NEW DELHI: Nurjahan Begum has been silent since learning her name is not in the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), which was released by India's northeastern state of Assam on Saturday.
She is the only one in her 10-member family who is not on the list, a controversial exercise intended to weed out illegal immigrants but which critics have said target Assam’s Muslim population.
“My mother has suddenly gone silent. She is not eating anything. The whole family is in a state of shock,” her son Nuralom Khan told Arab News. “How is it possible that her two sons, two daughters, husband, and daughter-in-law, everyone in the family, is an Indian citizen and my mother is a foreigner? There is something fundamentally wrong with the way the NRC has been prepared by the government.”
Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh, has a population of 32 million and 1.9 million people have been excluded from the NRC and declared stateless. Those affected have 120 days to appeal at a specially established foreigners’ tribunal.
The NRC excludes those unable to prove they were in Assam before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh’s war of independence and sought refuge in the state and elsewhere.
“There has been a constant campaign against Bengali-speaking Muslims by the (ruling) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state and they are hell-bent on proving that Muslims are outsiders, which is not true,” added Khan.
But Hindus have also been left out in the cold. Bimal Choudhary, a former army officer and a serving policeman, is also missing from the register. His wife and two children are on the list, however.
“There is some fault in the way the NRC has been prepared,” he told Arab News. “The government should look into it. How can you explain the omission of someone who was part of the Indian defense service from 1981 to 1999?” He plans to appeal the decision.
Identity and citizenship are thorny issues in Assam, where a third of the population is Muslim.
Home Minister Amit Shah said last month there were more than 4 million illegal immigrants, Muslim Bangladeshis, living in Assam.
But a senior BJP figure in the state, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said that Indian citizens who migrated from Bangladesh as refugees prior to 1971 had not been included in the NRC because authorities refused to accept refugee certificates.
He tweeted that “many names got included because of manipulation of legacy data as alleged by many.”
Assam-based political analyst Dinesh Baishya said the myth of Bangladeshi Muslims had been “busted” with the publication of the NRC.
“The NRC list makes it clear that those Muslims living in Assam are not Bangladeshis but locals and for a long time the BJP exploited the sentiments of people in the name of religion,” he told Arab News.
The BJP was unhappy with the NRC because Hindus from Bangladesh could not find themselves in the NRC, he added.
New Delhi on Saturday deployed additional paramilitary troops in Assam to contain any backlash against the NRC.