Assamese Muslims are being Denied Indian Citizenship
By Sajjjad Shaukat
Under the mask of democracy and secularism, Indian subsequent regimes dominated by politicians from the Hindi heartland—Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) have been using brutal tactics mercilessly in suppressing the insurgencies and separatist movements in various regions and provinces such as Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura etc. including Maoists (Naxalite). These movements are the result of political, social, economic and religious justices which have been accelerated by the BJP-led extremist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party won the elections in 2014 on the basis of anti-Muslim slogans.
Besides, assaults on the Muslims in various parts of India, BJP-led alliance of the extremist parties have been targeting the 4 million Assamese Muslims who are being denied Indian citizenship under National Register of Citizens (NRC), introduced by the BJP government, as they are dubbed as Bangladeshi-speaking Muslims. As per adopted strategy, BJP is pushing NRC as an use of national security and crucial solution to the problem of unemployment.
In this regard, under the caption, “40 Lakh People Excluded From Citizen’s Register In Assam, Thousands Of Bengali-Speaking Muslims Fear Deportation”, Huffington Post wrote on July 30, 2018: “India said on Monday [July 30, 2018] it had excluded more than four million people from a draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam who could not produce valid documents, a move that has sparked fears about the future of thousands in the region. Security has been tightened across the state, which borders Bangladesh, as thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims worry about being sent to detention centres or deported. The tea-rich state of Assam has long been the centre of social and communal tensions with locals campaigning against illegal immigrants, a fight that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government has championed. In 1983, scores of people were chased down and killed by machete-armed…Critics see the citizenship test as another measure supported by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aimed at minority Muslims…If the government has decided to brand us foreigners what can we do?, said Abdul Suban, 60, a Bengali-speaking Muslim, earlier. The NRC is trying to finish us off. Our people have died here, but we will not leave this place.”
Under the title “Assam register: Four million risk losing Indian citizenship”, BBC said on July 30, this year: “India has published a list which effectively strips about four million people in the north-eastern state of Assam of their citizenship. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh declared independence. India says the process is needed to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants. But it has sparked fears of a witch hunt against Assam’s ethnic minorities. More than 32 million people submitted documents to the NRC to prove they were citizens, but four million of them have been excluded from the published list. Many Bengalis a linguistic minority in Assam-are worried they will be deported en masse. Hasitun Nissa, who spoke to the BBC’s Joe Miller said, It is where the 47-year-old schoolteacher spent her childhood, where she studied, where she got married and where she had her four children. She said her family arrived in India before 1971 but she expected to be stripped of her Indian citizenship and feared her land rights, voting rights and freedom would be in peril. Activists say the NRC is now being used as a pretext for a two-pronged attack-by Hindu nationalists and Assamese hardliners-on the state’s Bengali community, a large portion of whom are Muslims. Like Hasitun, many Bengalis live in the wetlands dotted along the Bramaputra river, moving around when water levels rise…Bengali campaigner Nazrul Ali Ahmed is adamant that the NRC is…nothing but a conspiracy to commit atrocities, he told the BBC. They are openly threatening to get rid of Muslims, and what happened to the Rohingya in Myanmar, could happen to us here…The latest move to make millions of people stateless overnight has sparked fears of violence in what is already a tinderbox state. Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, has insisted in the past that illegal Muslim immigrants will be deported. But neighbouring Bangladesh will definitely not accede to such a request. Chances are India will end up creating the newest cohort of stateless people, raising the spectre of a homegrown crisis that will echo the Rohingya people who fled Myanmar for Bangladesh. No deportation procedures have been put in place, and Bangladesh, already burdened by the Rohingya crisis, has shown no sign of being open to accepting a raft of new refugees.”
However, many Muslims of Assam-bloggers and writers have been highlighting the issue through media, various websites, including social media before the international community and the Muslim world over the issue, as Assam Muslims are being denied of their basic right of citizenship.
According to them, “The updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) list is a move to target Assam’s Muslim population on the pretext of weeding out Bangladeshi migrants. In Karimganj, a district bordering Bangladesh, 91.53% made it through in the final NRC draft. This is a marked increase compared to the first draft when 38% were included. Of the 13, 24,096 applicants 12, 11,997 have been included in the final NRC draft. There are so many people there in the jail, including women. Please consider this case on humanitarian grounds. Does central government have any rehabilitation package for them? Divide and rule policy will finish the country. This government will never spoke to us (Bengal and Bangladesh). Assam people are helpless and cannot connect with us also. This is not only Bengali speaking people, of course. There are so many Biharis. Will they not protest if they are tortured? I cannot contact Bangladesh as it is an external affairs situation and is not my matter. But I will raise the issue, which Bangladesh will also oppose. This is a wrong decision and will affect the entire country — all caste, creed and community. If I get the opportunity, I will meet home minister Rajnath Singh, says Mamata Banerjee on NRC Assam issue…situation in Assam is fragile and “human rights and democratic rights” of the people of the state are at stake….Jaiprakash Narayan Yadav (SP) said the move would lead to “hatred” and “violence” in Assam and dubbed it as a “war on people” who are living in the state for the last 40 years.”
In this respect, in a well-known website Rediff Com, Nibir Deka wrote on August 14, 2018, “The story got another twist. The districts where Bengali was spoken witnessed a surge in Muslim population. While leaders of the Assam movement saw their struggle as linguistic where many Muslims also died for the cause (the official martyrs list of the Assam agitation as published in assamaccord.assam.gov.in cites the names of various Muslim leaders who had died during the struggle), emphasis on the religious element of the problem came to the fore when the BJP brought the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which envisaged giving citizenship to non-Muslim refugees who sought a safe haven in India from religious persecution in their countries. The Bill was opposed by all Assam agitation leaders barring the BJP…According to a notification of the ministry of home affairs in March this year, there is no specific treaty or agreement with the government of Bangladesh regarding repatriation of its citizens who had entered India illegally. This puts a question mark on the future of the people who will be declared ‘illegal’ after the NRC finishes its work. As they are–in all likelihood–going to be Bengali-speaking Muslims, Mamata Banerjee is the one who is most alarmed, because it is to West Bengal that they will shift. But she also sees a political opportunity in playing minority politics. The BJP can also see a bigger project of using the citizenship issue to extend it from a nationalities issue to a patriotism issue.”
It is notable that the issue of the Muslims of Assam reminds Bangladeshi Muslims of Indian highhandedness and it could create a wedge between Bangladesh and India.
Nevertheless, the leaders of the Western countries, their media and human rights groups must take notice of the plight of Assam’s Muslims who are being targeting by the fundamentalist regime of the BJP and are being denied of their basic right of the Indian citizenship.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations