Millions of Assam Muslims fear for future - GulfToday

Millions of Assam Muslims fear for future


Mohammed Rehat Ali holds a SC order declaring him an Indian citizen as he stands with his wife Joiful Begum at his home in Kamrup district. Agence France-Presse

Born in India 71 years ago, Mohammed Rehat Ali is still traumatised a month after his release from a detention camp, struggling to shake off a fear for the future shared by millions − many of them Muslims − under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The push to render stateless people described as “infiltrators” by Modi’s right-hand man has been limited to the north-eastern state of Assam, but his Hindu nationalist party wants to replicate it nationwide, alarming Muslims, who critics say are the real focus.

“I have never expected that I would have to prove my citizenship. I am an Indian citizen, we are born here in Assam and living here for generations,” Ali, an illiterate farmer, said.

But when he was unable to produce the required documents, a “Foreigners’ Tribunal” declared him a Bangladeshi and sent him to a detention camp.

After three years, his sons secured his release by appealing to a higher court, but only after selling their land and cattle to raise legal fees.

He is one of the lucky ones.

Over four million others in the state of 33 million − where immigration has been a hot topic since British colonial rule − were left off a draft “National Register of Citizens” (NRC) last July.

They could not prove that they or their parents or grandparents were in Assam before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh’s war of independence into India.

Those excluded have been able to appeal, but up to two million people could be left off a final list due at the end of this month, reports say.

Understanding the process and producing the necessary documents in a state where many are illiterate and lack even basic papers is a nightmare for many.

One case that for critics encapsulated the absurdity was Sona Ullah, a retired Indian army captain and a veteran of the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan.

He was sent to a detention camp in May due to a mismatch in his papers. Police even seized his old uniform and he was only granted interim bail after an outcry.  Those who fail to make the cut have to go to one of around 100 “Foreigners Tribunals” currently in place. Another 200 are being set up.

These are a lottery however, campaigners say, and the staff often unqualified.

According to online magazine Scroll, Assam’s coalition government, which is led by Modi’s party, has removed tribunal members if their “performance” falls short.

Agence France-Presse

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