outsiders”.
his was the reason the first casualties were not Muslims but two Bodo brothers gunned down by police as they fled vigilantes of the All Assam Students Union who had come to evict them. However, while this movement detested all “outsiders”, it was not long before the local Muslims began to feel its wrath. Bengali Muslims, who had lived in Assam since the 15th century and even before, suddenly became illegal immigrants overnight as the bogey of the “Bangladeshi Infiltrator” was set up.
This was a label to be used as a pretext for inhuman atrocities to be committed upon them. The accumulation of nationalist feeling and social frustration culminated in the “Nellie massacre” in which according to unofficial estimates 5000 Muslims lost their lives. The number of deaths in this massive act of murder and carnage surpasses the combined death toll of the Babri Masjid riots and Gujarat pogrom. Yet despite the passage of 31 years not a single person has been punished and successive governments have turned a blind eye to this crime against humanity.
Such indifference suits the central Indian government. The Muslims of Assam are mainly impoverished peasants, usually at the end of the social ladder and thus do not have the power to be of concern. Also the rise of Hindutva would help this oppression of minorities to carry on without political fallout as well as deterring any political will to stop the suppression of Muslims.