National Register of Citizens causes unease among Muslims in Assam

A man looks for his name on the first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Guwahati in the Indian state of Assam on January 1, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 January 2018
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National Register of Citizens causes unease among Muslims in Assam

NEW DELHI: After decades of contentious debate, the Indian government released the first draft of its National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the Northeastern state of Assam on Sunday. Nineteen million of the 33 million people who applied to be included on the list have been registered.
The main purpose of the Supreme Court-monitored NRC is to identify illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and take action against them.
But Assam’s Muslim community fears persecution from the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which came to power in the state last year. The BJP has always been vocal about illegal Muslim migrants in Assam.
To be included in the NRC in Assam, one has to produce documentary evidence that one’s family resided in India before March 24, 1971. Activists feel that this exercise will mean that many Muslims in the state will be regarded as illegal immigrants.
“I was born here, as were my parents. My father is a clerk in the district court, but how can I show the documents that we are the citizens of the country?” said Fazlu Rahman, an economics graduate from the Dhubri district of Assam.
Rahman told Arab News, “Many Muslim families, like me, are living in constant fear. I have to check whether my family is listed in the first draft or not.”
Aman Wadud, a human rights lawyer based in Guwahati, Assam’s largest city, told Arab News “I support the NRC but doubt the intention of the authorities who are conducting the survey.”
He explained: “My fear is that the people who are preparing the NRC are directly or indirectly under the control of the government. Since the ruling BJP’s politics is at stake on the issue of illegal immigrants, will they be fair in preparing the list? They might try to manipulate the NRC.”
Senior BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal, however, said “There is no (chance) of manipulation, it is a Supreme Court mandated list.”
He added, “The demography of Assam has changed completely in the last 40 years. There used to be only 5 percent Muslim population in 1947, which has risen to over 35 percent now. This consists largely of illegal immigrants who have come from Bangladesh.
“Through the NRC, we will be able to identify the illegal immigrants the moment they are isolated and their names are struck off from the voters list,” he continued. “It will alter the politics of the state altogether.”
Kishalay Bhattacharjee, a journalist from Assam, told Arab News, “The whole idea is to polarize and disenfranchise a sizable section of Muslims so that the BJP’s Hindu votes go up, and that will alter the electoral dynamics of the state.”
However, he added that Hindu Bengalis who migrated from Bangladesh will also be affected. “I see a situation like the 1960s when Assamese and Bengalis clashed with each other,” he said.
Guwahati-based scholar Mirza Zulfiqar Rahman agreed that the BJP was looking to benefit politically from the NRC. “The NRC itself is not an issue,” he told Arab News. “The real issue is how the entire process is being politicized by the BJP so as to expand its Hindu majoritarian agenda.”
Rahman described the NRC as “a playground” for the BJP’s “divisive politics.”
“Their wider agenda is to expand the fault line between Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims,” he said.
Assam has a long history of anti-immigrant agitation. In 1983, some 2,000 Bengali-speaking Muslims in Nellie were massacred in what is commonly regarded as a hate crime.


Russia’s Putin to discuss Golan Heights with Lebanon’s president

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago
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Russia’s Putin to discuss Golan Heights with Lebanon’s president

  • Kremlin spokesperson said the US decision could have negative effects on the peace in the region
  • Aoun hopes Russia will help mediate the situation with Syrian refugees in Lebanon

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the US decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at talks in Moscow later on Tuesday, the Kremlin said.

Their scheduled meeting came after US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation on Monday officially granting US recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

“Such decisions undoubtedly have negative consequences from the point of view of a settlement in the Middle East and the general atmosphere of political settlement in Syria,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Aoun arrived in Moscow on Monday and is expected to sit down for talks with Putin at the Kremlin later on Tuesday.

The presidents will also discuss Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The country has taken in over 1 million refugees, of what is equivalent of a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

Aoun said at a meeting Tuesday with Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, that Lebanon faces “a terrible economic fall-out” from the Syrian crisis and expressed hope that Russia would help his country repatriate the Syrians.

Lebanese politicians are divided over how to handle relations with the Syrian government and repatriation of refugees and look to Moscow to help to mediate that.