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Indian Citizenship Law Targets Assam Muslims for Ethnic Cleansing

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, October 9, 2019 

Assam Indian Muslims protesting citizenship law, file, October 2019  


Ethnic cleansing of Muslims in India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hinduvta government will reintroduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the coming session of Parliament, to provide Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, after their stay in India for seven years, instead of 12 years at present.

The contentious Bill had triggered massive protests in Assam and the rest of Northeast, was passed by the Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019, but the government did not table it in the Rajya Sabha as it did not have the required numbers in the Upper House to pass it, leading the Bill to lapse with the end of the term of the 16th Lok Sabha in May last.

On Thursday, Oct 3, there were demonstrations in Nagaland’s three towns Kohima, Itanagar and Imphal against the bill as millions of people face losing their citizenship in Assam where  the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was introduced in August 2019.

'Citizenship list' in Assam sparks fears among millions of Muslims

Tens of thousands of paramilitary personnel and police were deployed in India's border state of Assam on August 30, the eve of the publication of a citizenship register that could potentially leave millions of people stateless, many of them Muslims.

Those left off the National Register of Citizens (NRC) face losing their citizenship, being put indefinitely into camps or deported, to the alarm of U.N. human rights experts and activists.

The National Register for Citizens (NRC), a record of ‘legitimate’ Indian citizens living in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The ostensible objective is to weed out ‘Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. However, the numbers tell a chilling story… one of a conspiracy of ‘othering’ and exclusion.

A draft version of the registry that was released in June left off 4.1 million of the more than 32 million residents of Assam state. Some people fled, while others took their own lives. Those excluded are presumed to be foreigners unless they can prove otherwise at one of the hundreds of tribunals presided over by people who are not judges, according to the Turkish daily Sabah.

It's unclear what will happen to those ultimately branded as foreigners because India has no treaty with Bangladesh to deport them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, which is supported by Hindu nationalists, has said it could extend the exercise to other border states such as West Bengal.

The Muslim community in Assam has been subjected to multiple rights violations as they are considered foreigners by the Assamese community. Citizenship and illegal migration are volatile issues in tea-growing and oil-rich Assam about one-third of whom are Muslims.

It may be recalled, in the Nellie massacre in 1983, around 2,000 Muslims were killed in a violent protest by a native Assamese group.

UN raises concerns over exclusion of people from NRC in Assam

In June 2018, four UN Rapporteurs wrote a letter to the Indian Minister of External Affairs rising questions about possible discrimination against the Muslim minority

The letter was written by Fernand de Varennes (Special Rapporteur on minority issues), E. Tendayi Achiume (Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance), David Kaye (Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression) and Ahmed Shaheed (Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief).

The rapporteurs have raised questions about possible discrimination against the Bengali Muslim minority, the controversial May 2 order of the NRC State Co-ordinator that asked the names of family members of a declared foreigner to be kept pending from the NRC, as well as a host of other issues.

The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), human rights group, also called the NRC as discriminatory. The CJP says:

“After the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31, 2019 leaving out over 19 lakh (1.9 million) people, different human rights organizations, civil society members and concerned citizens are coming together to offer support to those excluded from the list. There are also concerns about the authorities announcing an NRC or an NPR (National Population Register) for all over India, especially since two detention centers are already coming up in Karnataka and Maharashtra.

“Excluded people in Assam belong to various linguistic, religious and ethnic minorities: Bengali Hindus, working class Muslims, members of the Gorkha community, people belonging to indigenous communities such as Koch Rajbongshis, married women and children. Many are unlettered and belong to economically marginalized, historically oppressed and persecuted communities.”

The heart of ethnic cleansing has moved to India

Barbara Crossette of Pass Blue wrote: “The Indian decision on Muslims in Assam is eerily similar to the Burmese military-backed, Buddhist-nationalist campaign in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim residents have been attacked over the last year and driven, or forced to flee, to Bangladesh or around Southeast Asia because they have been denied Burmese citizenship.

“Ethnic cleansing, now an international crime, is hardly a new phenomenon. In modern times, the world has witnessed the expulsion of tens of thousands of Asian Indians from Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin in 1972 and the killings of Bosniak Muslim men and the horrific sexual abuse of Muslim women in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 1990s. Thirty years ago, the Buddhist-majority Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan began expelling ethnic Nepalis who could not prove Bhutanese citizenship.”

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America ( email: asghazali2011 (@)


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