Indian citizenship list excludes two million people

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Almost two million people from the state of Assam in northeast India have been excluded from the region’s citizenship list as part of an exercise intended to identify illegal immigrants.

A total of 31.1 million people were included in the list, with 1.9 million being left off, according a statement from the Assam government.

The list is being updated after 68 years, and has taken four years to complete, ending a 40-year demand that has sought detection of illegal immigrants.

Indian citizenship list excludes two million people
Almost two million people were left off the list

Critics of the Assam government worry that the list will be used to deport millions of minority Muslims who entered through neighbouring Bangladesh.

The list looks to identify everyone who can trace their roots back beyond 1971 – the year Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan.

Millions fled to Assam during Bangladesh’s war of independence. The list seeks to distinguish Indian nationals from illegal immigrants who came from Bangladesh in the following years.

Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) is unique to the state and was first prepared in 1951 and Saturday’s list includes the names of the people from the original register, as well as their descendants.

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Indian citizenship list excludes two million people
People were able to view the list on Saturday

It also includes anyone who has been on India’s electoral rolls up until 24 March 1971, or in any other document approved by the government – however many people in the region may not have proof or documentation that they have legally lived there since 1971.

“The entire process of NRC update has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner,” the registry authorities said in a statement.

However, the publication of the list has sparked fears among the two million missing names that they could lose their citizenship or be forced into long periods of detention but both central and state governments have announced that those left off the list will not be declared a foreigner.

Those not included on the list now have 120 days to appeal to the “Foreigner Tribunal”, which must then decided on the cases within six months.

Failed appeals could mean that they are punished in detention centres which are currently being built by the government.

Indian citizenship list excludes two million people
The government is building new detention centres

Human rights group Amnesty International has expressed its concern at the tribunals, urging the Assam government to to ensure it will “function with utmost transparency and are in line with the fair trial standards guaranteed under national and international law”.

Meanwhile, Assam’s finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the final version of the list did not contain the names of many people who came to India from Bangladesh before 1971, too.

The Indian Express newspaper quoted him as saying the list was “erroneous” as “more illegal migrants should have been excluded” and that his party’s fight to “excluded every single foreigner” from the state will carry on.

Many people fled the region or even took their own lives when the draft list was published earlier in the year, after it excluded more than four million people.

India’s home minister, Amit Shah, called Bangladeshi migrants “infiltrators” and “termites” and the government, led by Narendra Modi, has often vowed to roll out the plan across the country.

The state of Assam was placed on high alert at the weekend, and security forces were deployed to the region in anticipation of violence following the list’s publication.