Fear grips ‘stateless’ millions in India’s Assam

Some four million people were left off a draft National Citizens Register (NRC) published in July in the northeastern state of Assam. (AFP)
Updated 21 December 2018
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Fear grips ‘stateless’ millions in India’s Assam

  • Those born in Assam after 1971 have to prove that their parents or grandparents entered India before that
  • Getting hold of documents in a state where many are illiterate and lack even basic papers is a challenge

KARAIBIL, India: Indian farmer Nur Mohammed can barely sleep for worrying that his wife might soon be made stateless, put in a detention camp and deported.
She is one of four million people left off a draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) published in July in the northeastern state of Assam — provoking accusations of discrimination against Muslim residents and of stoking ethnic tensions.
Those not on the list, who could now face being effectively stripped of their Indian citizenship and rights, can challenge their omission by providing certain documents to prove they are legal residents — but many lack the necessary paperwork, and the December 31 deadline is looming.
“We are genuine Indian citizens,” said Mohammed, 66, his voice low and quivering.
“While my name, the names of my two sons and daughter appeared in the list, the name of my wife is not there,” he told AFP.
The draft list excludes all those unable to prove they were in the state before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh’s war of independence and sought refuge in Assam and elsewhere.
Those born in Assam after 1971 have to prove that their parents or grandparents entered India before that.
But getting hold of documents in a state where many are illiterate and lack even basic papers is a challenge.
Less than two weeks before the deadline, only around 1.5 million people left off the draft list have submitted claims to be included, the Assam government says.
“There is large-scale illiteracy in our area, people don’t have access even to basic education,” said Akram Hussain, an activist helping people file claims.
“They have been living like this for ages but now all of a sudden they are being asked to bring documents to prove their identity.”
Mohammed’s wife Yarjan Nesa submitted a certificate issued by the head of her village in the rural district of Kamrup to establish her link with her mother, but it was rejected.
“I do not have any other document as I have never been to school or never had a bank account anywhere,” she said.
Assam has seen many major influxes in India’s turbulent history, beginning when the British colonial rulers brought in Bengalis to work on tea plantations.
Immigration continued after independence in 1947, and today Bengali speakers make up around 30 percent of Assam’s 31 million people.
Tensions in the ethnic and religious melting pot have at times boiled over into violence — 2,000 Bengalis were butchered in one day in 1983 — and have increased pressure for a lasting political solution.
The first, failed, attempt at screening in Assam was made in 1951.
In 2008, a prominent Assamese campaigner lobbied India’s Supreme Court — six years later the court ordered the federal government to update its citizens register.
Critics say the process is being used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party — which runs Assam — to stoke anti-Muslim feelings ahead of elections in 2019.
Some two-thirds of the Bengalis are Muslim, the rest Hindu. Assamese speakers, the largest community, are mostly Hindu.
UN special rapporteurs expressed “serious concerns” in a recent letter to the Indian government about the process “stoking ethnic tensions.”
Abdul Kalam Azad, a local researcher and activist, says he has recorded at least 26 related suicides since the NRC process began in 2015. The impact on mental health is set to be a “huge problem,” he told AFP.
Modi’s government has said no “genuine” Indian would be left off the register but Amit Shah, Modi’s right-hand man, has said India must act against “infiltrators who were eating the country like termites.”
Activists say claims get rejected due to minor errors and that even some officials are confused.
Bengali-speaker Baharjan Nesa, 88, said she was left off with her son and daughter-in-law even though she has a copy of a 1954 Indian electoral roll featuring her father’s name.
Others omitted include Hajjong people who arrived in the 1960s from what is now Bangladesh and were given refugee status.
Once the December 31 deadline has passed, a “verification” process begins in February.
What will happen to those who still don’t make the cut remains to be seen — with some hard-liners calling for mass deportations.
Ominously, 1,037 people including 31 minors have already been put in six cramped detention camps. Reports say a seventh camp with capacity for 3,000 people is being built.
Bangladesh has stated that it will not accept any deportees and Modi has reportedly told Dhaka that this is not on the cards.
But even if people are not moved en masse to camps or ejected, becoming effectively stateless could make normal life — accessing health care or education — much tougher.
“Am I also going to be detained?” said Baharjan Nea. “I don’t know what to do. Where do I get another document from?“


Preachers of Hate: Arab News launches series to expose hate-mongers from all religions

Updated 16 min 36 sec ago
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Preachers of Hate: Arab News launches series to expose hate-mongers from all religions

  • Daesh may be defeated, but the bigoted ideas that fueled their extremism live on
  • Campaign could not be more timely, with a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes since Christchurch attacks

RIYADH: Dozens of Daesh militants emerged from tunnels to surrender to Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria on Sunday, a day after their “caliphate” was declared defeated.

Men filed out of the battered Daesh encampment in the riverside village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border to board pickup trucks. “They are fighters who came out of tunnels and surrendered today,” Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Jiaker Amed said. “Some others could still be hiding inside.”

World leaders hail Saturday’s capture of the last shred of land controlled by Daesh in Syria, but the top foreign affairs official for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region warned that Daesh captives still posed a threat.

“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Abdel Karim Omar said. “Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation.”

 While the terrorists have a suffered a defeat, the pernicious ideologies that drive them, and the hate speech that fuels those ideologies, live on. For that reason Arab News today launches Preachers of Hate — a weekly series, published in print and online, in which we profile, contextualize and analyze extremist preachers from all religions, backgrounds and nationalities.



In the coming weeks, our subjects will include the Saudi cleric Safar Al-Hawali, the Egyptian preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the American-Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane, the Yemeni militia leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, and the US pastor Terry Jones, among others.

The series begins today with an investigation into the background of Brenton Tarrant, the Australian white supremacist who shot dead 50 people in a terrorist attack 10 days ago on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tarrant is not just a terrorist, but is himself a Preacher of Hate, author of a ranting manifesto that attempts to justify his behavior. How did a shy, quiet boy from rural New South Wales turn into a hate-filled gunman intent on killing Muslims? The answers may surprise you.

Our series could not be more timely — anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK have soared by almost 600 percent since the Christchurch attack, it was revealed on Sunday.

The charity Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents, said almost all of the increase comprised “language, symbols or actions linked to the Christchurch attacks.”

“Cases included people making gestures of pointing a pistol at Muslim women and comments about British Muslims and an association with actions taken by the terrorist in New Zealand,” the charity said.

“The spike shows a troubling rise after Muslims were murdered in New Zealand,” said Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA. “Figures have risen over 590 percent since New Zealand in comparison to the week just before the attack.