About 1.9 million people could be left stateless after being left off of the northeastern Indian border state of Assam’s finalized National Register of Citizens. The state undertook the operation ostensibly to identify and eventually deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, but reports from news organizations like Al Jazeera and Scroll documented evidence of widespread bureaucratic errors and cases in which even members of the same families were excluded from the final list as their siblings or parents. The process is the result of a decades-old movement in the state that sought to define its membership along indingeous and Assamese ethnic, linguistic and cultural lines.
The fate of those that didn’t make it to the list is now an open question. Assam’s state government has publicly announced its intention to detain and eventually deport people it identifies as illegal immigrants, but the capacity of existing state detention centers is far below what would be required to detain all of those excluded from the list. India also doesn’t have an agreement with Bangladesh to take them in, since Bangladesh maintains that those affected are in fact rightful Indian citizens.
Members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP, have declared they wish to implement similar processes like the NRC nationwide to root out “termites,” as Amit Shah has said when describing illegal immigrants. The BJP has also previously introduced legislation in India’s Parliament to grant a pathway to citizenship for all South Asian Hindus, and now that it’s returned to power following this year’s elections with an even greater majority than before, it could be emboldened to finally pass the legislation. Doing so could grant citizenship to Hindus who were left off Assam’s official rolls, while leaving out Muslims.
Joining us to explain the NRC process, and to talk about what could happen next to the 1.9 million people that no longer count as Indian citizens, is journalist Soumya Shankar.