Citizenship list in Indian state leaves out almost 2 mln, risking statelessness
India on Saturday published the final citizenship list in the state of Assam that excluded nearly two million people amid fears they could be rendered stateless. This comes after a mammoth years-long exercise to check illegal immigration that critics said targeted the region's Muslim minority.
The list, known as the National Register of Citizens, intends to identify legal residents and weed out illegal immigrants from the state.
A total of 31.1 million people were included in the list, leaving out 1.9 million people, according to a statement from the Assam government.
The controversial list has ended the wait of millions of Assam residents who will now find out whether they are Indians or "foreigners." Critics have viewed the exercise as an attempt to deport millions of minority Muslims, many of whom have entered India from neighboring Bangladesh.
"The entire process of NRC update has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner," said a statement issued by the register authorities.
A steady trickle of people lined up to check their names on the final citizenship list in Buraburi village outside one of the many offices that have been set up across Assam for residents to verify the status of their citizenship applications.
Mijanur Rahman, a 47-year-old farmer, found himself, his 21-year-old son, and two of his daughters aged 16 and 14 included in the list. However, his wife and his other three daughters - all under the age of 10 - were excluded.
"I am really worried. We will see what the government does now. Maybe they will offer some help," a teary eyed Rahman told The Associated Press.
The NRC list is unique to Assam and was first prepared in 1951. It will include those whose names appeared in the 1951 document and their descendants. The list also includes those who had been on India's electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any other document approved by the central government.
The government said it carried out the mammoth exercise to detect and deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. But the final publication of the citizenship list has stoked fear of loss of citizenship and long periods of detention.
The options of those left out of the list include appealing to the Foreigner Tribunals within 120 days of Saturday's announcement. The tribunals must decide on the cases within six months. If an appeal fails, the consequences include punishment in detention centers that are currently being set up by the government.
A draft citizenship list that was published last year excluded more than four million people, after which many either fled the state or even took their lives in exasperation.
India's powerful Home Minister Amit Shah has earlier called Bangladeshi migrants "infiltrators" and "termites."
The Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which fully backs the citizenship project in Assam, has often vowed to roll out a similar plan nationwide.
Earlier this summer, India's Supreme Court criticized the central government and Assam's state government, saying thousands of people who had been declared foreigners over the years had disappeared.
Assam, with a population of 33 million people, is in a state of high alert and additional security forces have been deployed in anticipation of violence following the publication of the list.