A controversial citizenship list in northeast India that has left almost 2 million people facing statelessness has been slammed by its political backers as those excluded from it face an uncertain future.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which runs Assam state where the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was collated, pushed for the list saying it was necessary to detect “foreign infiltrators.”
Critics said that the NRC process reflected the BJP’s goal to serve Hindus, with a large chunk of those excluded expected to be Muslims, but the strategy appears to have backfired with local party leaders saying that many Bengali-speaking Hindus, a key vote bank for the party, were left off the list.
“We do not trust this NRC. We are very unhappy,” Ranjeet Kumar Dass, BJP president in Assam told the Press Trust of India on Saturday.
“Many people with forged certificates were included,” Dass said, while 200,000 “genuine Indians” were left out.
Those left off have 120 days to appeal at special Foreigners Tribunals (FTs).
“If we see that FTs are delivering adverse judgements on the appeals by genuine Indian citizens ... we will bring in legislation and make an act to protect them,” Dass said.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the main opposition Indian National Congress, said that his party would support those who were wrongly excluded, including providing them with legal aid. Assam has long seen large influxes from elsewhere, including under British colonial rule and around Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence when millions fled into India.
Under the NRC, only those who could demonstrate they or their forebears were in India before 1971 would be included in the list.
Assam villagers told reporters about family members who were excluded even though they had similar documents to their relatives.
“Our children’s names are on the list, but my wife’s name is missing. She submitted all the documents and records... Why?” asked resident Jaynal Abudin.
Those left out, many of whom are poor and illiterate, have to navigate a long and expensive legal process that could include bringing their cases to court if they are rejected by a foreigner tribunal.
The NRC, which comes in the wake of New Delhi revoking the autonomy of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, has reinforced fears among India’s 170 million Muslim minority that they are being singled out by the central government.
The BJP has previously said that it wants the NRC to be replicated nationwide.
Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari on Saturday called for the list to be applied in the capital, saying it was needed to identify illegal immigrants.
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