More than 4 million people were excluded from a draft list of citizens released on Monday by a census official for India’s northeastern border state of Assam, in a long-running campaign against immigrants, sparking uncertainty about their future.
Resource-rich Assam, which borders Muslim-majority Bangladesh, is in the grip of social and communal tension as residents campaign against illegal immigrants, a fight backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government.
Of more than 32 million people who submitted documents to prove their citizenship, the names of 4,007,707 were missing, Sailesh, India’s registrar general and census commissioner, told a televised news briefing in Assam’s main city of Guwahati.
“On completion of verification of all applicants, the complete draft is being published,” the government said in a statement.
Officials said security had been tightened across the state as thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims worry about being sent to detention centers or deported.
Soldiers stood guard at government offices, where thousands of people queued to check their names on the so-called National Register of Citizens (NRC), Reuters witnesses said.
The list was uploaded on a government website, but many in remote regions of Assam, who lack internet connectivity, traveled to government booths set up for the exercise to determine their status.
Four family members did not figure on the list, said Habibur Rahman, in the district of Sonitpur, about 200 km (124 miles) east of Guwahati.
“I had submitted all requisite documents,” he said. “I am surprised why the names of our family members were not there.”
Critics see the citizenship test as a measure supported by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) aimed at driving out minority Muslims.
“They are trying to isolate Muslims, the number that has come out is high and it is surprising,” said Ripun Bora, the state chief of the opposition Congress party that has espoused the cause of minorities. “We are going to fight it out.”
The BJP denies any bias, saying it opposes a policy of appeasement of any community. The state’s BJP spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, called the registration process impartial.
ASSAM A TINDERBOX
Assam has been racked by waves of violence over the years as residents, including tribal groups, have clashed with both Hindu and Muslim settlers, whom they accuse of plundering resources and taking away jobs.
Scores of people were chased down and killed by machete-armed mobs intent on hounding out Muslim immigrants in 1983.
There was no need to panic, Singh said on Monday, adding that those missing from the draft list could re-submit their papers.
“Some people are unnecessarily trying to create an atmosphere of fear,” the home minister told parliament. “I want to assure all that there is no need for any apprehension or fear.”
To be recognized as citizens, all residents of Assam had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in India before March 24, 1971.
Sailesh, the registrar, who uses one name, gave no breakup of those who had failed to make the draft list, adding: “Based on this draft, there is no question of anyone being taken to detention centers or foreigners’ tribunals.”
The government said those missing from the list would have a chance to resubmit documents between Aug. 30 and Sept. 28, and had the option to appeal at the foreigners’ tribunal.
“Although we have been told that we can apply once again to get our names enlisted in the citizenship list, we are worried about our future,” said Nur Banu, a 45-year-old woman from the Darrang district, whose family of six was missing from the list.
The first draft, released on Dec. 31, confirmed 19 million people were citizens. But the NRC told India’s top court this month that it would drop 150,000 people from that list – a third of them married women – mainly because they had provided false information or inadmissible documents.
Some Hindus were also not on Monday’s list.
The names of Samir Das, a Bengali-speaking Hindu businessman in Assam’s eastern town of Hojai, and his family, were missing, he told television journalists.
“We are genuine Indian citizens, and maybe there were some technical problems,” he said. “We will apply once again and submit whatever documents are required to prove our citizenship.”