India's Ethnic Cleansing
We must act now, together, in numbers, before India renders millions of people non-citizens creating yet another refugee crisis the subcontinent cannot handle.
Assam a state in northeastern India, bordering Bangladesh has a storm coming. Tensions continue to rise as the final draft of the National Register of Citizens is set to be released by the end of this month.
In 1947 with the introduction of colonial borders, came the end to “free movement” within the subcontinent. As Sylhet was asked to vote in a referendum in 1947 about whether they would want to continue being a part of Assam and therefore India, or part of East Pakistan. Assam saw Sylhet’s transfer to East Pakistan as a positive move, making their dreams of a linguistically homogeneous region more possible. Migration between Bangladesh and Assam was still taking place, most muslim peasants came from the districts of Mymensingh, Rangpur and Sylhet.
In 1951 Assam prepared The National Register of Citizens, where it contained the names of “Indian” citizens of Assam. In 1971 a huge number of refugees from East Pakistan fled to Assam. A huge number of Sylheti Hindus crossed over the border in fear of persecution. In 1979 the All Assam Student Union and All Assam Gan Sangram Parishad started a movement against what they labelled as “illegal migrants”. The powerful movement went on for six years resulting in a political party established to deal with illegal immigrants and more importantly resulted in an Assam Accord signed between both AASU and AAGSP and the government of India in 1985. The Accord stated that all the relatives of people listed in the 1951 NRC along with the foreign migrants registered between 1961 and the midnight of 24th March 1971 will be accepted as legal residents of Assam and therefore India. The specific cut of date ultimately rendered all those refugees who fled violence and genocide in East Pakistan stateless.
After Indira Gandhi's decision to give 4 million migrants from Bangladesh the right to vote, this left to a heightened prominence of the issue of foreign nationals within Assam. The AASU and AAGSP organisers called for a boycott of the election and violent incidents occurred during this period.
The Nellie massacre took place in central Assam during a six-hour period in the morning of 18 February 1983, claiming the lives of around ten thousand people. The victims were Muslims of East Bengal origin whose ancestors had relocated in pre-partition British India. No perpetrators of the Nellie massacre have ever been brought to justice and now the victims will be potentially made non citizens.
Within India, “Bangladeshi” or “Bangal” are used as slurs, referring to ‘country people’. Bangladeshis have become synonymous with the labels “Muslim” and “illegal”, therefore dangerous. The BJP, a far-right Hindutva party won their election on a number of anti-Muslim propaganda, including the promise to deport and detect the “illegal” Bangladeshi population. An update of the National Register of Citizens (final draft) is set to be published this July, following the first draft published on December 31st last year. For inclusion in the updated NRC - 2 requirements are required (1) existence of a person's name in legacy data or any other admissible documents, (2) proving linkage with that person.
The government claims this register will be used to identify and deport illegal immigrants - code word for Bengalis/ Bangladeshis. This ultimately means millions of them will be rendered non-citizens in the process. When doing these draft lists, claims where made that they purposely excluded the Muslim Bengali villages, who have been living in Assam for generations.
Since 1947, Assam has been rocked with protests over illegal immigration, with increasing sectarian tensions and riots between the Assamese population and Bengali/Sylheti speaking migrants.
More recently, thousands of Bengalis in Assam have been thrown in detention camps in Assam, with no legal or financial help.
In 2014 violence erupted yet again, with the Bengali speaking Muslims being targeted. Almost 100 people were killed, most of whom were Bengali Muslims. 400,000 people were displaced to makeshift camps. Most of the displaced were Muslims. The Indian army was deployed with orders "to Shoot on sight". Around 500 Villages had been destroyed through arson. As Assam prepares for the final draft of the NRC, we must put this into context. The Indian government have undertaken a brutal deportation process of many poor and illiterate Bengalis, whom they presumed were Bangladeshis.
Members of one family were forcibly separated, jailed without notices, denied legal aid, handcuffed to train compartments and deported to Bangladesh. They are among a thousand people who are in six detention centres across Assam - all of which are currently located inside district jails. Assam has also been planning to create the largest detention centre in the world, possibly for housing all those who will be left out of the final NRC draft. This community of Bengali/Sylhetis originally from East Bengal have been under attack since they crossed the border over to Assam for refuge, only to be met with violent hostility. A community who are still healing from a massacre, whose very existence is under threat. With the unlawful exclusion of citizenship and the inhumane illegal detention of them, this community is in dire need of international outrage.
A community with a sudden rise of suicides linked to the final draft being published. As the NRC is set to be published this very month, millions of people are set to be excluded, where they could be deported, declared a D Voter, stateless or a foreigner and because of that sent to jail or detention centres. The final draft of the NRC will not just affect muslims, but non - Bhadralok Hindus and various tribes too.
Have the international community learnt nothing from the Rohingya crisis? In 1974, the Rohingya's had their identity stripped and were classified as “foreigners” by the state. Once the final draft is published, millions will be excluded from the NRC and become non citizens and ultimately forced into becoming refugees. Whilst this happens, it will be harder for the international community to help or assist them. One must ask what will be the fate of millions of people excluded from citizenship. Their have been claims of deportation to Bangladesh, an already overpopulated country, sheltering over one million Rohingya refugees, is predicated to take the burden but where does that leave the subcontinent?